- By Sports producer Dan Salisbury-Jones
2019 is promising to be a big year for sports, with fans of football, rugby, cricket, cycling and more all in for a treat.
Here are some of the key events to look forward to.
Rugby World Cup
The home nations will head to Japan with confidence in September that one of them could break New Zealand’s dominance of this tournament.
Ireland will probably be favourites but they could also end up in a potential quarter-final against the All Blacks – to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.
England will be hoping to banish painful memories of 2015 when they politely exited at the pool stage of a home World Cup. They have just had an impressive Autumn, as have Wales who are quietly establishing themselves as dark horses for the title. Scotland can beat anyone on their day but inconsistency will likely prove their downfall.
Women’s Football World Cup
England head coach Phil Neville says interest levels in the women’s game will “explode” with success at June’s World Cup in France.
In order to achieve that they’ll first need to negotiate a tricky group. The Lionesses will start their campaign against World Cup debutants Scotland – what better way of increasing interest there than giving England a bloody nose.
Nations League Finals
In June, England’s men will hope to recreate the feel-good factor of Summer 2018 and actually win something at the end of it.
Gareth Southgate’s side will travel to Portugal having reached the last four of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. Whilst it doesn’t have the prestige of the World Cup, the demand for tickets is expected to far exceed supply for the semi-final against Netherlands in Guimaraes.
The other semi-final is between Portugal and Switzerland so arguably this is England’s best chance to win a tournament in decades.
A proper title race
I’ve re-written this part three times over Christmas but one thing has remained constant: Liverpool winning.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are now seven points clear at the top, and every Premier League team that’s been this far ahead on New Year’s Day has gone on to win the title.
Their first match of 2019 is, however, against their nearest challengers Manchester City.
I expect City to push Liverpool really hard but either way it will be a huge story - Liverpool ending almost 30 years of hurt or an implosion that opens the door for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Spurs were briefly Liverpool’s closest challengers until a surprising defeat against Wolves. They can’t afford any more of those slip ups if they are to seriously challenge.
Ashes and Cricket World Cup
England host a huge summer of cricket with both the 50-over World Cup and the Ashes being played later this year.
After an embarrassing group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup, one-day captain Eoin Morgan has slowly led England to become the highest ranked team in the World.
It’s been a similar story for Joe Root on the test stage, his side are only second to India in the rankings but the scars of a 4-0 Ashes hammering last winter are still fresh.
Australia have a different sort of pride to recapture – shortly after that victorious series they were caught cheating in South Africa. The ball tampering scandal led to captain Steve Smith and batsman David Warner being banned. England bowler Stuart Broad has openly questioned whether they were employing the same tactics to help win the 2017/18 series.
Current coach Justin Langer has said he believes Smith and Warner can return in 2019 to help the Aussies in England – expect an even more raucous atmosphere if that happens.
The Return of the Master
Tiger Woods was agonisingly close to completing an astonishing return to the pinnacle of golf at last year’s US Open. That would’ve been incredible but for him to wear the green jacket again at Augusta in April would be something else.
British interest will be high once again – Yorkshire’s Danny Willett won in 2016, Justin Rose has come close twice - in 2015 and 2017, and it remains the elusive major for Rory McIlroy.
Tour de France
As controversial as they are successful Team Sky will defend their title for the final time in July after the broadcaster decided to end its backing.
Team principle Sir Dave Brailsford will be spending much time over the coming months trying to find new support and also trying to decide who his lead rider will be in France. 2018 winner Geraint Thomas made the most of Chris Froome’s over-exertion but the latter has won this race four times.
Tyson Fury provided the most stunning moment in boxing, and perhaps all sport, of 2018 when he rose from the canvas after being punched by Deontay Wilder. The American mouthed to the crowd “it’s over” but it wasn’t. Somehow Fury rose back to his feet and after out-boxing Wilder for most of the fight he was unlucky to just draw.
A rematch in 2019 is likely, Anthony Joshua will also be looking on – not since the days of Bruno and Lewis has British heavyweight boxing looked so good.
World Athletics Championships
Slowly but surely Dina Asher-Smith is becoming the face of Team GB. The smiley sprinter won European gold in the 100m and 200m last year and in September she’ll get the chance to test herself against the best in the world. The competition in Doha will be vitally important for her and her British teammates as it will give an indication about just how likely Olympic medals will be in 2020.