Review 2019: South Africa’s World Cup win among this year’s sporting highlights

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South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup — and uniting a nation in the process — was one of the sporting highlights of the year. Led by the first black captain in the Springboks’ 128-year history, they stunned pre-match favourites, England, with a 32 – 12 win in the final. As coach Rassie Erasmus said, ahead of the showpiece match: “For South Africa, this has never been just about rugby, this is about a team uniting a nation and creating a new wave of hope.” In football, Liverpool beat Tottenham in an all-English Champions League final to cap an impressive domestic year that saw them amass 97 points in the Premier League and still lose out to winners Manchester City. Elsewhere, Barcelona star Lionel Messi became the first player in history to win a sixth Ballon d’Or award. Yet while male football still dominates, 2019 was the year that saw the women’s game breakthrough with the world cup in France. Megan Rapinoe led the United States to a record fourth women’s crown and finished as top scorer and player of the tournament. The US got off to a flying start by thumping Thailand 13-0 before beating Spain, France and England in the knockout phase, and then setting up a final showdown with the Netherlands, where they triumphed 2-0. But it wasn’t all smiles, as trouble brewed over their pay. The team has sued the US federation, alleging institutionalised gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation when compared to the men’s national football team. A judge has set a May 5th trial date for the lawsuit, less than three months before the summer Olympics kick off in Tokyo where the team is expected to compete. Meanwhile, in cycling, 2019 saw the rise of Egan Bernal, who defied all the odds to claim a historic first Tour de France win for Colombia. Nicknamed “the boy wonder” in his home country, Bernal, at just 22, became the youngest post-World War II champion, to the immense delight of the hundreds of Colombians lining the Champs Elysees in Paris. It was a nail-biting conclusion to one of the closest races in recent Tour history, with everything to play for going into the penultimate stage in the Alps. The win sees Bernal breaking a run of four straight British wins in cycling’s most prestigious race, whilst arguably marking the highest achievement in Colombian sport.