FOOTBALL – From the 368 squad members in the 16 teams that will contest the 2015 African Cup of Nations, 73 ply their domestic trade in France and 54 of them play for a French top flight club.
Tennis – The following is a preview for the 2014 US Open men’s and women’s singles. Rafael Nadal not be defending his title, Novak Djokovic aiming for back-to-back Majors and Serena Williams for her third consecutive US Open title.
RUGBY UNION – The following is a preview for the Week 1 matches in the 2014 The Rugby Championship.
RUGBY UNION – The following are previews for the second matchday of the 2014 Six Nations Championship.
Six Nations Championship 2014 – Week 2
Ireland – Wales (Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 8 February)
> Ireland have the upper hand, having won nine of 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations Championship, and losing only five.
> Last season, Ireland were the only team to avoid defeat against eventual champions Wales, defeating them 30-22 in Cardiff in both teams’ season opener.
> The last 6N meeting in Ireland was won 23-21 by Wales on the opening matchday of the 2012 season. It laid the foundation for Wales’ Grand Slam winning campaign.
> Ireland lead the 6N series at home against Wales on four wins and three defeats.
> Ireland can become the first team to defeat Wales 10 times in the Six Nations.
> Wales have won 65 of the previous 119 Tests between the two. Ireland have won 48 and there have been six draws.
> Against Scotland, Brian O’Driscoll made his 129th Test appearance for Ireland, by which he surpassed the record of 128 he shared with Ronan O’Gara.
> Including his eight Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions, O’Driscoll’s career total is up to 137 and he needs two more to equal the world record of 39 by Australia’s George Gregan.
> O’Driscoll has also equalled the record for appearing in most Six Nations seasons. He now shares the mark of 14 with Ronan O’Gara.
> Jonathan Sexton’s 13-point effort against Scotland raised his career total for Ireland to 314 and moved him up to third place among Ireland players behind Ronan O’Gara (1,083) and David Humphreys (560).
> O’Driscoll can become the third player to score points in at least 12 different Six Nations seasons. Ronan O’Gara (13) and Wales’ Stephen Jones (12) have achieved that.
> Ireland have not won successive 6N matches since 2010. They have played 17 matches in the competition since winning two in a row.
> In three of the four seasons Wales won the Six Nations (2005, 2008 and 2012) Wales won their opening two matches. The only other season in which they won their opening two (2009), Ireland won the Grand Slam.
> Wales have won 10 of their last 11 Six Nations matches, the one exception being their defeat against Ireland on the opening matchday last season.
> Wales have won five in a row. Their longest 6N winning streak is eight (2007-2009).
> Leigh Halfpenny has played in 52 Tests. In his first 26, he scored 75 points (average 2.9). In his last 26 Tests, he put up 331 points (average 12.7).
Scotland – England (Murrayfield, Saturday, 8 February)
> Of 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations Championship, England have won 10, Scotland three and there has been one draw.
> The 15-15 draw on 13 March 2010 marked the last time Scotland avoided defeat against England in a 6N match, or in any Test against England for that matter.
> Scotland’s last victory over England in the Six Nations was their 15-9 triumph at Murrayfield on 8 March 2008.
> The last 6N encounter in Edinburgh was won 13-6 by England on 4 February 2012.
> Since 1871, these sides have met in 131 Test matches, with England winning 71 times, Scotland 42 and 18 matches resulting in a draw.
> The Calcutta Cup has been contested since 1879. In that span, England have claimed 66 wins against Scotland’s 39. There have been 15 draws in that period.
> England have held the Calcutta Cup since 2009, their longest stranglehold on the trophy since safeguarding it from 1991 to 2000.
> Scotland have lost their last three and nine of their last 11 in the Six Nations.
> Fourteen of Scotland’s 18 victories in the Six Nations have come at home.
> Scotland have registered only one try in their last four Six Nations matches combined. That try was scored by Tim Visser, who crossed over against France on 16 March 2013.
> Scotland have failed to pick up a victory from their opening two matches in 10 of their previous 14 Six Nations campaigns.
> Greig Laidlaw has scored 47 of Scotland’s last 54 points in the Six Nations.
> In the match against Ireland, Laidlaw became the sixth player to reach 100 career points in the Five/Six Nations and only the second in the Six Nations era, behind Chris Paterson.
> Scotland have lost their last three Test matches and were outscored 77-21 in them.
> For only the third time in 15 seasons, England have started out their Six Nations campaign with a defeat. Only two teams managed to win the trophy after losing their opener, France in 2006 and Wales in 2013.
> In only one previous 6N season (2005), England lost their first two matches.
> England have lost their last two away matches in the Six Nations after winning four in a row away from home.
> Luther Burrell scored a try on his Test debut against France last week. In the professional era, four England players have registered tries in their first two Tests, Dan Luger, Mark Cueto, Matt Banahan and Manu Tuilagi.
> For the first time, England have lost two Six Nations matches in a row under Stuart Lancaster. They won eight of their first nine 6N matches with Lancaster as their head coach.
> The last Six Nations season in which England suffered more than one defeat was 2010.
> England have conceded 56 points (average 28.0) in their last two 6N matches, both defeats. They only conceded 79 (average 13.2) in their previous six, all victories.
France – Italy (Stade de France, Sunday, 9 February)
> From 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations, France have won 12.
> However, Italy have won two of the last three, including last year’s meeting, a 23-18 victory over France at the Stadio Olimpico.
> France’s last Six Nations triumph dates back to 4 February 2012, when Les Bleus emerged victorious 30-12 at the Stade de France.
> France’s last 6N win in Italy came on 21 March 2009, when the French destroyed the Italians 50-8 at the Stadio Flaminio.
> France have always registered at least two tries in their Six Nations matches against Italy.
> The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy has been contested since 2007. France have won it five times, Italy have collected it twice.
> Italy have collected only three victories from a total of 34 Test matches facing France.
> By defeating England, France moved ahead of their rivals in terms of victories in the Six Nations. France (48) lead the all-time table from England (47) and Ireland (46).
> France already have as many 6N victories this season (one) as in the entire 2013 season.
> In their opener against England, France recorded three tries. It was the first time they managed more than two in a Six Nations match since crossing over four times in their 30-12 home victory over Italy on 4 February 2012.
> France have failed to win any of their last three 6N matches on a Sunday.
> Of France’s 21 defeats in the Six Nations, 14 were suffered on the road and only seven came at home.
> Yoann Huget has scored three tries in his last two Tests combined. He had recorded only two tries in his first 21 Tests put together.
> Against England, Huget became the first France player to score more than one try in a Six Nations match in nearly three years. On 19 March 2011, Lionel Nallet crossed over twice against Wales.
> France have collected four wins, two draws and five defeats in Six Nations matches under Philippe Saint-André. A win against Italy would make theirs a balanced record under their current head coach.
> Only one of Italy’s 11 victories in the Six Nations came away from home, their 37-17 victory at Scotland on 24 February 2007.
> Italy have started their Six Nations campaign out with consecutive defeats in 11 of their 14 previous seasons in the competition.
> In the match against Wales, Marco Bortolami made his 100th Test appearance. This gave Italy its fifth Test centurion, which equals the record by Australia and New Zealand.
> Against Wales, Mauro Bergamasco broke the record for longest Test career by an Italy, surpassing the 15 service years by Sergio Lanfranchi. With 96 caps under his belt, Bergamasco looks to become Italy’s next centurion.
> Also last weekend, Michele Campagnaro equalled a team record by scoring two tries in a Six Nations match, joining Alessandro Troncon as the only players to do so. Troncon crossed over twice on 1 April 2000.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL – The following is a preview to Super Bowl XLVIII, which will take place on Sunday, 2 February, and will feature the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Denver Broncos – Seattle Seahawks (MetLife Stadium, 2 February)
> The 48th edition of the Super Bowl (XLVIII) is the first to be played in the state of New Jersey and/or the New York region. Four players involved in the game were born in either New Jersey or New York and the NFL’s headquarters are situated in the heart of Manahattan (345 Park Avenue).
> There have been three venues that hosted Super Bowls, that are geographically north of East Rutherford, New Jersey. However, those three venues all hosted the Super Bowl indoors, making MetLife Stadium the northernmost venue to host a Super Bowl to be played outdoors.
> The coldest Super Bowl in history was SB VI, played on 16 January 1972, in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. The temperature was 39 Fahrenheit (4C). Current weather reports from New York suggest that that record will be broken.
> Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will hope to win a Super Bowl in brother Eli’s home stadium. Eli has already won a Super Bowl on Peyton’s turf triumphing in Indianapolis when Peyton was still playing for the Colts.
> These teams have met on many occasions, as they shared the same division for 25 years (1977-2002). With the most recent realignment inn 2002, the Seattle Seahawks moved to the NFC West.
> Their most recent competitive meeting goes back to 19 September 2010, when Denver defeated Seattle 31-14 at home.
> These teams have met once before in the playoffs. In the Wildcard Round in 1983, Seattle eliminated Denver 31-7 in Seattle.
> The Denver Broncos are going to their seventh Super Bowl, which leaves them one shy of the record of eight by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys.
> Denver can become the first NFL franchise to lose five Super Bowls.
> Peyton Manning will become the second oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history, behind John Elway, who is currently the Broncos executive that brought Manning to Denver.
> Manning can become the third quarterback in Super Bowl history to represent different teams, behind Craig Morton (Dallas and Denver) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis and Arizona).
> Head coach John Fox has been in one previous Super Bowl. On 1 February 2004, his Carolina Panthers lost to the New England Patriots 32-29.
> Fox can join three other head coaches in losing multiple Super Bowls without winning one. The other three, remarkably, all have an 0-4 record: Bud Grant, Marv Levy and Dan Reeves.
> Denver’s Super Bowl roster contains four players with SB experience: quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Wes Welker, tight end Jacob Tamme and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Manning is the only among the four to have won the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
> The Seattle Seahawks are going to their second Super Bowl. They lost SB XL 21-10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
> If Seattle loses this game, it will become the fifth team to play in multiple Super Bowls without ever winning one. The four franchises that belong to this club are the Buffalo Bills (0-4), Minnesota Vikings (0-4), Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-2).
> The Seattle Seahawks become the first team to submit a Super Bowl roster featuring 53 players with no Super Bowl experience whatsoever since the 1990/1991 Buffalo Bills.
> Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has not won a game at this stadium in nearly 20 years. He last managed that on 20 November 1994 as head coach of the New York Jets. The 1994/1995 season was Carroll’s first as a head coach in the NFL.
> Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was selected in the 2012 NFL Draft with the 75th overall pick and as the sixth quarterback of that draft class. The quarterback picked before him was Brock Osweiler (57th overall) who is currently Peyton Manning’s backup at the Broncos.
> Seattle and Denver will be the fourth top seeds in the Super Bowl since the current playoff format was installed and only the second in the last 20 years (Saints v Colts in SB XLIV, 7 Feb 2010).
RUGBY UNION – The following are previews for the Week 1 matches of the 2014 Six Nations Championship.
Wales – Italy (Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 1 February)
> Wales have won the last six Six Nations encounters between these two. The overall head-to-head record in 14 previous 6N meetings is 11 wins to Wales, two to Italy and one draw.
> That one stalemate is the only result Italy have ever achieved in a Six Nations match, or any Test match, in Wales. They drew 18-18 on 11 March 2006. Both of the Azzurri’s 6N victories over Wales came at the Stadio Flaminio (in 2003 and 2007).
> Wales have never failed to register less than two tries in any Six Nations match against Italy.
> Wales are the defending champions from 2012 and 2013. Last year, they joined England (2000-2001) and France (2006-2007) as teams to retain the Six Nations Championship.
> Wales can become the first team to win the Six Nations in three successive seasons and become the first team since France (1986-1989) to win this competition, or its predecessor Five Nations, at least three years in a row.
> France’s run of four successive championships in the late 1980s included two titles that were shared. No team has ever won three outright championships in a row in the history of the Home Nations/Five Nations/Six Nations.
> Last year, Wales won the Six Nations Championship despite registering only nine tries in five matches, their lowest output in any season since the competition expanded to six teams in 2000.
> Wales have won nine of their last 10 Six Nations matches, the one exception being their defeat against Ireland on the opening matchday last season.
> Wales have conceded nine or fewer points in five of their last seven 6N matches.
> Wales’ next penalty goal will be their 200th in Six Nations rugby (2000-present). Only France (207 penalty goals) have kicked in excess of 200 penalty goals in the competition.
> In the Wales v Italy 6N encounter on 20 March 2010, Tom Prydie became the youngest player in 6N history at 18 years and 25 days. He also became the youngest ever player to represent Wales.
> Wales have won only one of their last four season openers in the Six Nations and five of 14 total.
> Italy have collected one win and nine defeats from their last 10 Six Nations season openers.
> The one victory in that stretch came last season, when Italy defeated France in Rome.
> In 2013, Italy avoided the Wooden Spoon for the second straight 6N season.
> Marco Bortolami can become the fifth Italian and the 29th player overall to reach 100 Test caps.
> That would see him join countrymen Alessandro Troncon, Andrea Lo Cicero, Martín Castrogiovianni and Sergio Parisse.
> Italy can become the third country, and the first from Europe, behind Australia and New Zealand, to produce five Test centurions.
France – England (Stade de France, Saturday, 1 February)
> England have won each of their last three Six Nations encounters with France, dating back to a 12-10 France victory on 20 March 2010, a win that secured the Grand Slam for France.
> Their head-to-head in record in 14 previous 6N encounters: 9-5 (no draws) in England’s favour.
> Even so, France have a winning record over England in 6N matches at the Stade de France: 4-3.
> This will be the 98th Test match between these countries. Of the previous 97, England have won 53, France 35 and there have been seven draws.
> England’s last Test defeat against France came in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup (19-12).
> France need only nine points to reach 1,500 at the Stade de France. They have lost three of their last four Test matches at this venue.
> France are coming off their worst ever season in the Six Nations era, finishing last in the competition in 2013. It was the first time since 1999 (the last Five Nations season) that they collected the Wooden Spoon in the Five Nations/Six Nations.
> Their dismal 2013 campaign came only three years after their Grand Slam winning effort in 2010.
> France still own the best track record in Six Nations rugby: 47 wins and two draws (21 defeats) from 70 matches. England are right behind them on 47 wins and one draw (22 defeats).
> France’s track record in Test matches in 2013: two wins, one draw and eight defeats. Both victories came at home, against Scotland and Tonga.
> Philippe Saint-André has faced England 10 times in Test matches, eight times as a player and twice as a head coach. He has ended up on the losing side in eight of those 10 Test matches.
> Wesley Fofana has scored a try in each of his last two Tests against England. Six France players, including Philippe Saint-André, have scored more than two career Test tries against England.
> Pascal Papé can pick up his 50th cap for France. He made his Test debut on 14 February 2004.
> England have scored only one try in their last four Six Nations matches combined. That one try was registered by Manu Tuilagi against France on 23 February 2013.
> England have averaged 9.3 tries over their last seven 6N campaigns (2007-2013), whilst averaging 19.4 tries over their first seven (2000-2006).
> England’s five 6N tries in 2013 were their fewest in a Six Nations season. They had six in 2010.
> England have finished second in four of their last six 6N campaigns, including the last two.
> England have won eight of their last 10 Six Nations matches, the two exceptions being defeats to Wales. England also won eight of their 10 Test matches in 2013, the exceptions being the 6N defeat against Wales and a 30-22 loss against the All Blacks to close out the season.
> England have won 12 of their 14 season openers in the Six Nations, including each of the last five.
> In 22 matches with Stuart Lancaster in charge, England have collected 14 wins, one draw and seven defeats. Five of their seven defeats came against southern hemisphere nations, the other two came against Wales.
Ireland – Scotland (Aviva Stadium, Sunday, 2 February)
> In 14 previous Six Nations meetings between these two, Ireland have collected 11 victories and three defeats.
> Scotland’s only Six Nations victory over Ireland in an away match was their 23-20 triumph at Croke Park on 20 March 2010.
> Scotland’s other two victories came at Murrayfield, including last season’s 12-8 win. Scotland have yet to record consecutive 6N victories over Ireland. Scotland’s last string of victories over Ireland in the Five Nations/Six Nations came in the late 1990s, when they won five in a row against Ireland.
> These sides have met in 128 Test matches total, with Scotland winning 66 and Ireland winning 57. There have been three draws.
> Ireland are coming off their most unsuccessful campaign in the Six Nations, finishing in fifth place in 2013. That supplanted a fourth place finish in 2008, one they responded to by winning the Grand Slam the next year.
> Ireland won their opening match to the Six Nations in eight of the previous nine seasons, the exception being a home defeat against Wales in 2012.
> Brian O’Driscoll has been included in Ireland’s squad. The veteran Centre has amassed 136 Test appearances and needs another three to equal the record of 139 by Australia’s George Gregan.
> O’Driscoll needs one more Test appearance to establish a record for Ireland at 129, by which he would overtake O’Gara’s 128. O’Driscoll has also represented the Lions in eight Tests.
> O’Driscoll will be taking part in the Six Nations for the 14th time, equalling the competition record by countryman Ronan O’Gara. The latter had been the only player to have featured in each of the first 14 seasons of the Six Nations, but he has not been called up to the squad this year.
> O’Driscoll has played in all but one of Ireland’s 14 Six Nations seasons. He missed the entire 2012 campaign due to injury.
> O’Driscoll has played in 60 Six Nations matches. The competition record for the Five/Six Nations is 63 by O’Gara.
> O’Driscoll already holds the record for most tries in the Five/Six Nations (26).
> O’Driscoll’s last multiple-try match in the Six Nations came almost 10 years ago. On 22 February 2004, he crossed over twice against Wales. Since that day, a player recorded at least two tries in a 6N match on 46 occasions, by 35 different players.
> Scotland came third in the Six Nations last year, equalling their best finish in the competition. In 2001 and 2006, they also collected a bronze medal.
> Last season’s campaign was also the first since 2006, in which they managed to rack up more than one victory.
> Scotland’s last championship came in the last year before the expansion to the Six Nations. In 1999, they emerged victorious in the Five Nations.
> Scotland have started only one of their previous 6N campaigns with a victory, their 2006 home win over France. All other 13 openers ended in defeat for Scotland.
> David Denton, Matt Scott and Ross Rennie all made their Test debuts against Ireland.
PREVIEW – Clarence Seedorf will make his debut as Milan coach. We have compiled a preview earlier this week on the match against Verona. Check it out here.
> Milan are unbeaten in all 23 Serie A home matches against Verona: W14-D9.
> The last edition was on 23 Dec 2001: result 2-1.
> George Weah scored one of the best goals in Serie A history when Milan won 4-1 v Verona on 8 Sep 1996. After picking up the ball in his own penalty area he dribbled across the whole pitch to score.
> New Milan coach Clarence Seedorf will become the first Dutch coach in Serie A history.
> Seedorf played 300 Serie A matches for Milan (2002-2012), winning Serie A (2004, 2011), Champions League (2003, 2007), Coppa Italia (2003), Super Coppa (2004, 2011), European Super Cup (2003, 2007), FIFA Club WC (2007).
> Milan have not won against promoted clubs this season: Verona 2-1, Livorno 2-2, Sassuolo 4-3, all in away matches. Only Atalanta have a worse record against promoted teams this season (L3).
> Mario Balotelli has scored nine of his 39 Serie A goals against promoted clubs.
> Balotelli needs 11 shots to score a goal this season, almost twice as many as he needed last season (6.5).
> Balotelli has scored two of his last 10 Serie A goals in home matches.
> Kaká has scored 14 Serie A goals against promoted clubs.
> Robinho can make his 100th appearance in the Serie A.
> Milan concede a goal in every 6.6 attempts, the worst defensive record in Serie A this season.
> Verona are the most efficient team this season: 5.8 shots to score a goal
> Luca Toni might miss the match due to flu. He and Roma’s Gervinho have won most penalties after being fouled this season – 3.
> Toni has scored seven Serie A goals in 14 matches against Milan. He only has scored more against Parma (9) and Lazio (8).
> Luca Toni had his Serie A debut against AC Milan, playing for Vicenza in Oct 2000 (2-0 defeat).