They are our sporting heroes of 2014

As the year draws to a close today, it brings down the curtain on a massive 12 months of sport across the globe. The National’s staff look back at the teams and individuals who in 2014 created an enduring memory, made a name for themselves, or achieved greatness.
James Rodriguez, Colombia’s midfielder, received international acclaim during the Fifa World Cup this year. He has become a Real Madrid player. Adrian Dennis / AFP
James Rodriguez, Colombia’s midfielder, received international acclaim during the Fifa World Cup this year. He has become a Real Madrid player. Adrian Dennis / AFP

James Rodriguez (Colombia, football)

The 23-year-old Colombian started 2014 playing in a half-empty 18,000-capacity stadium in Monaco, with a price tag of €45 million (Dh201.3m) and a face few people would have recognised. He finished the year as a genuine superstar having won the Golden Boot at the Fifa World Cup, signed for Real Madrid for €80m and helped them win the Fifa Club World Cup. Known simply as James (pronounced “Ha-mez”), his humility and tear-stained cheeks in Brazil as he led Colombia to the quarter-finals – the country’s best finish – was admired around the globe. Yet it was his perfect volley against Uruguay in the Round of 16 that had people purring. – Gary Meenaghan

Ali Mabkhout (UAE, football)

Anyone who overshadows Omar Abdulrahman with both club and country deserves the acclaim. Mabkhout, the Al Jazira striker, certainly did that in 2014 and these past few months, in particular, have propelled him to the forefront of Mahdi Ali’s UAE national team ambitions. Mabkhout was the standout at the Gulf Cup, scoring five goals to seal the tournament’s Golden Boot, while he is the second most prolific forward in this season’s Arabian Gulf League. Yet it is the calibre of his strikes that mark him out: the thunderbolt against Iraq, the lob against Kuwait, the brilliantly innovative goal against Al Wasl. His progression has been outstanding. – John McAuley

Eugenie Bouchard (Canada, tennis)

The WTA Newcomer of the Year for 2013, the first Canadian to win that award since Carling Bassett-Seguso in 1983, Bouchard deservedly finished 2014 with the WTA’s Most Improved Player gong. Starting the year as world No 31, she became an instant sensation, reaching the semis at the Australian Open and repeating the feat at the French before going one better at Wimbledon. She fell in the fourth round at the US Open, but the world No 7’s real impact was the buzz she managed to create around the women’s tour. The presence of the growing “Genie Army” at her matches around the globe should dispel any concerns about the post-Serena Williams era. – Ahmed Rizvi

Rickie Fowler (US, golf)

Flat-billed caps have done a roaring trade this year. Rickie Fowler, fast becoming golf’s most marketable man, may not have swollen his CV with another victory, but his consistency in 2014’s major championships was extraordinary. The American became only the third player in modern majors history to post top-five finishes in all four in the same season, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It makes for pretty good company. Fowler, who is to make his UAE debut at next month’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, represents the most obvious long-term threat to Rory McIlroy’s dominance and is widely respected as one of the game’s good guys. An all-round class act. – John McAuley

Handre Pollard (South Africa, rugby union)

It is a good job he has broad shoulders given the hopes South African rugby had invested in him for so long – and he is still only 20. Pollard’s hand was on the tiller when the Baby Boks reached the final of the Junior World Championship in June. A week later he was in the full Springboks squad for a Test against Scotland. His real coming-of-age moment, though, was when he scored two tries against New Zealand to consign the All Blacks to their first defeat in two years. Great deeds for one so young. Time will tell whether that performance proves a portent of greatness or a millstone. – Paul Radley

Adel Al Hendi (UAE, rugby union)

He started the year as a second XV player but ended it as the biggest hope for rugby in this country. The Abu Dhabi Harlequins wing with an Emirati father and a Welsh mother debuted for the UAE XVs side in the lone Test match of 2014, against Singapore in April. Still a teenager, he approached his club coach in the summer to request more responsibility and game time in senior rugby. He took his chance. So much so, he sparked a club versus country row when he was ruled out of the UAE Premiership final in November to play for UAE in a low-key sevens tournament instead. – Paul Radley

Daniil Kvyat (Russia, Formula One)

When Daniil Kvyat sat in his Toro Rosso cockpit at the Australian Grand Prix on March 9, 2014, he was a rookie with as many question marks as sponsors’ branding surrounding him. He blew the doubters away when, at age 19, he finished ninth to break Sebastian Vettel’s record for youngest points-scorer in Formula One. Kvyat finished four more races inside the top 10 during the season and was the only Russian on the grid at his homeland’s long-awaited inaugural grand prix in Sochi, sharing a handshake with president Vladimir Putin. As the season finale neared, Red Bull Racing announced Kvyat would replace Vettel at the four-time world champions in 2015, capping off a phenomenal rise. – Gary Meenaghan

Gregg Popovich (US, basketball)

One man in the NBA in 2014 solidified his case for best ever and it was not LeBron James. James made the most headlines, with Miami’s flame-out in the NBA finals and his subsequent move back to Cleveland. But on the other side of that was San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, winning his fifth title in 15 years with the Spurs, a feat of longevity even the legendary Red Auerbach and his dynastic 1960s Boston Celtics cannot match. “Pop” took an ageing Spurs team, expertly managed their playing time and led them in a stunning annihilation of James and the Heat in the finals – a triumphant coupe de grace for a coaching career that just might be basketball’s best. – Jonathan Raymond

Steven Smith (Australia, cricket)

Even Steven Smith would not have begun this year thinking he might end up as his country’s Test captain. He had only just cemented his place in the Test side and was averaging in the mid-30s with just two hundreds in 16 Tests. But such a superlative year has he had that it has elevated him to the captaincy in place of the injured, possibly finished, Michael Clarke. He scored runs in South Africa, in the UAE and now back in Australia, tallying seven international hundreds and more than 1,500 runs in Tests and ODIs. There is little doubt he will become Australia’s Test captain in the long term. – Osman Samiuddin

Nathan MacKinnon (Canada, ice hockey)

The top pick in the 2013 NHL draft is supposed to be a good player, but at age 18? The burly centre from Nova Scotia more than held his own through the 2013/14 season, scoring 24 goals with 39 assists, making him fourth on the scorer’s table for a Colorado Avalanche team that won 52 games. He was the youngest player to be awarded the Calder Trophy, given annually to the best first-year player. This season has been more difficult with just six goals and 16 assists, and is minus-11 for a modest Avalanche team. He is only 19, though, and could be scoring points for another two decades. – Paul Oberjuerge

New Zealand cricket team

It has been a long time since New Zealand enjoyed a golden age, so if any national team has been due for one, it is the Black Caps. This year they won five Tests, against opposition strong and weak, and at home and away. Fittingly, that is the most their Test side has ever won in a year, going past the four that a Richard Hadlee-inspired side won in 1985. Brendon McCullum has been inspirational as leader, especially with the bat, compiling some of the biggest innings in the game this year. It is their pace attack, though, that has everybody drooling and a World Cup triumph would not be a surprise. – Osman Samiuddin

Mercedes-GP (Germany, Formula One)

The German marque has had the most successful season ever enjoyed by a team in Formula One, with 16 victories in one year a new benchmark. They are not the first team to be dominant in an F1 season, but they won a lot of fans around the world for their willingness to allow Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to race each other, which culminated in a title showdown in Abu Dhabi that went the way of Hamilton. The team went from being pretenders – they had won just four times in the four seasons since they returned to the sport in 2010 – to this year being the class of the field by some margin. Their challenge is to improve on those efforts in 2015. – Graham Caygill

Peyton Manning (US, American football)

The idea Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is coming off a breakout year is comical considering the past decade of his dominance in the NFL. As he prepares for another run into the play-offs – the Broncos (12-4) are the No 2 seed in the AFC – American football fans better soak it up because this could be the closing act of a memorable Manning tenure that started in 1998. This year did bring more accolades. On October 19, Manning broke Brett Favre’s record for most career touchdowns when he threw his 509th touchdown pass. In 2014, Manning answered any doubts about who is the best quarterback to have played the game. – Aaron Gray

Giancarlo Stanton (US, baseball)

He certainly was known before the 2014 season, despite a residue of confusion over his 2011 decision to change his first name from “Mike” to “Giancarlo”. He was the Miami Marlins slugger with the athletic side. This year was the first in which he excelled across the spectrum, turning into the most-feared hitter in the National League. He had career bests in home runs (37), runs batted in (105), runs (89), doubles (31), steals (13) and on-base percentage (39.5). Those numbers came despite missing the final two weeks of the season after he was hit in the face by a pitch. The Marlins are convinced he is one of the game’s great players: they just gave the 25-year-old right field a baseball-record US$325 million (Dh1.19 billion), 13-year contract. – Paul Oberjuerge

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Published: December 31, 2014 04:00 AM

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