In a surprising turn of events, Supreme Soul has been cleared of having tick virus marker after a recent test was administered.  The horse has been stranded in the United States since December.

The future is certainly bright for the Kansas City Chiefs after they were crowned Super Bowl LIV champions on Sunday.

A 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium earned veteran Andy Reid his first ring as head coach, while quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the youngest player to be named both MVP - an honour he won a year ago - and Super Bowl MVP in NFL history.

With Mahomes just 24, the Chiefs will have aspirations of dominating for the foreseeable future and replicating the two dynasties the New England Patriots and Tom Brady enjoyed with six Lombardi Trophies across two decades.

However, winning back-to-back Super Bowls is no mean feat - no team has done it since the Patriots 16 years ago - so we take a look at which teams could prevent Kansas City from winning it all again in Tampa Bay next February.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The best team in the NFL's regular season fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs as the 14-2 Ravens were upset at home by the Tennessee Titans.

That was a deflating note to end on for quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was voted the NFL's MVP by unanimous vote 24 hours before Mahomes won his first ring.

Jackson is just 23, most of the Ravens' star players are expected to return and coordinators Greg Roman and Wink Martindale will likely be back alongside Coach of the Year John Harbaugh.

If Jackson is able to replicate or even exceed what he did in his first full year as the starter, the Ravens might be bound for Tampa next year.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Long live the kings? Don't count on it.

The 2019 season felt like the end of an era as Father Time looked he had finally caught up with 42-year-old quarterback Brady.

Yet those who have written off New England in the past have often ended up looking incredibly foolish.

The Patriots have 19 straight winning seasons, the best head coach in the game in Bill Belichick and had the NFL's number one defense in 2019. Brady's future remains uncertain but one final push for a Lombardi is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The nearly men of the past three seasons; Saints fans have been crushed by a trio of playoff defeats featuring walk-off plays.

New Orleans will believe they will be playing January football again after three straight seasons with double-digit wins.

Sean Payton remains one of the preeminent offensive minds, Michael Thomas broke the single-season record for receptions in 2019 and an underrated defense complements a free-scoring offense.

At 41, Drew Brees' career is coming to an end, but, presuming he decides to return next season, the Saints will surely be contending again.

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Steelers only went 8-8 in 2019 but San Francisco's transformation from 4-12 to 13-3 and a Super Bowl berth is evidence of how the NFL can quickly turn on its head.

What should give Steelers fans cause for optimism is that they won eight games without their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger was still playing at an elite level prior to his 2019 season-ending injury, leading the league in passing yardage with a career high 5,129 yards in 2018.

Combine that with an impressive young defense and a head coach tried and tested in the postseason and you have the recipe for another Super Bowl run.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

A left-field suggestion, sure, but look at the significant strides both Mahomes and Jackson took in their second years in the league.

Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray believes he can make a similar leap in 2020 and, if he can, look out.

Arizona's offense under rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury hummed at times in going 5-10-1 in 2019 and the addition of more weapons in free agency would significantly aid Murray's development.

Their biggest problem, beyond fixing a porous defense, is finding a way to come out on top in a division that contains the NFC's last two Super Bowl representatives - the 49ers and Los Angeles Rams - as well as postseason regulars the Seattle Seahawks.

Sofia Kenin sent shock waves around Melbourne by winning the Australian Open 16 years after esteemed coach Rick Macci was jolted by the same "Sonic Boom" in Florida.

Kenin bolted to her maiden grand slam with a 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory over Garbine Muguruza on Saturday at the age of 21.

The American prodigy took out world number one and home favourite Ash Barty in the semi-final before downing Muguruza in her first major final on Rod Laver Arena.

Not many tipped Kenin to win the first slam of the year, but the Russia-born 14th seed's triumph came as no surprise to Macci ​– who was staggered by her ability and attitude when he gave a first coaching lesson at his academy in Boca Raton.

The United States Professional Tennis Association Hall of Famer told Omnisport: "She came to me at five years old and the very first lesson I gave her, her ability to focus and just the way she was locked in already mentally was really startling.

"For most players that's the last piece of the puzzle, so that was the first the first thing that jumped out at me.

"Even though the racket was almost as big as her, I had her take the ball right off the bounce and she did it so easily, it was innate timing. You can teach people timing, but it can be hard to take in.

"So right after that I'm going 'what is this?' Mentally, there is a focus that I have never seen in a child this young and her hand-eye coordination just to take the ball right off the bounce. I said 'this girl is the scariest little creature I've ever seen'.

"I knew it straight away, then as time went on I said she'd be top 10 in the world by age 20 and win many grand slams, I was a year off but I think it was the age-eligibility rule that held her back a little bit.

"When she started competing, even at aged seven, her thirst for competition was just so uncanny. She was so competitive and she would say 'I never lost, I just ran out of time'.

"Every time she lost, and I had her play boys a lot even though she was a little pip-squeak, the next day or that afternoon she'd want to play them again.

"It was a like a mosquito that wouldn't leave me alone but you want that, you want people to feel pain and want to come back for more.

"To already have that inside of you when are all about the competition, that is how you handle pressure better and that has been in there since five years old, so this doesn't surprise me at all."

Kenin's father, Alex, took his daughter to the Rick Macci Tennis Academy knowing Macci played a huge part in nurturing the talents of the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and Maria Sharapova.

Macci was so struck by the newest major winner's natural talent he gave her a nickname that is very apt given the rapid progress she has made.

"At a young age people were calling her Sofia, Sonia. Just the way she played I combined the two and called her Sonic and then when she picked it up off the bounce it would be boom, so her nickname has always been Sonic Boom," the Ohio native added.

"Here we are a lot of these things the media people can see now on the big stage, this is what was unfolding aged five, six, seven, eight years old."

Antoine Griezmann said he can do it. Quique Setien thinks Ousmane Dembele can do it. But is Ansu Fati best placed to fill in for Luis Suarez at Barcelona?

The 17-year-old was one of Ernesto Valverde's final plus points for the club, the former head coach handing a chance to the youngster that has allowed him to go from La Masia hopeful to Lionel Messi strike-partner in a matter of months.

With Suarez not expected to return until the season is pretty much over, Barca were expected to sign a number nine in the transfer window. The fact that they didn't is something the board will have to explain, but another time. Sunday's win over Levante was all about Ansu.

Griezmann might have been deployed as the centre-forward, but Fati was the most threatening player on the pitch. Records tend to fall every few weeks in this player's life: Barca's second-youngest LaLiga player, youngest league goalscorer, youngest Champions League player, youngest Champions League goalscorer, and youngest to score and assist in the same LaLiga match.

Now, he has another: at 17 years and 94 days old, he is the youngest player to score two goals in a single LaLiga match in the competition's history. More importantly for Barca, this was no fun-filled cameo with the team cruising to victory - this was a match-winning performance, a double to secure a 2-1 win that could have been more comfortable had others shown Fati's clinical touch.

Only Messi managed more shots (10) and more efforts on target (six) than Fati (five and two). Barca's captain was also the only player to better Fati for chances created (seven, compared to three). It should come as no surprise that Messi set up both goals, the first with a particularly sumptuous throughball.

Perhaps more impressively, no Barca player made more tackles than Fati (four), with Gerard Pique closest on two. That paints a picture of an attacking player not afraid to shirk responsibilities when it comes to pressing defenders and helping Barca sustain pressure in the opposition half.

Of course, no amount of hard work from a forward will excuse a failure to stick the ball between the white posts, but that is a quality Fati has never lacked. His first goal showcased his lightning pace but also a surprising level of strength, as he shoved away his marker before composedly slotting beneath goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez with his right foot. His second underlined what he makes him such a threat: unpredictability. Messi played the ball into feet this time, and Fati shifted to his left before drilling in a low shot through Aitor, who could have done better.

The ability to score with either foot with ease keeps defenders wary and makes it significantly harder for opposition teams to prepare containment plans. A determined work ethic lets centre-backs know they will never be given a moment's peace when this forward is on the pitch. A good understanding with Messi is a pretty useful bonus.

Suarez has all these qualities; it seems Fati does, too. Maybe Barca didn't need a new striker after all.

While Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to record-breaking levels with an easy win over Southampton, the battle beneath them for places in the top four heated up.

The Reds thumped the Saints 4-0 at Anfield to open up a 22-point gap over Manchester City - the biggest lead any team has ever held at the top of the English top-flight - and Pep Guardiola's men lost 2-0 in a chaotic game at Tottenham a day later.

Fourth-placed Chelsea looked set to narrow the gap to Leicester City above them when they took the lead at King Power Stadium but the Foxes fought back in a 2-2 draw, while Sheffield United briefly moved up to fifth before Spurs' win after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Two sides just outside the European qualification places, Manchester United and Wolves played out a goalless draw at Old Trafford but there was no shortage of goals at West Ham or Watford.

The weekend's Opta data tells the story of 15 goals across four of the most entertaining clashes of matchweek 25, with fortunes affected at both ends of the table.

BUTTERFINGERED FOXES FRITTER LEAD AGAINST BLUES

Leicester City came from behind to lead 2-1 against Chelsea but the trend that has seen them regularly drop from winning positions continued.

Antonio Rudiger, who opened the scoring after 46 minutes, became the first defender to score twice for Chelsea in a Premier League match since John Terry against Fulham in April 2013 to ensure the points were shared.

Leicester have dropped eight points from winning positions in their last four league outings, more than they had in their previous 59 matches since the start of the 2018-19 campaign (six).

Chelsea have failed to win six of the games in which they have scored the first goal this season (D5 L1), pegged back as they were by Harvey Barnes' third goal in three league games and Ben Chilwell's 64th-minute strike.

Those goals took the Blues' tally of goals conceded on the road to 22 in 13 games, and manager Frank Lampard must address his side's defensive frailties if they are to keep their place in the Premier League top four.

CHERRIES EXPLOIT VILLA'S PROBLEMS ON THE ROAD

Back-to-back victories have moved Bournemouth up to 16th and they leapfrogged Aston Villa after beating Dean Smith's men 2-1 at Vitality Stadium.

Prior to their wins over Brighton and Hove Albion and Villa, the Cherries had only won two of their previous 17 Premier League matches but Eddie Howe's side took advantage of a defence that does not travel well to make it two wins from two.

Villa are the only side in the division yet to register a clean sheet away from home this season and they fell behind when Phillip Billing scored his first league goal for Bournemouth in his 23rd appearance for the club.

Nathan Ake extended Bournemouth's lead before Mbwana Samatta scored Villa's first headed Premier League goal in almost four years.

The consolation strike came on Samatta's league debut, making the Tanzanian attacker Villa's first first player to score on his league bow since Rudy Gestede scored against Bournemouth in August 2015.

JOY OF SIX FOR MOURINHO AFTER BERGWIJN'S DEBUT DELIGHT

Jose Mourinho enjoyed his sixth victory over Pep Guardiola after goals from Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min helped Tottenham beat the champions at home.

Mourinho has now beaten Guardiola's sides with Inter, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Spurs, with Sunday's victory Tottenham's first over City in the Premier League since they won by the same scoreline in October 2016.

City had Oleksandr Zinchenko sent off as they slipped to a sixth Premier League defeat of the season - their joint-most in a single campaign under Guardiola (six in 2016-17).

Bergwijn became the Premier League's 13th Dutchman to score on his debut and the competition's 250th player to do so, before Son scored his fifth goal against City in all competitions since the start of 2016-17 - only Jamie Vardy (six) has scored more against them in that period.

 

HAMMERS IN THE DROP ZONE AFTER POINTS SHARED IN THRILLER

West Ham were 2-0 up at half-time against Brighton but left London Stadium still winless in the Premier League against the Seagulls, who fought back to draw 3-3.

The Hammers have drawn three and lost three of their six Premier League clashes with Brighton and this was not the first time they have dropped points from a winning position this season.

In fact, David Moyes' team have lost more points from winning positions than any other top-flight team this season (19) but the last time they failed to win a game in which they led by two goals was back in October 2017 when they drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace.

Brighton have avoided defeat after trailing by two goals on three occasions, the first two coming in September 2018 when they drew 2-2 with Fulham and Southampton.

Tottenham versus Manchester City. Jose Mourinho against Pep Guardiola. The Premier League champions, title hopes hanging by the most threadbare of all threads, facing the Champions League finalists chasing a route into next season's tournament.

This was a truly special occasion for none of the above. No, this was the day VAR became the undisputed star of the show, hogging the limelight with barely a hint of trying to help the football match taking place.  

February 2, 2020 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium confirmed to the watching world that FIFA's Video Assistant Referee has turned Premier League games into the Hunger Games. This sport is now 22 players and four officials thrust together at the mercy of the Stockley Park Gamemakers. For fans of farce, the odds are ever in your favour.

Credit must go to Sunday's match officials, too, the man in the middle the perfect conductor of the modern game's death march. Forget 'The People's Elbow' – the Mike Dean Mid-Air TV Screen is now the most electrifying move in sports entertainment. He is the ultimate master of ceremonies for football's silliest moments, of which VAR is now the lead actor.

It began 13 minutes in when Raheem Sterling planted studs into Dele Alli's ankle and VAR opted not to tell Dean to change the yellow card to a red. On the sidelines, Guardiola was relieved; a nonplussed Mourinho made his feelings clear.

Some 26 minutes later – it's hard to say, thanks to VAR – Sergio Aguero, who earlier hit the post, was tripped by Serge Aurier in the box and no foul was given. City seemed so certain of a mistake that they played somewhere close to two minutes of keep-ball before Dean finally intervened. First there was the whistle, then the customary touching of the earpiece, and lastly the TV monitor stencilled into the cool winter air, followed by the four-fingered thrust at the penalty spot. It was showmanship fit to grace London's West End. Mourinho could only sit in the stalls and smile.

Then the football narrative got in the way, albeit briefly. Ilkay Gundogan stepped up and saw his penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, meaning City have failed to score four of their past six attempts from the spot in all competitions. Within a second or two, it was back to VAR, Dean's decision not to give a penalty being scrutinised again after Sterling nipped in to beat Lloris to the rebound before his knees hit the turf. Players, coaches and spectators held their breath until, at last, came VAR's decree. There was to be no second penalty, no dive, and maximum exposure to the headlines.

City players were incensed. Spurs demanded a second booking for Sterling. Mourinho leapt from his chair to argue the case with the fourth official. Dean sent everyone back to their positions, withdrew the yellow card from his pocket, and waited. He was now in his element, Milton's Lucifer from Paradise Lost made flesh: the wary fiend had emerged from Chaos to stand upon the brink of Hell, and looked a while, pondering his voyage. He first booked Toby Alderweireld, then strode further into the City half to Oleksandr Zinchenko and flashed yellow his way, too. Only then was football allowed to resume.

So it was that a top-level game became wholly, inexorably about VAR, Tottenham's potentially title-race-deciding win a mere sideshow. Zinchenko's correct second booking for a body-check on Harry Winks was only noteworthy because of the first-half nonsense. The fact Winks played one of his best games in a Spurs shirt, shackling City's midfield runners and controlling the space in which they thrive with barely a misstep, was a footnote. A sublime debut goal from Steven Bergwijn, a chest-and-volley of impudent quality, and a deflected second from Son Heung-min were simply part of the encore.

Spurs are up to fifth, four points off the top four. City have now lost six games and sit 22 points adrift of Liverpool, who can win the title on March 21. Mourinho showed he can still outfox Guardiola, still best the very best in the business. City had 18 shots yet failed to score in back-to-back league games for the first time since March 2016. Bergwijn was almost overcome in celebrating a goal he will never forget. Davinson Sanchez hit his own crossbar with an injury-time header.

So what? This was VAR's time to shine.

Eddie Jones expected to see a brutal display when England travelled to France in the opening round of the 2020 Six Nations – and that is exactly what he got.

The problem for Jones, though, is that his pre-match quote with regards England testing their opponents' readiness for Test rugby came back to bite him. Badly.

Les Bleus were certainly up to the task. Starting a new era under the stewardship of Fabien Galthie and with defensive expert Shaun Edwards part of the coaching staff, they produced a performance that, after a long period rather stuck in the international doldrums, raises the hope they can rise again. England, in contrast, were as flat as a crepe.

"France can expect absolute brutality from England, we are going to go out there to make sure they understand what Test rugby is. It is about being brutal, it is about being physical and it is about dominating the set piece," Jones had said in his pre-match media conference.

Yet after stoking the flames ahead of a clash that rarely needs help to catch fire, his players failed to even do the basics expected of your local junior team.

Their first-half display quickly brought back memories of November's Rugby World Cup final against South Africa, when they suffered a chastening 32-12 defeat that saw an otherwise excellent campaign end in disappointing fashion.

Disappointing would be a generous description for an error-strewn opening 40 minutes at the Stade de France.

England treated the ball as if if harboured a contagious disease. Debutant George Furbank was diagnosed early with a case of the 'dropsies', which was perhaps understandable to a degree. However, the problem even spread as far as the usually reliable Owen Farrell, who failed to hang on to a simple pass in midfield, much to the delight of a raucous French crowd revelling in what they were witnessing.

There was even a penalty given away for failing to mind the gap at a lineout; that is how far things went underground for England.

Still, while the visitors showed all the coordination of a baby giraffe on ice, France produced some slick rugby in slippery conditions to assume total control. They led 17-0 at half-time, while Edwards' fingerprints were all over an aggressive defensive display that stifled England.

Jones may well have been brutal with his half-time assessment of his team's performance in the changing room, though England did not really start to show any fight until the immediate aftermath of Charles Ollivon's second try of the game, as a late challenge on the scorer caused a confrontation with just under an hour gone.

Jonny May – one of the few bright lights for the visitors in a dismal outing – crossed twice to reduce the gap, both fine finishes by the wing that demonstrated what England can deliver when they can build from firm foundations.

In the end, though, time scuppered any hopes of a dramatic comeback. France – who had surrendered a 16-point lead to lose on opening weekend a year ago to Wales – stood firm under late pressure near their own line, forcing Farrell to slot over a penalty with the final kick of the contest just to claim a losing bonus point.

After a stirring rendition prior to kick-off, the home support voiced their approval by singing La Marseillaise one more time in the closing stages of a superb 24-17 triumph.

England must now face the realisation that their Grand Slam prospects for this year are over after 80 minutes. Jones fanned the flames with his words in the media, but this rebooted France team let their rugby do the talking.

The Super Bowl LIV matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers is regarded as one of the best of recent years.

Opinions are firmly split on whether the league's most talented quarterback, Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, or the NFL's most talented team, the 49ers will prevail at Hard Rock Stadium.

Regardless of the outcome, it is anticipated to be a game that will live long in the memory.

Here we look at the aspects of the game where a mouth-watering contest will likely be won and lost.


Patrick Mahomes v the 49ers pass rush

Mahomes is dangerous not just because of the explosive plays he makes look routine, but also because of the way in which he is able to avoid negative plays.

He was sacked only 17 times in the regular season and threw just five interceptions. However, the Niners' ferocious pass rush, which including the playoffs has racked up 57 sacks, will provide the superstar passer with his stiffest challenge of the campaign.

The 49ers' path to victory involves getting to Mahomes and forcing uncharacteristic mistakes, if they fail to do that, it could be a long evening for the best defense in the NFL.

The battle of the elite tight ends

The 49ers' George Kittle has cemented a reputation as the premier player at tight end. However, the Chiefs' Travis Kelce is also among the elite at the position and has the opportunity to state his case as the class of the tight end field on the grandest stage of them all.

Kittle is an outstanding all-around player who makes an impact on almost every play through his remarkable athleticism and pass-catching ability, along with his incredible contributions as a blocker.

Kelce has developed a near-telepathic rapport with Mahomes and is crucial to helping his quarterback dice up zone coverage schemes such as that employed by the 49ers.

Both Kittle and Kelce will be imperative to their respective teams' gameplans and whichever tight end enjoys the better outing could have a decisive impact on an encounter that looks tantalisingly poised.

A heavyweight coaching matchup

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Super Bowl LIV is the coaching matchup between Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, two of the finest offensive play-callers in the modern game.

The offenses of the Chiefs and the 49ers have each proved near-impossible to stop this season. Kansas City's attack has thrived as the combination of Reid and Mahomes has proved a match made in heaven, the Chiefs possessing unquestionably the most dynamic deep passing attack in the NFL.

Like Reid, 49ers head coach Shanahan is a renowned innovator who excels at exploiting mismatches, with the way he has developed his father Mike's outside-zone running game turning San Francisco's rushing attack into a juggernaut. 

Reid and Shanahan are known for their meticulous preparation and have had two weeks to plan for this contest. The winner of what many expect to be a shootout may be decided by which coach put together the superior gameplan during that fortnight.

San Francisco's surging ground game

That San Francisco running game is likely to be the focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and with good reason.

The Niners totalled an astonishing 471 yards and six touchdowns on the ground across their playoff wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, controlling the clock and taking pressure off quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo while ensuring the defense stayed rested.

Should the 49ers succeed in doing the same in the Super Bowl and keep Mahomes off the field, the advantage will tilt firmly in their favour.

The Chiefs' need for speed

Kansas City can produce consistently huge games largely because of the track-star speed the Chiefs have in their receiving corps.

Tyreek Hill may be the fastest player in the NFL and rookie Mecole Hardman cannot be far behind. 

Their pace puts a huge strain on opposing secondaries, but the 49ers – despite not being blessed with significant speed among their defensive backs – have done a superb job of limiting explosive plays.

The Niners gave up just five passing plays of 40 yards or more in the regular season, thanks to a combination of their pass rush and a vastly improved secondary, with All-Pro corner Richard Sherman and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt enjoying excellent seasons.

That trio will need to maintain that form to keep the most dangerous offense the Niners defense has faced at bay.

Novak Djokovic was in charge, and then he was not, He was injured, and then he was not. He was sliding to defeat, yet suddenly he was not.

And now the Serbian is a 17-time grand slam champion, fast closing on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the all-time list, after an eighth Australian Open title.

World number one again, into the bargain.

And that familiar beat goes on. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have now swept up the last 13 slams between them. Interlopers, keep trying your best lads.

Many greats of the Open era barely gave a Castlemaine XXXX about the Australian Open until the mid-1980s, the likes of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe repeatedly giving Melbourne a miss.

Yet Djokovic has built his career around repeated triumphs on Rod Laver Arena and is now 8-0 in Australian Open finals, joining Nadal and Federer as the only players to have won a single slam eight or more times.

Nadal's 12 Roland Garros triumphs may never be surpassed, Federer has savoured eight Wimbledon successes, and now Djokovic belongs to the eight-and-up club.

In previous years Djokovic has used this fortnight as a springboard to a new season, but he arrived at Melbourne Park already on a high, fresh from helping Serbia to glory in Sydney in the inaugural ATP Cup, fresh from beating Nadal so soon into a new season. Fresh to take on the world.

Yet for a long stretch of this five-set final against Dominic Thiem, Djokovic looked anything but fresh.

After trading breaks, Djokovic was gifted the first set when Thiem flunked a backhand and then double-faulted.

Usually a mighty front-runner, Djokovic's game began to splutter. Two double faults in game three of the second set saw him hand over the advantage to Thiem, who was ahead despite his often mighty backhand operating temperamentally.

It was that single-handed shot that was threatening to undo Thiem's otherwise fine work as he forged to level the match, and a wild example gave back the break, with Djokovic looking sharper after a change of racket.

But the 32-year-old from Belgrade can blow up too, and when he dropped serve for a second time in the set, after being twice penalised for time violations before slamming a forehand over the baseline, Djokovic was rattled.

He approached chair umpire Damien Dumusois, tapped him on the shoe and snapped: "Great job man, especially in the second one. You made yourself famous, well done."

The inelegant show of dissent was followed by Thiem wrapping up the set then swiftly tearing to a 4-0 lead in the third.

Thiem's backhand was back, while Djokovic appeared physically sapped. Limping, at times almost unsteady on his feet; anyone else and you might have written him off.

But Djokovic has shown a limp and followed it with a sprint before.

And although Mr Dumusois had not heard the end of Djokovic's complaints - the umpire's failure to immediately over-rule a call of 'out' led to another snippy rebuke - soon the match began to turn around.

Thiem made sure of set three, but just as a first grand slam title came into the Austrian's sights, it was clinically wrenched away.

A cheap concession of serve in the eighth game of the fourth set allowed Djokovic to level. Thiem was a rabbit in the headlights, Djokovic on full beam.

Breaking in the third game of the decider put Djokovic firmly in control, and that was swiftly followed by the saving of two break points, which effectively killed Thiem.

So what then of Thiem?

He said all the right things afterwards, praising Djokovic and speaking of the bigger picture in light of Australia's bushfire crisis.

But after two French Open final defeats to Rafael Nadal, another slam setback will feel more painful by the day, particularly as he was in the ascent this time.

Ask Andy Murray, who lost four slam finals before making his breakthrough at the 2012 US Open, what these days feel like below the surface.

To take a Murrayism, Thiem is getting closer.

Thiem is certainly due a break. He fell short in the ATP Finals title match last November, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas, and split from girlfriend Kristina Mladenovic at around the same time.

In an eye-catching move, he hired his compatriot Thomas Muster to join his coaching team for 2020, but they have already parted company.

When he beat Djokovic during the ATP Finals, Thiem said it took "something outstanding, something unusual" to achieve that feat.

That was a best-of-three contest though. Over five sets, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer remain the untouchable trio when it comes to slam finals.

A Djokovic fan, wearing a red and white T-shirt bearing the message "Serbia against the world", roared on his man as he reached the brink of this latest triumph.

Federer's haul of 20 slams is within striking range, with Djokovic three short of the Swiss and two behind Nadal.

And here's a thing: the men's game has still yet to see a grand slam singles winner born in the 1990s.

Thiem would have become the first. He held this match in his hands, and he dropped it.

Novak Djokovic extended his record for the most Australian Open titles, clinching an eighth after edging Dominic Thiem in Sunday's final.

The Serbian star moved onto 17 major crowns by overcoming Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after three hours, 59 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic became the third man to win a single major eight times, with Rafael Nadal (12 French Open titles) and Roger Federer (eight at Wimbledon) having also achieved the feat.

We take a look back at all of his Australian Open successes.

2008 – A maiden grand slam title

Aged 20, this was Djokovic's fourth main-draw appearance in Melbourne and his previous best had been the fourth round the year prior.

But he produced a flying run to the final, beating Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets in the last 16 and top seed Federer in the semis.

Djokovic, the third seed, was left with a surprise opponent in the final and he made the most of his chance, coming from a set down to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

It was the first grand slam since the 2005 Australian Open not won by either Federer or Nadal.

2011 – The beginning of complete Melbourne dominance

Djokovic had to wait three years for his second title in Melbourne, but it started a wonderful run of dominance.

He was largely untouchable again on his way to the final, including wins over top-10 seeds Tomas Berdych and Federer.

Djokovic crushed Andy Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3 in the decider to win the first of an incredible three grand slams in 2011.

 

2012 – Coming through two epics

This would be a major best remembered for two matches – Djokovic's semi and final.

He took almost five hours to get past Murray in the last four in a match that seemed certain to ruin his chances in the decider.

Somehow, Djokovic came through that too, beating Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in the longest Open Era grand slam final, which went for a gruelling five hours, 53 minutes.

2013 – Hat-trick complete

Djokovic extended his winning streak at the Australian Open to 21 matches with a third straight title.

He became the first man in the Open Era to win a hat-trick of titles in Melbourne.

Djokovic took five hours to get past Stan Wawrinka – the man who would break his run the following year – in the fourth round before again beating Murray in a final.

 

2015 – Another Wawrinka marathon, another Murray final

Fernando Verdasco and Milos Raonic were unable to stop Djokovic and, this time, Wawrinka failed too.

Djokovic beat the Swiss star in a five-set semi-final before a familiar face stood between him and another title.

Murray managed to split the first two sets, but Djokovic ran away with it from there 6-3 6-0 for a fifth crown.

2016 ­– Record equalled after Simon scare

It was the fourth round that proved to be the biggest scare in Djokovic's bid for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title.

But he got through another gruelling five-setter, this time against French 14th seed Gilles Simon.

Kei Nishikori, Federer and Murray were unable to stop him from there as Djokovic joined Roy Emerson on six Australian Open crowns.
 

2019 – Record claimed in flawless fashion

For a six-time champion and the world number one, this seemed like a quiet run by Djokovic.

He dispatched of up-and-comers Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, spent less than an hour on court with an exhausted Nishikori and was almost flawless against Lucas Pouille.

Only Nadal stood between him and a record seventh Australian Open title in a repeat of their epic 2012 final.

And Djokovic may have saved his best performance for the final, dismantling Nadal in just over two hours.

2020 – Thiem test survived to close in on Federer, Nadal

Djokovic entered the tournament on the back of six impressive singles wins at the ATP Cup.

After a brief first-round hiccup against Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic cruised into the quarter-finals.

He continued his dominance of Milos Raonic with a 10th win in as many meetings with the Canadian and then brushed a hurt Federer aside.

Thiem, playing his third major final, was a huge test, but Djokovic survived after almost four hours to extend his record in Melbourne. It was his 17th major title, moving closer to the tallies of Federer (20) and Nadal (19), as he reclaimed the number one ranking.

The Algarve: Sun, sea, sand and, if you are the England rugby squad, a chance to discuss salary caps. 

Eddie Jones - a man not known for sugar-coating his words - made clear that England's pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal offered not just preparation time but also an opportunity to clear the air in the wake of the Saracens scandal.  

Joe Marler described the situation as the "elephant in the room", while Jones himself said the players needed to "get it out on the table" so they could all move on. The hope is voicing any grievances with what happened at the Premiership club will not allow any resentment to fester and, potentially, cause a splintering in the ranks. 

While their futures at club level remain uncertain, some of Sarries' stars will once again provide the backbone for England's push for glory in this year's championship. The one notable absentee is Billy Vunipola, once again sidelined due to a broken arm. Yet even without the number eight, hopes are rightly high for success.

They will no doubt have memories of their last outing, a painful Rugby World Cup final that did not go to plan. Having ended New Zealand's longstanding grip on the Webb Ellis Cup with a stunning semi-final win, England failed to hit the same heights in the showpiece game. In truth, they didn't even come close. 

That 32-12 loss to the Springboks in Yokohama must have hurt back in November, but - now the dust has settled and the debrief is all done - it can provide a catalyst to raise the bar, rather than the beginning of the end for the current crop.

Asked in a media conference if there was a concern over a World Cup hangover still lingering, young flanker Tom Curry offered a response that was both swift and to the point: "No".

Jones will not tolerate any self-pity either. Instead, the Australian will expect a reaction, starting with their trip to Paris on opening weekend. 

For Les Bleus, this feels like the first chapter in a new story. Head coach Fabien Galthie selected 19 uncapped players in his initial squad, suggesting he is free to shape the script going forward. 

England, however, do not have the thought of the 2023 World Cup at the forefront of their minds. Jones may not even still be in charge by then – his current deal runs until August 2021 – so his only focus is on winning now. 

Trusted lieutenants will once again will be relied upon to lead in the heat of battle, including Saracens duo Owen Farrell, who captains the team against France, and Maro Itoje. 

With Ireland and Wales – Grand Slam winners in 2018 and 2019 respectively – beginning new regimes following the departures of longstanding coaches, the familiar faces lining up in white shirts are considered favourites to reign this year. 

After so much talk around off-field issues and World Cup hangovers, the players may just be grateful just to get on with playing games.

Vunipola's absence is an obvious blow, considering his ball-carrying abilities, but there is more than enough power in the pack to cope without him. The time for talking is over; England know there are no excuses for failing to deliver a first title since 2017.

Over the past decade there has often been a sense of the unknown with France entering the Six Nations, but what should we make of the 2020 vintage?

Les Bleus were desperately unlucky to lose their Rugby World Cup quarter-final to Wales 20-19, that heartbreaking defeat in Japan bringing an end to Jacques Brunel's tenure.

It was already known Fabien Galthie would replace Brunel after the conclusion of rugby's most prestigious competition and he wasted little time in stamping his authority on the squad.

At a tournament where it seems every team is going through a transition of sorts, France – whose last Six Nations triumph was in 2010 – in particular are headed for a new era and there is plenty of intrigue over how they will fare.


OUT WITH THE OLD IN WITH THE NEW FOR LES BLEUS

When announcing his Six Nations training squad at the start of January, Galthie named 19 uncapped players in a 42-man party that had an average age of just 24.

Only 15 of the squad that travelled to Japan were retained in that selection, with Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Rabah Slimani and Yoann Huget among the notable absentees.

France have won the past two World Rugby Under-20 Championships with Louis Carbonel, Cameron Woki, Arthur Vincent, Jean-Baptiste Gros and Killian Geraci among the graduates from those teams called into the training squad.

Perhaps wisely, Galthie only has two uncapped players starting for a formidable opener against World Cup runners-up England at the Stade de France, with Montpellier duo Anthony Bouthier and Mohamed Haouas starting at full-back and tighthead prop respectively.

But both Woki and Boris Palu could make their debuts off the bench, while the inexperienced Demba Bamba and Peato Mauvaka are aiming to build on their fledgling international careers and Julian Marchand makes his first France start at hooker.


OLLIVON TAKES ON THE ARMBAND

If proof were needed of Galthie's intention to build for the future, then look no further than the decision to name Charles Ollivon as captain.

With Guilhem Guirado having retired from international rugby, Toulon flanker Ollivon was chosen to lead France against England despite the 26-year-old having gained just 11 caps.

England coach Eddie Jones promised his side will bring "brutal physicality" to Paris, so a starting XV with an average of 15 caps could be in for a baptism of fire.

It will fall on the likes of Gael Fickou (51 caps) and Bernard Le Roux (37 caps) to lead by example as the more seasoned players on the pitch to help Ollivon and the inexperienced players in the team.


EXCELLENT EDWARDS A SHREWD ADDITION

It is not just on the pitch where Galthie has looked to shape his own squad, there have been changes off the pitch too.

Les Bleus legend Raphael Ibanez – part of Grand Slam-winning Five Nations sides in 1997 and 1998 – has arrived as team manager, Laurent Labit has left Racing 92 for a place in the national backroom team, while William Servat, Karim Ghezal, Thibault Giroud and Nicolas Buffa will all serve under Galthie.

But perhaps the most important appointment is that of Shaun Edwards, who is the new defence coach.

Edwards is one of the most highly rated coaches in world rugby and had a plethora of options after leaving a similar role with Wales he had enjoyed for 12 years.

Working alongside Warren Gatland, Wales won four Six Nations titles, including the Grand Slam in 2008, 2012 and 2019, while they were World Cup semi-finalists twice in that time.

In August 2018 it was announced Edwards had agreed to take over Super League side Wigan Warriors but he later stated a contract was never presented to him.

The Warriors' loss could be yet be France's greatest gain. The chance to work with a promising, yet raw team is one that is sure to excite Edwards, who also been involved in the past two British and Irish Lions tours with Gatland.

Lamar Jackson was drained.

On January, 6, 2019, in his first NFL playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback had been restricted to under 200 yards passing by the Los Angeles Chargers, he was sacked seven times and the offense he led failed to score a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, at which point the game was gone.

Boos from his own fans ringing in his ears; critics questioning whether he could make it as an NFL quarterback.

He told his personal quarterback coach Josh Harris he needed some time off before they reconvened for their offseason work.

When they did, two weeks after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, the aim was to get back to basics.

"This is going to be a very slow offseason and it's going to be boring," Harris told Jackson.

Sometimes they would spend an hour mimicking the basic action of the throwing motion. Some days that was all they did.

Other days Harris would swing a broom at Jackson's legs, abdomen and head to replicate the pressure he feels in the pocket.

"He hates the broom drill," Harris told Omnisport.

"I always do this after he frustrates me to scare him. 'If you don't listen to me, I will hit you with this broom!'"

The mantra all offseason was "finding your rhythm" and Harris preached it for four days a week. It was supposed to be five but Jackson "always found a way to get out of Fridays".

On September 8, 2019, in his first NFL game of the season, Jackson got the chance to put the lessons he had learned with Harris just 26 miles away into practice.

He threw for 324 yards, torched the Miami Dolphins in their own stadium with five touchdown passes and had a perfect passer rating. It was the start of a campaign that would end with the MVP award, given to him in the same city on Saturday night.

--

Harris has known Jackson since his college days at Louisville. Jackson's mother, Felicia Jones, and his youth football coach, Van Warren, believed Harris could take the quarterback's game on. They were right, he won the Heisman Trophy later that year.

"He never acted like a person that was this gifted at football," Harris said.

"He's very teachable. He's a perfectionist, he gets frustrated when things aren't going well."

And if Harris wants the perfect rep out of Jackson, he knows just which buttons to push.

On his iPhone Notes app are a series of criticisms pundits have levelled at Jackson. Comments from the people who didn't think he could throw. Those who, like former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager, Bill Polian, thought he should change position.

"You can see when you give him a criticism, it turns into fuel," Harris explained.

"I've had other players, they wither under it. It motivates him, he's seen that [criticism] every step of the way."

-- 

The critics did not think Jackson, unquestionably an elite talent with his legs, would ever be able to lead the NFL in touchdown passes - as he did in 2019 with 36 scores.

So when Harris was designing Jackson's unique pro day before the 2018 NFL Draft, the aim was to prove to those in attendance that he could win from the pocket. Jackson took every snap from under centre and threw to multiple receivers instead of just one.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was there and so was Baltimore's quarterback coach James Urban, who impressed Harris by showing a keen interest in his drills.

When it came to draft night, Harris wore a purple tie, hoping it would prove a lucky omen and that his pupil would be selected by the Ravens.

One by one the players on the tables next to Jackson that night in Texas were drafted. Saquon Barkley to the New York Giants. Josh Rosen to the Arizona Cardinals. Jaire Alexander, Jackson's college team-mate, to the Green Bay Packers.

Soon only one pick remained in the first round. Amputee linebacker Shaquem Griffin was in the green room, though he was never going to be selected that high, as were running back Derrius Guice, and Jackson, whose entourage had flights booked back for the following morning thinking he would be chosen in the first round.

All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey had stuck around too, an interested observer in Jackson's fate.

When Guice's phone rang with the Philadelphia Eagles on the clock, Harris figured he knew what that meant. But there was another call coming into that room, to Jackson's phone.

"Everybody's in a daze," Harris said.

"He's just sitting there. I slapped him, 'Man, pick up the phone!'"

It was the Baltimore Ravens. They had traded up to select Jackson with the final pick of the first round, a move that would look incredibly shrewd less than two years later when he led them to an NFL-best 14-2 record.

-- 

Harris was a little worried as Jackson continued to compile an MVP-calibre campaign. The sensational 47-yard touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals. The ludicrous touchdown pass to Mark Andrews when off-balance in Cleveland. The accumulation of yards on the ground (1,206) that would see him break Michael Vick's single-season record for most among quarterbacks.

"He's the media darling now," Harris thought.

Where then was he going to find the criticism to fuel Jackson?

Then came the shock 28-12 Divisional Round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, which happened despite Jackson producing over 500 yards of total offense.

Not only did the Titans' defensive scheme give Harris and Jackson something to mull over this offseason, it also provided the coach with some new entries for his iPhone Notes.

"They're saying you're 0-2 in playoff games," Harris intends to tell Jackson when they next meet.

"They were even critiquing your precision passing in the Pro Bowl skills challenge. 

"I know it's silly but cool, I can use it."

Jackson will trot back out onto the practice field in Pompano Beach in two weeks' time as the freshly crowned MVP - the best player in the entire NFL.

But Harris will be ready, with his iPhone Notes, and his broom.

"I already know how to motivate him," Harris concludes.

"I've got a couple of bullets in the chamber for the MVP!"

Lamar Jackson is the NFL's MVP - an honour that comes as no surprise.

The Ravens quarterback delivered a sensational season in his first full year as Baltimore's starter, guiding them to an AFC-best 14-2 record.

Jackson, 23, not only proved how potent he is with his legs but showed he could win with his arm too, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes.

We look at five defining moments in Jackson's MVP campaign.

 

NOT BAD FOR A RUNNING BACK!

A Week 1 matchup against a Miami Dolphins roster that had been gutted of most of its star power allowed Jackson to feast. However, it was through the air, rather than on the ground, where he did his damage.

Jackson completed 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns - including two bombs to rookie receiver Marquise Brown - while rushing for just six yards on three attempts.

It was a defiant response to those who thought Jackson could not win with his arm. After posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating, he took aim at his critics by saying: "Not bad for a running back!"

BOUNCING BACK AGAINST THE BENGALS

Five of Jackson's six interceptions in 2019 came in Weeks 4 and 5, so he needed a response in Week 6 and, boy, did he deliver one.

He became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to pass for at least 200 yards (236) and rush for at least 150 (152), burrowing in for a 21-yard score on the ground too.

Jackson fell 21 yards shy of Michael Vick's single-game rushing record for a QB in the regular season, though another of his marks would soon be surpassed...

YOU MADDEN, BRO?

Four weeks later and the Bengals once again had no answer to the man quickly establishing himself as the best dual-threat QB in the NFL.

In going 15-of-17 for 223 yards and throwing three touchdowns, Jackson posted his second perfect passer rating of the season.

Yet it was his jaw-dropping 47-yard TD run that justified the MVP chants as Jackson spun away from three defenders as if he was being controlled by a Madden video game player.

LIKE MIKE... ONLY BETTER

Another primetime outing, another primetime performance; this time on Thursday Night Football against the New York Jets in Week 15.

The Ravens clinched the AFC North title, and Jackson possibly the MVP award, with a 42-21 demolition of the Jets in which the quarterback once again threw five touchdowns.

He also broke Vick's single-season rushing record (1,039 yards) for a QB on the opening drive, finishing with another 86 yards on the ground on just eight carries.

DEFYING LOGIC AGAINST CLEVELAND

If the spinning TD against the Bengals showcased Jackson's running ability, his connection with Mark Andrews in Week 16 highlighted his pocket presence, touch and poise as a passer.

With 15 seconds left before the half and no timeouts left, blitzing Cleveland Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie looked to take Jackson down.

Yet the former Louisville quarterback juked past the onrushing Carrie, kept his eyes downfield and, from an unbalanced platform, dropped a dime over Damarious Randall to Andrews in the endzone.

When the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers square off in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, it will not just be a meeting of the league's most talented quarterback against its most complete team. It will also be a matchup of the two greatest offensive minds in the game today.

They are in different stages of career and their journeys to this point have been markedly different, but no other offensive coach in the league does creativity and innovation to the level of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and 49ers boss Kyle Shanahan.

Despite the strength of the Niners defense and the improvements made by that of the Chiefs down the stretch, you will find few in Miami willing to bet against a shootout at Hard Rock Stadium.

It's a 61-year-old veteran against the 40-year-old christened as a genius almost throughout the league, and their intelligence and incredible acumen are sure to help keep the scoreboard ticking in what many expect to be a classic Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid

A former assistant of Mike Holmgren with the Green Bay Packers, Reid was schooled in the West Coast offense that Holmgren was immersed in during his time working under the legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh. 

The West Coast is an offense that is built on the principle of getting the ball to the receivers in space from them to gain yardage after the catch. 

Reid has stuck to that tenet of the scheme, but the genius in his approach lies with how he has incorporated the deep pass. The West Coast system may be designed to put players in space, but the Chiefs, through drafting the likes of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, have added players so fast that they create their own space.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted a deep pass of 20 yards or more at the ninth-highest rate in the NFL this season, despite missing the best part of 11 quarters with a knee injury, with the 2.4 yards of separation from the nearest defender his receivers averaged on those passes the second-highest amount in the league.

Such is Reid's faith in Mahomes' arm and the speed of his receivers, that one of the Chiefs' most frequent play-calls if four verticals – essentially just four receivers running straight down the field.

The raw pace the Chiefs have at their disposal allows Reid the luxury of stretching defenses deep, but he also uses their physical gifts to test opponents horizontally as well. Reid will frequently send his running back in motion to shift defenders over to a certain side of the field and make them respect the possibility of a short throw to that area, opening greater pockets of space downfield.

Respect for such motion is a result of the impact Hill has made on jet sweeps and reverses out of the backfield, the former fifth-round pick adept at ripping off significant gains through plays that are effectively an extension of the running game.

Further downfield, Reid also utilizes the speed of his wideouts with deep crossing patterns that give defenders, as Raiders safety Karl Joseph found out in Week 2, a difficult decision to make as to who to cover. The combination of the Chiefs' speed and Reid's play-calls so often puts defenses in a bind, which is something his opposite number Shanahan seemingly revels in finding new ways to do.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan

The only team that ranks above the Chiefs in average separation on deep passes is the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo's completion percentage of 58.1 on deep throws is the best in the league, above Mahomes in second (47.1).

San Francisco and Garoppolo's presence at the top of those respective lists will surprise many given their postseason successes over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers were built around a dominant running game.

But the fact the Niners are able to flourish on the ground and send it deep is testament to Shanahan, who creates huge holes for his troop of electric running backs with an outside zone scheme that is an extension of what his father Mike ran in Denver and Washington. Shanahan also does an excellent job of recognising a defense's weak link and relentlessly taking advantage of it to get his receivers open.

A master of misdirection and disguise, no coach in the NFL relies on motion and play-action more than Shanahan, and the results have been devastatingly impressive for a team that finished the regular season second in points per game with 29.9.

The two players that are most crucial to Shanahan's consistent success with deception are Kyle Juszczyk and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Juszczyk is the Niners' Swiss Army knife. Many balked at the $21millon contract the Niners gave the fullback in 2017, but he has more than proved his worth.

The Niners do not use him as strictly a traditional fullback, they deploy him as a tight end and as a slot receiver as well as in the backfield, and the fact he has the athleticism to block and catch passes from each of those spots makes it near-impossible to decipher what his responsibility on a given play.

Juszczyk was the lead blocker on Samuel's touchdown on a reverse in the 49ers' crucial Week 17 win at the Seattle Seahawks that clinched a bye and homefield advantage in the playoffs for San Francisco.

Samuel has slotted seamlessly into the offense, racking 802 receiving yards, but the threat of him as a runner out of the backfield has allowed Shanahan to add another dimension to his attack, forcing defenders to hesitate when he comes across the formation, as they did when he ended up being the lead blocker for one of four Raheem Mostert touchdowns in the NFC Championship game.

Stopping the Niners' diverse ground attack will be a primary focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but, with Shanahan being such a savant of disguise and having the likes of Juszczyk and Samuel at his disposal, it is difficult how to see that goal can be achieved in what will be a points fest if he and Reid perform at their play-calling peak.

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