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From Messi’s triumph to Federer’s retirement: 2022’s top sport stories – FRANCE 24 English

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From the moment Lionel Messi lifted the World Cup – the one major prize he had lacked – to the moment Roger Federer hung up his tennis racket, 2022 was a remarkable year in sport. FRANCE 24 looks back at all the highlights of the past 12 months.
It was the moment of mourning the footballing world had been dreading. After his family gathered around his hospital bed over Christmas, the Brazilian king of football Pelé died aged 82 on December 29. He had been suffering from colon cancer.
Pelé’s significance for the beautiful game was best summed up by Spanish newspaper El Pais, which reacted to his death with a headline describing him as “football in four letters”.
The Brazilian icon was second to none when it came to pace, finishing skills and – above all – reading the game in advance. Pelé became a global phenomenon in 1958 at the age of just 17 when his goalscoring prowess powered Brazil to World Cup victory. Remarkably, he had already notched up 100 goals for his beloved club Santos.
Pelé won three World Cups with Brazil, with further victories in 1962 and 1970. On six occasions, Pelé managed to score five goals in the same game, but he also notched 30 quadruples and 92 hat over two illustrious decades.
Pelé scored five goals in the same game on six occasions, but he also notched 30 quadruples and 92 hat-tricks over two illustrious decades.
“Like all legends, the King seemed immortal,” said France manager Didier Deschamps. “He made people dream and continued to do that with generations and generations of lovers of our sport. Who, as a child, didn’t dream of being Pelé?”
 
Tennis virtuoso Roger Federer brought his extraordinary career to a close at the end of September with a final match playing doubles alongside longstanding rival and friend Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup in London.
The 41-year-old Swiss icon made a moving expression of gratitude for his time in tennis. “This is a bittersweet decision, because I will miss everything the tour has given me,” Federer wrote. “But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth. I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.”
Federer was a mere 21 when he burst to fame by winning Wimbledon in 2003. Renowned for the consummate elegance and grace of his game, Federer at his peak dominated tennis’s most prestigious tournament – winning Wimbledon five consecutive times from 2003 to 2007.
In total, Federer won 20 titles and an unprecedented 369 Grand Slam matches during his long career, plus six Masters, one Davis Cup and one Olympic gold.
Nadal paid Federer a moving tribute upon the retirement announcement: “Dear Roger, my friend and rival. I wish this day would have never come,” he tweeted. “It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports around the world.
“It’s been a pleasure but also an honor and privilege to share all these years with you, living so many amazing moments on and off the court.”
To my tennis family and beyond,

With Love,
Roger pic.twitter.com/1UISwK1NIN
Fifty-six years after the England men’s team famously lifted the World Cup in 1966, it was the England women’s team who finally ended the trophy drought when they beat Germany 2-1 in the final in July. Millions tuned in to see the Lionesses play and more than 87,000 spectators flocked to Wembley – showing just how popular women’s football has become, especially in the UK.
The historic significance of the Lionesses’ victory was captured by Queen Elizabeth II. “The Championships and your performance in them have rightly won praise. However, your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned,” she wrote in a message to the team, months before her death in September.
“You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations. It is my hope that you will be as proud of the impact you have had on your sport as you are of the result today.”
 
The men’s World Cup final happened less than a fortnight ago but it seems already to belong to the annals of history. It was one of the greatest matches in the history of the game – not for the first, Argentina-dominated 80 minutes, but certainly from the moment France’s Kylian Mbappé scored his spot kick and lit a spark beneath both teams.
It was Mbappé’s match, as he became the second player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final after Geoff Hurst for England in 1966. But it was Lionel Messi’s night, as Argentina held their nerve and triumphed in the penalty shootout. After winning everything he wanted in club football, the diminutive genius was radiant joy after he captured the one prize to have eluded him.
The 36-year-old hit the back of the net seven times throughout the tournament and was the creative engine behind so many of Argentina’s goals. It came as no surprise when he was awarded the Golden Ball for best player of the tournament – the first player to win the prize twice.
The Argentinian victory was a seminal moment for a bitterly divided country, beset by economic and political woes, that nevertheless unites around love for its national football team and star player. The team arrived home to rapturous scenes at the victory parade in Buenos Aires on December 20, with more than five million people taking part as the government declared a national public holiday. It was the largest popular gathering in Argentinian history, according to local media.
The victory came 36 years after Argentina last won a World Cup, powered by Diego Maradona, one of the few players in the history of the sport to challenge Messi’s claim to be the greatest player of all time.
 
Morocco made World Cup history by becoming the first African and Arab nation to reach the semi-finals, when France sent them crashing out of the tournament.
Walid Regragui’s team pulled off a series of wins to shock the footballing world, defeating Belgium, Spain and Portugal and becoming a huge source of pride for both Africa and the Arab world.  
Before Qatar 2022 got started, few expected Morocco to reach the final four. But they showed remarkable team spirit and tactical acumen, defending with finesse and courage before overcoming their opponents on the counter-attack.
The Atlas Lions returned home to Rabat to a jubilant response, with hundreds of thousands taking the streets to give them a standing ovation. The team were also received by King Mohammed VI for a celebration ceremony to honour their historic achievement.
 
It’s clear that 2023 will be a huge year for French rugby as the country hosts the Rugby World Cup from September 8 to October 21. Before that, the French national team sent a strong signal to the rugby world in 2022.
Les Bleus romped to victory in the Six Nations in March, triumphing over Italy (37-10), Ireland (30-24), Scotland (36-17), Wales (9-13) and finally their biggest rivals England (25-13).
The French national rugby team can count on an “exceptional generation of players who are at once well-trained technically and have great attitudes”, former France international Philippe Saint-André told FRANCE 24.
Les Bleus continued their unbeaten run of form with a 13th straight win over Japan in the Autumn Nations League in November – a record-breaking streak that France hope to see extended well into 2023 and, who knows, beyond.
🙌 Notre #XVdeFrance conclut cette tournée d'Automne avec 𝐮𝐧𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐯𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐞 𝐯𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐢𝐫𝐞 ! 🤩
La 13e consécutive pour nos Bleus !🔥🇫🇷#FRAJPN #NeFaisonsXV pic.twitter.com/X9cdzWAv6M
Senegal won their first ever African Cup of Nations when they beat Egypt on penalties, with talismanic star Sadio Mané firing home to win the day. It was a huge achievement for the Teranga Lions, for whom the trophy had long been elusive despite 57 years since their first appearance in the competition and a storied reputation as one of the best African teams in international football.
After the victory, Senegal manager Aliou Cissé expressed his “joy” and “pride” at taking home the trophy. It was a testament to the quality of the players and their coherence as a group animated by fierce team spirit. And it was an especially great moment for their biggest star along with Mané, goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, whose career looked like it was ending in failure eight years ago, before he went on to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
 
Thirty-three years after the women’s Tour de France was last held in 1989, it started again on July 24, the same day that the men’s race came to a close.
Over the course of a week, 144 female cyclists – 109 at the finish – competed in eight stages, including a monumental final climb at the Planche des Belles Filles in eastern France’s hilly Vosges region.
One of the favourites ahead of the competition, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten won easily – succeeding the 1989 winner Jeannie Longo. This year’s tournament was characterised by a huge gulf between the big names and the other contestants, with the 14 most-famous cyclists taking all the stage victories.
The female edition of the Tour de France attracted vast interest, with crowds lining the paths in typical fashion and between 2 and 3 million watching each stage on TV. The women’s competition is now set to become a permanent fixture, with a 2023 Tour that will take contestants from Clermont-Ferrand in central France’s Auvergne region to Pau in the Pyrenees.
>> Women’s Tour de France: Director relishes chance for girls to ‘identify with champions’
 
Capping an extraordinary run of form that has seen him get better and better as he ages, Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema won the Ballon d’Or on October 17. Benzema was the clear favourite to win the prize for best player, after a decade in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominated. It was a stratospheric season for Benzema, a protean goalscoring menace, who scored 44 goals in 46 games last season, the most prolific of his career.
“This prize makes me really proud,” Benzema said. “I never gave up; it was a childhood dream. There was a difficult period where I wasn’t in the France team, but I kept working hard. I kept in my head this joy of playing football. I’m really proud of my journey here.”
At 34, Benzema became the second-oldest player ever to win the award, after English legend Stanley Matthews earned the inaugural prize aged 41 in 1956.
The Real Madrid star became the fifth Frenchmen to win the Ballon d’Or – following in the footsteps of his former club manager Zinedine Zidane, who won the trophy in 1998 and presented Benzema with this year’s prize.
Benzema missed the 2022 World Cup due to injury and announced the end of his international career shortly after the tournament.
It was the French tennis performance of the year. Caroline Garcia won the WTA Masters in Fort Worth, Texas at the beginning of November after beating the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka. She became the second Frenchwoman to achieve this feat after Amélie Mauresmo, who won the trophy in an all-French final against Mary Pierce in 2005.
It’s a richly deserved victory for the 29-year-old from Lyon, after years of doubt as to whether she could become a top player. Garcia was ranked 79th in the world in May but has pulled off a meteoric rise in the WTA rankings and is now at number 4.
So Garcia is a strong contender to win the next Grand Slam, the Australian Open in January. If she did so, she would win French women’s tennis its first major title since Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon in 2013. That would be mirroring Mauresmo’s trajectory, winning the WTA Masters and using it as a launching pad to win the Australian Open soon after.
CHAMPIONNNNNN 🤩🙌🏻🦁🐝🏆🎾

@WTAFinals pic.twitter.com/gcchYYadF6
After coming second in the 2021 Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard won the tournament’s 2022 edition on July 24.
With the race kicking off in his native Denmark, the 25-year-old had to slug it out in a breathless duel with Tadej Pogacar – the two-time defending winner at the time. But the Slovenian never quite managed to take the yellow jersey from Pogacar.
After a fierce contest over dramatic landscapes in a strength-sapping heatwave, Vingegaard clinched his win in time-trial after taking the lead in the Alps and extending it in the Pyrenees.
But the Tour may well be best remembered for a great moment of fair play: Pogacar fell at top speed and Vingegaard waited for him to catch up, with the pair clasping hands briefly.
This article was adapted from the original in French.
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