Most Significant Sporting Moments Of 2021: From Fury's KO To Eriksen's Revival

The Sportsman writers pick out their most significant and emotional sporting moments of the year
19:30, 31 Dec 2021

Sport makes us feel things. This year, we have witnessed a whole array of emotions from England’s penalty shootout heartbreak to Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory, but the best thing about sport is just how personal it is. To reflect on the past 12 months, four of the Sportsman team have written about their favourite sporting moment of 2021. 

Thomas Muller’s miss - Simon Lillicrap

The European Championships were utterly spectacular, England’s run to the final was absolutely immense and the scenes and goals we witnessed were unforgettable, but if I had to boil down my whole sporting year into one moment, it would be Thomas Muller’s miss in that last 16 match. 

The build-up to that game was epic, with tales of 1996 recalled from legends of the past, but England hadn’t won a game of tournament football against a major nation since 2002. I watched it in a Mancunian pub that was full of hope and nervousness rather than belief for the opening hour, but which completely erupted when Raheem Sterling put the Three Lions ahead. 

What followed was pure Hollywood. As Sterling gave the ball away and Kai Havertz played through Thomas Muller, I swear the world stopped turning. In that moment, time stood still as the forward raced through to face Jordan Pickford one-on-one. This was typical England, a moment of hope quickly dashed by the efficient Germans.

And yet… he missed. He somehow missed. In German beer gardens premature celebrations were quickly cut short while in Manchester, there were wild scenes of jubilation. That previous nervousness I mentioned was overwhelmed with first relief, and then true belief. 

Kieran Trippier and Declan Rice dragged Sterling to his feet and the nation clambered off the floor with him. Harry Kane’s goal capped off a phenomenal win, but it was that Muller miss that sent Gareth Southgate’s men on their way. What a moment. What a tournament. 

Emma Raducanu’s US Open - Conor Keane

My significant sporting moment of the year was Emma Raducanu claiming the US Open title. What she achieved coming into the tournament as a qualifier (the first ever to win a Grand Slam) and not dropping a single set at Flushing Meadows was truly remarkable. It is something I doubt we’ll see for at least a very long time, maybe not again in my lifetime.

The fact that the hype around her was so small at the beginning of the tournament, and the way it built as the weeks went on was truly special - culminating in that final performance that was watched by me and 9.2m others as the match was shown on Channel 4. Perhaps that was also a significant moment in itself, as the broadcaster paid to show the final, and then did the same with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Making these sports accessible to all and raising the viewing figures is crucial in inspiring future stars and who knows how many young girls have been inspired by Raducanu to take up the sport. 

I’ve loved tennis for two decades and watched on with joy as Andy Murray made his way to the top, but for a British 18-year-old to perform at the level she did is truly mind-blowing. She made history by becoming the first British female Grand Slam champion since Virginia Wade in 1977 and in doing so, won the hearts of a nation. 

Tyson Fury’s knockout - Seb Parkinson

Having been all over the world covering boxing over the past few years, it seems only right that my significant moment comes from inside the ring. Initially it felt like the fight nobody wanted, but by the end, it made total sense.

I was actually in the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool alongside a handful of my media colleagues for this one after we’d watched Liam Smith beat Anthony Fowler a few hours earlier. Fury came into this with a few question marks over his preparation after suffering with Covid and dealing with a serious family matter in hospital, leaving some to believe he wouldn’t be in the right headspace to beat Wilder for arguably a third time.

It was a classic heavyweight clash as both Fury and Wilder hit the deck on more than one occasion, with Wilder visibly vacant for most of the bout after going down in the third round. However the Bronze Bomber struck back and put Fury down twice in round four leaving us with our jaws on the floor wondering whether Fury may succumb to Wilder’s hulk-like power.

But plucky Brit Fury weathered the storm and broke down his American opponent before ending the contest in the eleventh round after putting Wilder down once more in the tenth to retain his WBC World Heavyweight title. Fury emerged victorious in what is regarded as the best heavyweight clash of the modern era, if not up there in the all-time rankings. 

Christian Eriksen’s Revival - Sam Penfold 

Christian Eriksen's collapse on the pitch in Copenhagen during the Euro 2020 match against Finland left the entire world stunned. I vividly remember watching it in my living room and just feeling the growing sense of unease at what was being shown on the screen. As the time went on I was utterly lost and hardly knew what to do with myself however I chose this as my most significant moment because of the unified reactions of the players, paramedics and football community.

The response of Denmark captain Simon Kjaer was the sign of a true leader. The response of the paramedics who worked tirelessly to save Eriksen's life. The response of the fans in the stadium coming together to chant Christian Eriksen's name. We're ever so grateful to still have Eriksen with us and although it's a sad moment to think about, I believe it made everyone stop and think for a second about just how precious the gift of life really is.

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