A run-down of five European teams that hit the heights in 2014.

Real Madrid in football

The galacticos of Real Madrid have had an amazing year in 2014, beating the Spanish record for the most successive victories in a row, winning the European Cup / Champions League for a record tenth time against local rivals Atletico in a dramatic final (4-1 after extra time), defeating San Lorenzo in the recent Club World Cup final and boasting the only 100% record during the group stages of this season’s Champions League campaign as they bid to retain their status of the best team in Europe. Few who witnessed their demolition of the five times winners, Liverpool, in the Champions League group stages at Anfield earlier this year, will doubt their credentials as top dogs at present and it looks likely to take a great team to stop them securing their eleventh trophy.

They have invested big in an effort to secure the cream of footballing talent within their squad and to ensure that their style is as swashbuckling as it is effective, with possibly the greatest player of the current era (with a ‘nod’ to Lionel Messi) Cristiano Ronaldo lighting up the Bernabeu stadium in partnership with his partner in ‘crime’, Gareth Bale.

Europe’s Ryder Cup golf team

Europe’s Ryder Cup golf team swept aside their noisy American rivals with a commanding three-day display at Gleneagles, under the watchful eye and precision leadership of Paul McGinley and his back-room team. McGinley’s attention to detail and pinpoint preparation were highlighted as a key factor in their victory, but that is to diminish the brilliance of the players at his disposal (including four of the top six players in the world at the time) who quite simply were not going to allow their rivals to take the trophy back across the Atlantic as they wound up 16.5 – 11.5 winners.

Germany’s World Cup winning men’s football team

They seemed to grow in unified strength and belief as the tournament in Rio progressed, displaying a seemingly fragile defence in the early stages in one or two of the qualifying matches. By the time they reached the semi-finals though they had ironed out their issues and with an admirable team ethic produced perhaps the most spellbinding and almost unbelievable performance for many a World Cup, with their 7-1 demolition of the host nation. The whole of Brazil wept as their team were put to the sword by the Germans and they carried their momentum into the final to overcome the formidable Argentinians and their talisman, Lionel Messi. Not even the mercurial skills of the Barcelona genius could deny them their historic victory in the southern hemisphere.

England’s World Cup winning women’s rugby union team

As if to prove the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, the story of England’s women’s rugby union team and their eventual triumph at the World Cup would seem to be the bona fide justification. After tasting victory in the tournament in 1994, they suffered the heartache of being runners-up in the last three World Cups leading up to this year’s version of the tournament, before finally breaking the hoodoo when beating Canada in the final. Other trophies have followed in recognition of their achievement, including the Team of the Year award at the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, being placed above no less than the European Ryder Cup winning team in the process.

Great Britain’s European Athletics Championships’ team

Team GB enjoyed their best ever European Athletics Championships in Zurich, bringing home a magnificent twelve gold medals in an overall haul of 23 medals in total, to top the medal table for only the third time in their history. Perhaps most encouraging was the manner in which many of the younger members of the team elevated themselves to compete at a higher level at the event and claim medals. Not to dismiss the more senior competitors though as ‘Supermum’ Jo Pavey took an inspirational women’s 10km gold in her 40s, Mo Farah was back in great shape to do the distance double and Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford added Euro gold to his Commonwealth title from Glasgow. The relays were a rich source of silverware for Britain, with the women’s 4 x 100m team not only winning but also smashing the national record set in 1980, with what is essentially a young and developing squad. There will be stronger challenges ahead on the global stage, but the men’s sprinters (James Dasaolu took the 100m and Adam Gemili the 200m title) demonstrated their growing maturity in their performances. 
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