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pic: JASON HILL


THE


LOCKER ROOM


As World Cup fever grips the nation, is it time for Wales to return to the world stage?


BLOOD, SWEAT AND OIL


TIME was when rugby stadiums used to host, well, rugby. Not anymore. Sat 10 July sees the troublesome Millen- nium Stadium pitch torn up yet again and replaced with a speedway track. Speedway is big business now, and expect a near-capacity stadium to witness the exhilarating FIM Speed- way Grand Prix. The event features the top 15 world ranked riders, meaning the likes of Polish champion Jaroslaw Ham- pel and Denmark’s Kenneth Bjerre take on three-time world champion from Bristol, Jason Crump. But the event promises to be a huge night in the career of Britain’s other top rider,


27-year-old Chris Harris. Harris, who won the Cardiff event in his debut season in 2007, hasn’t won a GP since, meaning that he is in danger of losing his place amongst the elite top 15 riders. It’s certain that Harris will be hoping that the memory of victory in Cardiff three years ago will inspire him to a top three finish this season. So, if you fancy cheering on Chris, and you’ve never witnessed 500cc motorbikes with no brakes and engines capable of acceleration quicker than that of a Formula One car, then a trip to the Millennium Stadium on 10 July will be just the trip for you. DAVE BRAYLEY


Tickets: £35-£84/£17 kids. Info: www.speedwaygp.com


CIA HOST SUPER PUNCH-OUT


ANY boxing fans out there? Well, if there are, Cardiff Inter- national Arena becomes the centre of the boxing universe for three days in July. Thanks to an annual global festival called The WBC Night Of Champions, the eyes of boxing fans everywhere will be on Wales. The two curtain-raisers for the main event are the world premiere of Risen – a biopic of leg- endary Welsh World Champion Howard Winstone – on Thurs 29, and a Team GB Boxing night on Fri 30. Featuring cameos by World Champions Erik Morales and Swansea’s own Enzo Maccarinelli, Risen attempts to capture the compelling story of local hero Winstone. If it manages to do justice to Winstone’s remarkable life – how many World Champions do you know who lost three fingers on their hand? – it will have all the makings of a cult hit. The Team GB boxing night sees Britain’s Olympic boxers taking on hand-picked opponents in a one-off tournament of world class boxing. Finally, the cul- mination of the festival is The Night Of Champions in front of over 100 past and present world champions including Lennox Lewis and David Haye. The ceremony rewards the great and the good of World Professional Boxing with awards reflecting performances across all weight categories over the past 12 months. It promises to be a unique event. DAVE BRAYLEY


Tickets: £25-£100. Info: www.wbcnightofchampions.com


BUZZ 24


WITH World Cup fever setting in around the world, Wales’ absence is hardly surprising. Indeed, it was way back in 1958 that the Welsh national side last qualified, making it over 50 years ago that the Welsh last graced the heights of the World Cup (or even the Euro) stage. With mediocre European sides such as Denmark, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia qualifying for this summer’s event in South Africa, it should give the Welsh side hope that you do not need to have a team full of world-beaters to make the World Cup Finals. With the right manager, a bit of luck and quality in the right areas, qualifying for the World Cup in 2014 should be an achievable goal. Wales have, over years, been savaged by bad luck, poor performances in big games and a huge talent gap, with, for example, top quality players such as Bale and Ramsey lining up aside Steve Evans and Jermaine Easter. The last time that Wales did come close, back in the Euro 2004 campaign, it was a lacklustre performance in a playoff at the Millennium Stadium that denied Mark Hughes’ highly talented side a place in Portugal. This isn’t the first time that we have choked in the big games; when Wales needed a win to make the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Paul Bodin missed a penalty with the score at 1-1. The visitors, Romania, went on to win 2-1 as the Wales side once again missed out on another major tournament. The fact that this has happened twice leads me to the conclusion that Wales’ lack of qualifying success can be at least partially explained by a lack of mental strength. With the current Welsh side, full of youth and enthusiasm, I hope that generations of self-doubt will not affect them, and that in a big game, they can produce a performance that matches the occasion – but as with so much in sport, only time will tell. RICHARD BROWN


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