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La Roja celebrate their World Cup win in August. SUR
From kickoff to final whistle: a year in sport
2023: a year in the news

From kickoff to final whistle: a year in sport

2023 was a big year for women's sports and one in which Andalucía demonstrated its ability to host major sporting events once again

Daryl Finch

Friday, 29 December 2023, 19:37

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Over the past year, the sports world has been a whirlwind of action, drama and triumph. From iconic victories to unexpected upsets, it's been a rollercoaster ride.

As we reflect on the past 365 days, we're diving into the highs, lows and everything in between that made this year an unforgettable chapter in sports history.

Local football

A topsy-turvy year for Malaga

2023 was a tumultuous year for the province's biggest local football team. Malaga CF started the year struggling in the second tier under the leadership of Pepe Mel - and the former West Bromwich Albion manager lost his job after a 1-1 draw with Burgos at the end of January.

Malaga CF players leave the pitch the day their relegation to RFEF was confirmed.
Malaga CF players leave the pitch the day their relegation to RFEF was confirmed. SUR

He was replaced in the dug-out by a familiar face: Sergio Pellicer returned until the end of the season but despite an upturn in form, the side's relegation to the third tier was confirmed at the end of May with defeat against Alavés.

The club was forced to undergo a major reshuffle in the summer, with sporting director Manolo Gaspar replaced by Loren Juarros, and Kike Pérez coming in as general manager and overseeing a complete restructuring of the club, including 47 staff members losing their jobs as part of a mass redundancy plan.

However, the shakeup seems to be paying off, with the side performing well in Primera RFEF, just a few points off the lead going into the winter break. What's more, their long-awaited academy finally opened its doors in November.

Around the province

The end of last season wasn't all doom and gloom for local sides, though. In April, Antequera sealed promotion to the third tier with four games left to go.

Celebrations in Antequera when their promotion was confirmed.
Celebrations in Antequera when their promotion was confirmed. J. A. Guerrero

Likewise, Marbella secured promotion to the fourth tier, going up as champions thanks to a late goal against title rivals Jaén. The victory was sealed with a kiss, too, as goalkeeper Alberto Lejárraga shared an intimate moment with his partner that went viral as a symbol for LGBT+ inclusion.

El Palo also went up with Marbella, albeit via the play-offs.

National football

Women on top

It was a big year for Spain's national football teams. In fact, the women's team ended the year as FIFA's top-ranked nation after a whirlwind 12 months which saw them win the World Cup for the first time. A goal from left-back Olga Carmona was enough to seal a 1-0 victory in front of 75,784 supporters in Sydney against England in mid-August.

Unfortunately, this momentous occasion was overshadowed by the aftermath during which the Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent. This incident, along with a string of other inappropriate acts during the celebrations, ultimately resulted in Rubiales losing his job, receiving a FIFA suspension and head coach Jorge Vilda being sacked for his role in an attempted cover-up.

The Rubiales kiss that led to the federation boss losing his job and opened the world's eyes to discrimination and harassment in women's football.
The Rubiales kiss that led to the federation boss losing his job and opened the world's eyes to discrimination and harassment in women's football. SUR

However, that couldn't stop Aitana Bonmatí ensuring the Ballon d'Or trophy stayed in the country for the third consecutive year in October.

Montse Tomé then took the reins of the national team and led the side to further success, qualifying for the latter stages of the Nations League with an impressive 5-3 win over Sweden - a game witnessed by over 16,000 spectators at La Rosaleda in Malaga in December.

Malaga also hosted the men's side in March, a 3-0 win over Norway in Euro 2024 qualifying, in what was Luis de la Fuente's first game as coach.

He then followed this up in June with some silverware as La Roja claimed the Nations League title with a 5-4 win on penalties against Croatia, following a 0-0 draw in normal time.

The under-21s weren't so lucky a month later when they lost 1-0 to England in the European Under-21 Championship final, missing a last-minute penalty which would have forced extra time.

World Cup 2030

Despite this, Spain's position among football's elite was secured in October, when the country's joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup was announced as the winner. The 100th anniversary edition of the biggest competition in world football will take place across three continents and six countries, with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay hosting the opening three games, before Spain, Morocco and Portugal co-host the remainder of the competition.

There's still hope that La Rosaleda stadium could be a host venue should the local authorities sign off and fund a refurbishment to expand its capacity to at least 40,000.

Kings and Queens

But that's not to say the current stadium isn't fit for purpose: some 30,000 young fans packed in, in October, for an eight-hour streamer-led entertainment spectacular: the finals of the King and Queens Cup tournaments promoted by former Barcelona and Manchester United footballer Gerard Piqué.

The Kings and Queens Cup at La Rosaleda.
The Kings and Queens Cup at La Rosaleda. Salvador Salas

The seven-a-side competitions, filled with gimmicks and punctuated by live music, was a massive success and will return, Piqué has confirmed.

Basketball

Copa del Rey champions

Copa del Rey.Unicaja lifted the famous trophy for only the second time in their history.
Copa del Rey.Unicaja lifted the famous trophy for only the second time in their history. ACB Fotos

Local basketball team Unicaja opened the year with victory in the Copa del Rey for just the second time in the club's history with an 80-83 victory over Lenovo Tenerife in Badalona. The Malaga side beat both Barcelona and Real Madrid on the way to the final.

In May, fortune was not on Unicaja's side, though. Despite having home advantage in the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League, Europe's elite competition, Unicaja eventually came fourth, having lost their semi-final to eventual champions Telekom Bonn in controversial circumstances, amid allegations of spying on their tactics from the opposing bench.

Tennis

Davis Cup returns

Malaga's ability to host major sporting events extended into the tennis world, too. The first major tournament came in October when the Malaga Open, which will remain on the ATP tour calendar until 2026 after being promoted to a Challenger 125, took place at Inacua Racquet Centre.

Italy celebrate their Davis Cup win in Malaga in November.
Italy celebrate their Davis Cup win in Malaga in November. Migue Fernández

The winner was a true underdog story: Ugo Blanchet exceeded all expectations in an incredible week which saw the Frenchman propelled up the world rankings from 324th to 209th.

However, the Malaga Open was just the warm-up for the main event as the Davis Cup Final 8, the so-called 'World Cup of Tennis', came to the Palacio de los Deportes at the end of November.

Although Spain, led by local tennis star Alejandro Davidovich, failed to qualify, there was still plenty of action and high-profile tennis stars present, including Serbia's Novak Djokovic. However, ultimately it was Italy that won the final, beating Australia to win their first Davis Cup in almost 50 years.

Two players who weren't present in Malaga were Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz. The former missed almost the entirety of the season because of a hip injury. As a result, in May, the 22-time Grand Slam champion announced his plan to hang up his racquet and retire at the end of 2024.

Injury also blighted Alcaraz's year. It started incredibly strongly, and he spent much of the first half of the year as world number one after securing his first title at Indian Wells in March, back-to-back Barcelona Open titles in April, and back-to-back Madrid Open wins in May.

The 20-year-old showed he could do it on grass, too, winning at Queen's in June, before becoming only Spain's fifth Wimbledon tennis champion.

Unfortunately for the young Spaniard, Alcaraz finishes the year in second place as a result of his injury layoffs.

Golf

Solheim Cup stays in Europe

Andalucía also attracted the world's best golfers during 2023. In July, the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour chose Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande for its eighth event of the season.

American Talor Gooch claimed his third win of the season on the tour, but it wasn't enough to help him seal a place on the Ryder Cup team.

Spain's Jon Rahm made it to Team Europe after an excellent start to the year in April, when he became just the fourth Masters winner from Spain. The Basque received the famous green jacket, following in the footsteps of his idol, Seve Ballesteros, plus José María Olazábal and Sergio García.

He then carried his excellent form into October when he played a key role as Europe regained the Ryder Cup 16.5-11.5 in Rome.

World's top women in Casares

Closer to home, the women's equivalent, the Solheim Cup, took place at Finca Cortesin in Casares. Team Europe retained the trophy in dramatic last-gasp fashion with Spain's very own Carlota Ciganda sealing the trophy with a sensational birdie on the 17th hole on the final day.

Solheim Cup celebrations in Casares.
Solheim Cup celebrations in Casares. Josele

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters returned in October to a wet Sotogrande Golf Club, where Polish golfer Adrian Meronk was crowned champion.

A month later, the final tournament of the Ladies European Tour, the Race to Costa del Sol finale, came to Real Club de Golf Las Brisas in Marbella. Aditi Ashok had an excellent final day to claim her fifth LET victory, while local star Ana Peláez picked up a notable third-place finish.

Cricket

Cártama, the home of European cricket

England XI women celebrate their European Championship win in Cártama in December.
England XI women celebrate their European Championship win in Cártama in December. ECN

International cricket found its home in Cártama this year as the town's Cricket Oval hosted three major tournaments.

Throughout February and March, the European Cricket League (ECL) Championships took place, with French underdogs Dreux eventually crowned champions after beating English side Hornchurch in an epic final.

Cricket in Cártama.
Cricket in Cártama. ECN

In October, national teams took to the wicket and England XI beat reigning champions Netherlands XI in the European Cricket Championship final. Spain, meanwhile, came third.

The first-ever Women's European Cricket Championship then took place just before Christmas and it produced the same result as the men's: an England victory over the Netherlands.

Padel

Local player is world number two

Though local hopes were extinguished early when the World Padel Tour came to Marbella and Malaga once again in the summer, 2023 was an excellent year for local star Bea González.

Padel player Bea González.
Padel player Bea González. SUR

The 22-year-old from El Palo finished the year as part of the second-best ranked pairing in the world, alongside Delfi Brea.

Since joining forces, the Spanish-Argentinian duo have reached ten World Padel Tour finals and two Premier Padel finals, boasting an impressive eight out of 12 victories.

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