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When it comes to 2012, a lot of people have been staring into the crystal ball for a long time and plenty have concluded that it’s going to be a really bad year. Like, really bad.

Not just one of those years when there’s a shitty English summer and your football team comes last, but apocalyptically bad.

But, even if the world doesn’t end this year, it promises to be turbulent enough. There are flashpoints across the globe – Iran, North Korea, Syria – what will happen? Will there be elections in Zimbabwe? Will US president Barack Obama win a second term? Will Julian Assange ring in the new year in Guantanamo Bay? Could it George Clooney’s year at the Academy Awards? And, most importantly, will the Poms win more medals than the Aussies at the Olympics?

The end of the world as we know it
Welcome to 2012, the year it all comes crashing down. Well, supposedly. The Mayan’s 5000-year countdown to the end of the world is the best-known projection of this year’s apocalypse – even though, on closer inspection, scholars have concluded that, actually, it’s not quite as precise as we’ve been led to believe. There are plenty of other theories that this will be a very bad year for a lot of people – the native American believed that we’ll go from the fourth world to the fifth world around this December’s winter solstice; Timewave zero numerologists believe the universe will become uniquely “interconnected”; others predict a geomagnetic reversal triggered by a solar flare; while others, having been tipped off by aliens, are braced for Earth’s collision with the planet Nibiru. Stay tuned.

History beckons for Barcelona
The Champions League final will be played in Munich on May 19 and, if the results of past seasons are anything to go by, Spanish giants Barcelona will be there. Of course, there are still 16 teams left in the competition so there’s plenty of football to be played, beginning on February 14 when Barça travel to Bayer Leverkusen. But Barcelona has the chance this year to cement their status as the greatest football side of the modern era; should they lift the Champions League trophy in Munich, they will be the first team since AC Milan in 1989-90 to defend their title and it would make it three wins in four years for the Catalan giants – you have to go back to Bayern Munich in the mid-Seventies for that kind of European success.

The Supreme Leader v3.0
Just before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il shuffled off this mortal coil, paving the way for his chubby-faced, 20-something son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him as North Korea’s Supreme Leader. No one is quite sure what that means yet, particularly as verifiable reports out of Pyongyang are few and far between. But it appears Jong-un will share power with a council of military leaders, who, rather than launching a coup, have pledged their support to their new boss. Initially, there were concerns that, in a show of strength, Jong-un might lob a few proverbial grenades over the border into South Korea but Pyongyang’s bread is buttered in Beijing and China is not at all keen on the Korean peninsula blowing up into a hot war. Indeed, Beijing has even indicated that the young ruler could be ‘a reformer’ – don’t hold your breath.

Sabres rattling on Iran
The drumbeat for war has already begun in the US, and the propaganda campaign, focusing on Iran’s nuclear programme and its aggression toward Israel, will be ratcheted up in coming months. The phrase du jour, “all options are on the table”, barely conceals the fact that covert operations – including support for armed opposition groups, assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare and attacks on military and missile installations – have already begun. After the toll in blood and treasure taken by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to believe the Obama Administration – or an incoming Republican president – will commit US forces to another lengthy occupation. More likely, precision strikes would be undertaken to satisfy an increasingly bullish Israel, who the US will not allow to go crashing into Iran unilaterally.

Test cricket’s heavyweight bout
This year’s big showdown in Test cricket will take place in July and August, when South Africa arrive in England for a three-match series. England, of course, are the world’s number one side, having despatched Australia and India during the past 12 months. South Africa, admittedly, don’t have England’s impressive winning form but, equally, have only lost one series in the past five years, so deserve points for consistency. They have an even, experienced batting line-up as well as a handful of rolled-gold match-winners, meaning it should be an absolute bumper series. If England win, they will be able to claim they are theabsolute, undisputed top dogs; if they lose, bragging rights will belong to the Proteas. Given the stakes, it’s a pity, then, that it’s only three Tests instead of four or five.

The summer after the Arab Spring
The momentum toward democratic reform in the Arab world is unlikely to slow in 2012 but the implications remain uncertain. This year, countries where regimes have been overthrown will need to elect new governments. In Egypt, for example, the protesters who deposed the Mubarak regime now have their hands full trying to prevent power-hungry generals hijacking the revolution. Should a new government be formed in 2012, its composition will be telling – how much sway does the military hold and, assuming the Muslim Brotherhood is well-represented, what will that mean for Israel, with whom Egypt shares a border? Elsewhere, Libya’s National Transitional Council must cobble together some kind of consensus government without alienating regional militias, while, in the Middle East, Syria lurches toward bloody civil war.

Noisy neighbours on top
Manchester United are accustomed to lording it over Manchester City, the club Alex Ferguson once derisively referred to as “the noisy neighbours”, but a major reversal of fortunes has occurred this season. By May, it’s possible City will have won their first title in the Premier League, which they are currently leading. Of course, money makes the world go round and City’s transformation has been bankrolled by a cabal of oil sheikhs. It means that, even if neutrals are happy to see the old order reversed, with United on the bottom for once, there’s a sense that City have taken a shortcut, splashing the cash to sign the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva rather than building a side the old-fashioned way, through shrewd buys and developing their own players.

Oscar glory for gorgeous George
The Academy Awards, held every February, are, of course, flawed – actors and directors can be rewarded for a body of work rather than for their most recent film; comedy is habitually overlooked; and some films or actors just get lucky, a case of right film, right year. This year, there’s no clear frontrunner in the best picture category, although The Artist and Warhorse are tipped to be widely nominated. In a stacked best actor category, George Clooney (below), in The Descendants, could be the one to beat, although Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Leonardo DiCaprio are all in with a shot. On the other side, Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady could secure her a remarkable 17th nomination.

London’s mayoral elections
On May 3, London will elect its mayor for the next four years, incumbent Boris Johnson going up against Labour candidate Ken Livingstone, who was London’s first mayor between 2000 and 2008. Polling has Johnson marginally ahead but it promises to be an entertaining campaign, as both men seem to regard amusing, outlandish public comment as part of their campaign platform. Johnson is a Tory toff, if an unusually likeable one, educated at Eton and Oxford, where he was a member of the elite Bullingdon Club. Livingstone, on the other hand, dropped out of school to find work and, in his 40-plus years as a member of the Labour party, earned the nickname ‘Red Ken’ for his left-wing views, including vocal support for the socialist policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Golden age of men’s tennis
In 2011, the pecking order of men’s tennis was profoundly reshaped, Novak Djokovic motoring past Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer during one of the most dominant years of the modern era. It sets up a mouth-watering 2012, which kicks off at the Australian Open later this month. Can Djokovic hold the ground annexed last year? Can Nadal parlay his superiority on clay into retaking the top spot? Does Federer, who finished the year impressively, have one final shot in the locker? Outside the top three, Andy Murray’s quest for a Grand Slam title continues and, for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the ballistic Frenchman, it’s now or never. Meanwhile, Australia’s Bernard Tomic, the world’s highest-ranked teenager, has set his sights on the top 20.

Protesters to make it count
In the UK, austerity measures will continue to bite and, across the Atlantic, president Obama will seek re-election as a champion of the middle-class. It makes for fertile ground for protests against financial inequality, for the likes of the Occupy movement, who claim to guard the interests of the 99 per cent against the rapacious, corrosive appetites of the richest one per cent. The City of London has moved heaven and Earth to evict Occupy protesters from their campsite in front of St Paul’s cathedral but the movement enjoys widespread sympathyand popular support for its objective of limiting the ability of a rich minority to make and break their own rules. Occupy protesters have established a foothold in the public consciousness but must make their next move count.

Musical chairs in Australian politics
It’s the worst-kept secret in Australian politics – prime minister Julia Gillard’s hold on power and her own party is desperately weak, inviting a leadership challenge some time this year. Unsurprisingly, one of the prospective challengers is Kevin Rudd, who steered Labor to victory in 2007 before being deposed by Gillard just months before the 2010 election. Rudd has stayed on as Gillard’s foreign minister but would surely relish the chance to force his way back into his old job if he thinks he has the numbers. Of course, it might be akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic because all the polling shows Labor heading for an electoral hiding in 2013.  That said, opposition leader Tony Abbott is also unpopular – if Malcolm Turnbull was the leader of the Coalition, Labor would be even further behind in the polls. 

Wallabies chasing All Blacks
New Zealand are deserved world champions but Australia have already announced their mission to overhaul their trans-Tasman rivals as the world’s top team. Given their slightly anaemic, disorganised showing at the World Cup, the Wallabies have their work cut out but can take solace in the relative youth of their side and the fact that, as opposed to the exodus that followed the 2007 tournament, they are unlikely to lose many key players. Once the Super 15 is done and dusted, Australia and New Zealand will sink their teeth into touring northern sides in June, before the new four-way international competition that replaces the Tri-Nations begins in August, Argentina joining the Sanzar nations. Australian coach Robbie Deans has had enough time to build a squad – it’s time to put some wins on the board.

Expectations high for Euro 2012
Hosted by Poland and Ukraine, this year’s European football championships kick off on June 8 and, as at any major tournament, English involvement will oscillate between premature optimism and the shrillest self-flagellation when they are inevitably bundled out. To be fair, Fabio Capello – who, barring a miracle, will be replaced after the tournament – has done a decent job of rebooting the England side after their sluggish performance at the 2010 World Cup. He’s blooded some impressive youngsters and, even with Wayne Rooney banned for the first two matches, England should get through the group stage before meeting either Italy or Croatia in the knock-out stage. From there, the smart money is on Spain to defend the title they won four years ago.


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Apocalypse Now? What does 2012 hold in store?
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