The Year in Review, 2023: The top five sport teams that ruled the world

Springbok players celebrate as the referee blows the full time whistle after the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand at Stade de France in Saint-Denis

Springbok players celebrate as the referee blows the full time whistle after the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand at Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Published Dec 29, 2023


We’re approaching the end of another action filled year that saw history being made on a number of fronts.

IOL Sport’s Lunga Biyela takes a look at five teams that were at their very best in 2023, and left an indelible mark in the history books of a year that was filled with World Cups.

Springboks conquer the world... again

What a year it’s been for Siya Kolisi and his mighty Springboks. 2023 was a Rugby World Cup year. And like the previous campaign in Japan, they did not disappoint as they went all the way in France to claim a record fourth Rugby World Cup crown.

What made the Springboks’ tournament so impressive is the way they went about it while playing some of the best team in the world. In 1995, then Springbok coach Kitch Christie spoke a lot about taking the “high road”, which saw them take the easier route on their way to the final. In 2023, due to the draw, there was no such “high road”.

After playing Scotland and Ireland in the pool stages, the men in green and gold then had a quarter-final against hosts France, England in the semi-finals before taking on and beating the All Blacks in the final.

During their victorious run, the Springboks played all the other teams in the top six in the world rankings. They say in order to be the best, you have to beat the best. The Springboks ended the tournament as the number one ranked team in the world.

Banyana Banyana make history

Coach Desiree Ellis’ Banyana Banyana made history earlier this year when they became the first senior South African team to reach the knockout stages of the football World Cup.

What was more impressive was how Banyana went to the tournament in Australia and New Zealand under protest over bonus payments. Once there, they produced some brilliant football where they beat Italy in dramatic fashion, and were unlucky to leave their game against Argentina with just a point.

Ellis’ team were eventually eliminated by the Netherlands in the round of 16, but by that time, they had already won the hearts of sports fans across Mzansi.

Manchester City party like it’s 1999

2023 was also a good year for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. How could it not. Everything was made easier for Manchester’s second biggest team as they had a goalscoring robot in the form of Erling Haaland playing up front. The Norweigian was simply unstoppable on his way to breaking every goalscoring record.

Thanks to their goal machine, City went on to emulate illustrious neighbours Manchester United to complete the treble, winning a third Premier League title in a row, the FA Cup, and a first-ever Champions League crown.

This past Friday night, Guardiola’s men capped off a brilliant year by beating Brazilian outfit Fluminense to win the Club World Cup title in Saudi Arabia.

Mamelodi Sundowns’ are the kings and queens of Africa

Mamelodi Sundowns rule South African football. They are the undisputed kings of the domestic game, and there’s nothing the other teams can do to stop them.

Once again, they have been absolutely dominant in the league, and currently sit pretty at the top after picking up maximum points from their games.

In November, Sundowns were once again celebrating as they lifted the inaugural African Football League title after beating Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca in a two-legged final.

And their women’s team was as equally impressive as they claimed a second continental crown.

Spain’s women conquer the world, and go on to do their bit in dismantling the patriarchy

Spain beat European champions England in the Fifa Women’s World Cup final in Sydney to claim their first crown.

Heading into the tournament, Spain were ranked sixth in the world, and were considered outsiders. The names on everyone’s lips ahead of the competition were the then reigning champions, the United States, highly ranked Sweden and Germany, while Euro 2022 winners England were also favourites.

However, after the final whistle blew, it was Spain’s captain and player of the match, Olga Carmona, who was holding aloft the trophy.

Instead of the team being celebrated for their achievement, the aftermath centrered around Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales and “that kiss”, which the country and the sport to look at themselves and address issues of sexism.


IOL Sport