By Tom Degun

all blacks_07-12-11December 8 - The New Zealand All Blacks are favourites for the prestigious 2012 Laureus World Team of the Year award following their dramatic one-point victory over France in the Rugby World Cup final in Auckland.

In the largest sporting event ever held in New Zealand, the home side sent the country into celebration this October as they held off their rivals 9-8 to lift their second Rugby World Cup title and first since 1987.

It puts the All Blacks in prime position to claim their first ever trophy at the Laureus World Sports Awards, which are recognised as the premier honours event in the international sporting calendar.

The event will be staged at Westminster in London on February 6 where the All Blacks face competition for the Laureus World Team of the Year Award from FC Barcelona.

Under coach Pep Guardiola, and with the phenomenal Lionel Messi in their ranks, the Spanish club won both the Champions League and the Spanish League this season.

The Japan women's football team are also contenders for the prize after they lifted the Women's World Cup for the first time ever by beating the United States in a thrilling penalty shootout in the final.

Captain Homare Sawa was awarded the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for being the top scorer and best player, while coach Norio Sasaki had motivated his team by showing them film of the areas devastated by March's earthquake and subsequent tsunami which inspired them to produce extraordinary results.

Elsewhere the England cricket team are expected to challenge for the prize after they became number one in the world with a spectacular 4-0 Test series win against former top team India during the summer.

england cricket_07-12-11
Under captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, England's rise to the top has been relentless and they remain undefeated in a Test match since May 2009.

Red Bull will also be in contention for the prize after they won the Formula One World Constructors Championship for the second straight year in 2011.

They also won the individual drivers' title through Sebastian Vettel, while their second driver Mark Webber finished third.

Although the team is based in the United Kingdom and uses a French Renault engine, it is registered in Austria and is the first Austrian team to win the title.

In the United States, the Green Bay Packers became Super Bowl champions for the fourth time after Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes and Nick Collins returned an interception to secure a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"As a former New Zealand captain and World Cup winner, I am obviously delighted that the All Blacks won the World Cup and I hope that the Media Selection Panel nominates them for this year's Awards," said rugby legend and Laureus World Sports Academy member Sean Fitzpatrick.

"However I think this is an incredibly strong year for team sport and I think it is going to be a very competitive category.

"The England cricket team has turned their fortunes round in two years and Barcelona just seem to produce great performances year after year.

"I can't wait to see who the media selection panel will choose as their six nominees.

"Whoever they select, it's going to be a difficult decision for the academy to pick this year's winner."

The names of the six nominees for the Laureus World Team of the Year award, as voted by the Laureus media selection panel, will be announced on December 15 and the eventual winner will then be chosen by the 47 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

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