Football: The 2012 year in review
This year has been a big one for football with EURO 2012, the Africa Cup of Nations, the Olympics and of course, the start of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, as well as the usual club football competitions.
The most talked about football moment in 2012 was undoubtedly the last five minutes of the 2011/12 Premier League which saw Manchester United lose the title to their bitter crosstown rivals Manchester City, who battled back from 2-1 down against relegation battling QPR to snatch their first title since 1968.
Aguero's 93rd minute goal was the stuff Hollywood could only dream of. It might very well be the most significant and memorable goal in Premier League history. It was also the finish that a terrific Premier League season deserved - one that ebbed and flowed from start to finish as the two Manchester clubs battled it out for the title. And judging from the current trend of the 2012-13 season, it appears that the power in the Premier League rests firmly in the big city in the north.
While the Premier League title remained in Manchester, it wasn't all doom and gloom for the rest of England. Chelsea finally ended London's drought in Europe by winning the city's first ever Champions League title in an unbelievable upset against Bayern Munich. It was surprising, given that Chelsea had sacked their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, mid-season after results didn't quite go the way of their oligarch, Roman Abramovich. Ironically, almost a year later, Roberto di Matteo would go in similar fashion - again illustrating that Roman probably has too much money to match his power.
However, it appears that all power in the north has been diverted to Manchester, as two of Lancashire's traditional big clubs got relegated - Blackburn after a year of total chaos and Bolton who had a year they'd rather forget with the near-death experience of Fabrice Muamba, relegation from the Premier League and the sacking of manager, Owen Coyle.
Of course, football isn't just limited to England. There was plenty of big news elsewhere, although none as dramatic and sad as the shock demise of Scottish giants, Rangers, who were forced in to administration, then liquidated and reformed in to a new club now playing in the Scottish Third Division. It is likely to be four years before we will see an Old Firm derby in the top flight of Scottish football but it will ultimately serve as a reminder to the football world to get their finances sorted, especially during these times of economic austerity in Europe.
One club setting a good example for the rest of Europe is Borussia Dortmund - a club that has come very close to financial oblivion but is now setting Germany and Europe alight with energetic and exciting attacking football. The result of their recent revival is two Bundesliga titles and the departure of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. It is likely that a few more of their rising stars like Mario Goetze and Marco Reus may head to Spain or England - even their manager, Jurgen Klopp has been mentioned as a future manager in the Premier League, possibly with Chelsea if Guardiola doesn't go there.
Speaking of Guardiola, there was shock amongst some fans when the successful Barca manager announced his resignation following Barcelona's exit from the Champions League semifinal. For me, it was probably less of a surprise - he had been very successful and taken the club as far as he could. The transition to Tito has gone almost seamlessly, unnoticed really, with Barcelona unbeaten in La Liga so far. Barcelona appear to be back to their best just as champions Real Madrid appear to be floundering amidst reports of unrest and discontent amongst the Portuguese contingent at the Bernabeu.
Away from the club scene, Zambia shocked perennial bridesmaids, Cote d'Ivoire in the African Cup of Nations to win their first title since the tragic plane crash which killed their entire national football team in 1993.
Another result for the football romantics was Spain's successful defence of their European crown, courtesy of a marvellous 4-0 thumping of a very good Italy side. Del Bosque's Spain had been slightly underwhelming in the early part of EURO 2012, and should have been eliminated in the semifinals by Portugal but for their brilliant, effervescent keeper, Iker Casillas. Injuries to Carles Puyol and David Villa forced Del Bosque to shuffle his lineup, converting Sergio Ramos in to a centre back and recycling his talented midfielders in to strikers when Fernando Torres couldn't quite find his top form. The fact that Cesc Fabregas and David Silva were playing up front probably ignited Torres' campaign late on as he finished as the top scorer of the tournament.
Is this Spanish side the greatest international football team that we've ever seen? They're definitely worthy of being considered one of the greatest ever. If they retain their title in Brazil in two year's time they would be the greatest team ever without dispute and Vincente del Bosque should be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time.
My World XI for 2012:
Iker Casillas (GK), Spain
Sergio Ramos, Spain
Phillipp Lahm, Germany
Andres Iniesta, Spain
Mezut Ozil, Germany
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Radamel Falcao, Colombia
Game of the year: Manchester City 3-2 QPR. For sheer drama and excitement, no other game has ever had so much of both and ever will.
Goal of the year: Hatem ben Arfa v Blackburn Rovers. Newcastle and France's ben Arfa is one of the elite players in the world and this dribbling run through the Blackburn defence to win this FA Cup tie should go down as one of the best goals seen in the FA Cup, and probably the goal of the season.
Player of the year: Lionel Messi, Barcelona. To break Gerd Muller's record for goalscoring in one year is quite astonishing even if Messi only had the Copa del Rey in his hands this year.
Coach of the year: Vincente del Bosque, Spain. The mastermind of Spain's Euro success. He played Fabregas, Iniesta and David Silva up front and they were still practically unstoppable.
Surprise of the year: Swansea's rise. It took many generations for the South Wales team to return to the first division of English football but it looks like they will stay there for a while. Michael Laudrup has slotted in perfectly courtesy of the likes of bargain of the season, Michu.
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