Tonight we close the books on 2012, and it has been a pretty crazy year in soccer. From the Luis Suarez racism affair to Manchester City winning the title, there have been highs and lows, unless you are Manchester United and City, they just had highs. In typical Four Five Two fashion, we have compiled our top ten list of moments in soccer. Enjoy your evening and make sure you don’t drink too much champagne.
In no particular order:
Mad Mario’s Madcap Antics: Mr. Balotelli really is the gift that keeps on giving — and thanks to a fortuitously-timed Euro 2012, we got him for Man City’s bizarre title run AND the Italian national team’s surprising rise to the tournament finals (and unsurprising loss to the Spanish Passing Machine). Choosing a favorite Mario moment this year is nearly impossible — highlights including asking Umbro for money for their “Why Always Me?” replica shirts, applying the Cobra Kai’s Sweep the Leg move on Alex Song, his lackadaisical trundle toward goal in Italy’s Euro group match against Spain (making Sergio Ramos’ look more impressive than we ever thought possible), or his brave crusade against racism at the Euros (“Throw bananas at me and I’ll kill you”) — but we’re going with his topless statue celebration after single-handedly bouncing Germany from the Euros, as it exemplifies Mad Mario, in that he always manages to soil whatever brilliant moment he can muster on the pitch with his, uh, individual flair.
-Soccer Apologist (Phil)
The Twelfth Man Is Packing: This year’s Copa Sudamericana final featured Argentine side Tigre and Brazilian side Sao Paulo playing a home and home series. Sao Paulo was up 2-0 at halftime in the second leg of the final, in a contentious match featuring a red card on each side, when police allegedly took their hometown allegiance into ultimate fan territory at halftime. Here’s the Chicago Tribune’s account of what happened at halftime:
“They pulled two guns on us, the rest of the match is not going to be played,” Tigre coach Nestor Gorosito told Fox Sports.
“They ambushed us and one of them pulled out a revolver and put it against (goalkeeper) Damian Albil’s chest. Their security and police also hit us, there were around 20 of them.”
Argentine media carried photographs of a blood-stained dressing room and comments from players saying they were hit with sticks.
Sao Paulo did, according to the Tribune again, class it up following the incident:
As soon as the referee signaled the end of the match, Sao Paulo players hugged each other and began celebrating. They were then handed the trophy by officials from Conmebol, the South American Football Confederation.
Thousands of celebrating fans then filled one of Sao Paulo’s main streets, the Avenida Paulista.
“They were going to lose by a big score,” Sao Paulo President Juvenal Juvencio told the club’s website (www.saopaulofc.net). “Our biggest victory is the fact that the Argentines ran away.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 World Cup host country!
-Soccer Apologist (Phil)
The Rise and Fall of ‘Arry: After a three-year tax trial, Harry Redknapp was vindicated, finally able to keep his dead dog’s fortune in Monaco. Almost minutes after the verdict was announced, it was revealed that Fabio Capello was leaving the England job. And in Spurs’ next game, they thrashed an in-form Newcastle putting them comfortably in third place. As ‘Arry munched on his bacon sandwich the day after that game and surveyed his domain on the south coast, he looked down at the fawning tabloid writers clamoring for him to take the England job, the Spurs fans singing for him to stay, and whispered a single word: “‘triffic.”
Sadly for Harry, January would prove to be the high water mark of his 2012. Tottenham blew a 13-point lead to their North London rivals while he doodled his name and the three lions crests in hearts in his notebook.
Then the FA went and broke Harry’s heart, picking the only man in England jowelier than him in Uncle Woy Hodgson. Somehow, he managed to keep Spurs in a Europa League place despite finishing in a Champions League spot.
Still, Harry looked primed to rebound with Spurs in the late summer until suggestions like resigning noted septuagenarian Ryan Nelsen proved so brain meltingly stupid that Spurs fired him in favor of the first Abramovich Chelsea manager to keep the team out of the top four.
Harry spent the summer eating bacon sandwiches until another team needed his help. Like an angel, he swooped into QPR as their savior. Why his very aura would be enough be enough to take them above the drop zone and — yeah, never mind. They’re the worst team in the Prem and they’re almost certain to go down. Its hard to imagine how things could get worse for Harry in 2013, but I suppose Blackburn will be looking for a manager.
7. USMNT pops its Azteca Cherry: Sometimes you spend so long trying to do something you can’t imagine what it’ll be like when it actually happens. The USMNT have been trying to win a game at the Azteca since Kim Kardashian had a hymen. Swathed in the pollution of Mexico City and so many miles above sea level that it is in low earth orbit, the Mexican National Stadium has been a bogey venue for the US. Great players and great teams have failed to win there. We all knew that the player who finally put the US over the top would be written into US soccer lore. Then it turned out to be Orozco Fiscal. Not quite what we imagined. Ah well, it was still pretty sweet. Suck it, Mexico.
After the draw for Euro 2012 was held, soccer fans everywhere were excited for one of the greatest Group of Deaths ever found. Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, and Denmark were drawn together in a group that would outshine all others in Eastern Europe.
Everyone assumed that Germany would go through, but opinion divided between World Cup finalists Netherlands and the always confounding Portugal. No one could predict that it would actually come down to Denmark and Portugal.
Two years off a fantastic run to the World Cup finals, the Dutch imploded in spectacular fashion. The first shock was their 1-0 loss to Denmark to open the tournament, and it didn’t get much better. Though they hung tough with Germany it wasn’t meant to be in a 2-1 defeat, and Portugal put the Dutch out of their misery with a 2-1 victory.
It was a stunning tournament result for a team that took Spain to the limit two years ago. Arguably it was a bigger implosion than France in South Africa. That said, it was pretty funny to watch. (Soccer Apologist’s Note: Especially for Arsenal fans, recovering from the sting of RVP leaving them for United. The schadenfreude lasted until he found his form again, after trading in the orange for the gingham.)
The protest to end all protests:
2012 was, above all, a year of fans demanding of chairmen that they knew best when it came to the direction of “their club.” My own Aston Villa saw several planned protests of Alex McLeish’s control of the club; Blackburn Rovers had their “famous chicken” and scads of Kean Out! signs; and Chelsea, as we are about to see, had their own way of dealing with managerial choices. For the most part, the players were insulated from this age of fans attempting to claw back power.
That is, until April, when Genoa supporters were so fed up with their team that, during a 4-1 pasting from Siena that left the team near relegation from Serie A, they stopped the match with flares and smoke bombs in the 53rd minute. At this point, the fans stormed the tunnel, blocked the players’ egress from the field, and demanded their shirts, as the ultras deemed them “unworthy” to represent the club. Genoa captain Marco Rossi tearfully collected his teammates’ shirts, but forward Giuseppe Sculli and ‘keeper Sebastian Frey held out, arguing with the tifosi that they were giving their all. After the match, Genoa gaffer Alberto Malesani was sacked for the second time in the season.
Genoa narrowly escaped relegation, finishing 17th in May, but currently sit second from the bottom, just ahead, ironically, of Siena.
Chelsea Fans Salute Fat Spanish Waiter:
Roberto Di Matteo was fired by our good friend Roman Abramovich due to poor performance this season. Rafa Benitez made his return to serving English cuisine by agreeing to be the interim manager for the rest of the season. Fans were not pleased and even to this day support Di Matteo with a minute’s applause during the 16th minute. Di Matteo’s number while at Chelsea was 16, and the former player and manager seems to have the support of the fans for the future.
Joseph Anthony Barton is your new Peter Sellers:
We, by which I mean the world, have more fun than should be expected with a certain mediocre English midfielder whose antics off the pitch include random acts of violence, appreciation of high art, cultural criticism and, perhaps most inexplicably, endorsement deals.
And as I pored over the year in Joey, I was tempted at first to recount the madness that led to his dozen-match ban, subsequent self-imposed exile to France, and more than certainly handed the Premier League title to Manchester City (his old club. hmmmm. . . ). But I don’t think that sums up what makes Barton as intriguing a figure as he is. After all, if we were just concerned with Engish Internationals who commit violence on or off the pitch, I could regale you with Ryan Shawcross and Steven Gerrard.
As I said, Barton undercuts his rap sheet with occasional dips into both pretension and brilliance, as in his famous interview in which he blasted the whole of the 2006 England National Team for releasing “bullshit” autobiographies on the heels of what was, as all such tournaments are inevitably, a disappointing World Cup tournament, or in dealing with the FA’s cursory attempts at “dispelling” racism in the game.
And so in this spirit, the standout moment in the Year of the Scouse-cum-Manc Sophisticate was his press conference after his Ligue UHHHNNNNNNNN debut. Barton affected a Clouseau-esque FRONCH accent, sounding like a Scouse Arsene Wenger, and went on to call the French top flight “boring.” It was, quite frankly, everything you should expect from the man who couldn’t be worse as England captain than John Terry was.
Welcome, indeed, you sweet and tender hooligan.
Rodgers’ Three Envelopes:
Being Relegationpool has not exactly highlighted Brendan Rodgers. When we aren’t finding out that he has a huge painting of himself in his house, we learn about his unusual motivational tactics. Attempting to take a tactic out of SAF’s book, the Liverpool manager sealed 3 names in envelopes of players who will. It’s supposed to be a motivational tool, but I think the players were trying to decide if it was ok to laugh or not. It turns out the whole thing was joke, Rodgers just put his name in all 3 envelopes. It would have been a lot more exciting if he had put players’ names there. Instead, chalk this one up to trying too hard.
Chelsea win the Champions League:
Yeah, we promised this wasn’t going to be a classic top 10 soccer moments list, but I will never miss a moment to harass Skipjack and Lorber. This was actually a pretty great game, it had a fantastic comeback, a lot of stars, and Drogba’s redemption in his final match. In the end, though, it was all about the depression of Spurs fans. We may be considered an anti-Chelsea blog, but in this case we fully support the Blues. (Keith’s note: Speak for yourself, Brian. I was totally rooting for the douchetastic Bayern to hand Roman a little what-for for canning AVB).
And, as a bonus, here’s your Face of the Year. Since all of us at Four Five Two come together (despite our strident club affiliations) under the banner of Ooooosa, this was just awesome: