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Round-up of the 2012 soccer year

posted 12 Dec 2012, 17:41 by Mpelembe   [ updated 12 Dec 2012, 17:42 ]

Round-up of the 2012 soccer year

BARCELONASPAIN (APRIL 23, 2012) (REUTERS) - Chelsea defied the odds to stun Bayern Munich and win the Champions League finals 4-3 on penalties on May 19.

The London club, who finished sixth in the English Premier League and had their manager Andre Villas-Boas fired for poor results mid-season, made an astonishing impact in Europe.

Guided by former assistant manager Roberto di Matteo, Chelsea manufactured a series of unlikely results including a remarkable semi-final comeback with ten men at the Nou Camp as Barcelona threw away a 2-0 lead and Lionel Messi missed a penalty.

In the final, Thomas Mueller headed dominant Bayern ahead in the 83rd minute before Didier Drogbamade it 1-1 in the final two minutes. The night still seemed to be heading Bayern's way when they moved 3-1 ahead in the penalty shootout.

However, Ivica Olic missed for Bayern and when Bastian Schweinsteiger struck the post the stage was set for Drogba to write his name into Chelsea folklore.

It turned out to be the Ivorian striker's final kick for the club before moving on to China's Shanghai Shenhua.

Di Matteo was rewarded by becoming Chelsea's eighth manager since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. The Russian billionaire had also poured over £800 million pounds (980 million euros) into the club in pursuit of European glory.

Within days of landing Europe's biggest prize Chelsea splashed out £32 million on Belgian midfielderEden Hazard from Lille and £25 million on Brazilan midfielder Oscar.

After a bright start to Chelsea's new season floundered and becoming the first Champions Leagueholders to fail to qualifiy for the knockout stages di Matteo was replaced by Rafael Benitez as Chelsea's interim manager until the end of the season.

In Spain, Real Madrid won their 32nd title with a new La Liga record of 100 points as Jose Mourinho became the first coach to win league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.

Real also beat the La Liga scoring record for a season with 121 goals, including 46 from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Despite 50 Messi league goals, Barcelona trailed Real by nine points at the end of the campaign. The Argentine scored an amazing 72 times in all competitions - the best goal scoring record ever in anyEuropean league, before going on to beat Gerd Muller's record of the number of goals scored in a calender year.

Following their Champions League defeat by Chelsea, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola announced he would walk away from the club at the end of the season.

Guardiola's decision to quit and recharge his batteries ended a remarkable trophy-laden four-year spell built on a passing style of unmatched fluidity and control.

He was replaced by B team coach Tito Vilanova.

With both Real and Barca losing in the semi finals of the Champions League, it was left to Atletico Madrid to fly the flag for Spain in EuropeCoach Diego Simeone's tactical nous helped them to a second Europa League final win with a commanding 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest.

Colombian striker Falcao struck two superb goals and Brazilian Diego snapped up a late third as Simeone triumphed over fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa.

Manchester City clinched the English Premier League title on goal difference in barely believable circumstances as stoppage time goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero snatched a 3-2 home victory over Queens Park Rangers on the last day of the season.

With Manchester United's players still on the pitch at Sunderland after a 1-0 victory it looked as though they were about to celebrate a 20th Premier League title with City still trailing 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium.

However, Dzeko's header made it 2-2 and in almost unbearable tension Aguero burst into the area to angle a shot past Paddy Kenny and spark wild celebrations as City won the title for the first time since 1968.

City's win was seen as a breakthrough with the club finally shaking off the inferiority complex they have suffered in the shadow on neighbours United, who for most of the past two decades have been top dogs in the north west of England.

The Abu Dhabi takeover of City in 2008, pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into manager Roberto Mancini's transfer kitty, has transformed the fortunes of the club.

United responded by signing Dutch striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal for 22 million sterling.

North of the border, Glasgow Rangers were demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game after going into liquidation with over £1 million pounds of debts and more than £9 million in unpaid taxes.

Rangers, one of the world's best supported teams, has won the Scottish title a record 54 times and has the distinction of winning more domestic soccer league titles than any other club. Another world record they have recently acquired is the biggest attendance for a fourth division match - 49,463 at home to Queens Park

In France, heavy investment failed to bring success as wealthy Paris Saint Germain finished the French season in second place, three points behind unheralded Montpellier who had a 33 million euro budget - tiny compared to the Parisians' 140 million outlay.

Montpellier, a family-run club, were in only their third top-flight season after a five-year spell in Ligue 2.

Club president Louis Nicollin, a 68-year-old businessman and one of the most colourful characters in French football, led the celebrations in front of over 20,000 thousand fans on the day after his team had clinched the title with a 2-1 win at relegated Auxerre.

For the 2012-13 season coach Carlo Ancelotti was given free rein to dip into PSG's treasure chest. Of the six most expensive signings completed before the close of the August transfer window, four involved PSG including Brazilian central defender Thiago Silva for 42 million euros and the much-travelled SwedeZlatan Ibrahimovic for an initial fee of around 20 million euros, both from AC Milan.

In Italy, Juventus became only the second team to win Serie A with an unbeaten record when they beat Atalanta 3-1 in their final match of the campaign.

It was the first title in nine years for the Turin team, following the 2006 match fixing scandal when they were stripped of two titles and relegated.

Borussia Dortmund retained the Bundesliga title with a record 81 points, eight ahead of second-placedBayern Munich.

They rounded off their season by crushing Bayern 5-2 to lift the German Cup. It was Dortmund's fifth straight win over the Bavarians as they staked an even bigger claim to take over as Germany's dominant domestic force.

At the end of August, Bayern completed the signing of the Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez in a 40 million euro deal believed to be a German record.

Porto extended their decade-long domination of Portuguese football at the end of April as they clinched their 26th league title with two matches in hand after winning 2-0 at Maritimo as Benfica slipped to a 2-2 draw at Rio Ave.

It was their eighth title in ten years.

The feat heralded a major achievement for Porto coach Vitor Pereira, who took over from Andre Villas-Boas the previous summer.

Hulk, who moved to Zenit St Petersburg in September for 40 million euros, was Porto's top scorer for the second season running.

Ajax players and fans celebrated after sealing the Amsterdam club's 31st Dutch title with a 2-0 win against VVV-Venlo.

Coach Frank de Boer has now led the club to two championships.

In February, Zambia won the African Nations Cup, beating Ivory Coast 8-7 in a drama-filled penalty shootout following a 0-0 draw in Libreville.

But the goalless match might have finished in regulation time had Drogba not ballooned a 70th-minute penalty well wide to deny the Ivorians victory.

Stoppila Sunzu converted the winning penalty after three successive efforts had been missed in a long and nervy shootout that totalled 18 kicks.

The defeat was another near miss for the Ivory Coast's golden generation, who had been expected to win African football's top prize at the last four attempts but failed every time.

Zambia, who had gone into the game as underdogs, won over the 40,000 crowd in the Friendship Stadium in the Gabon capital with their positive play against surprisingly timid opponents.

After winning, the Zambian team held up banners remembering their side that died in an air crash not far from the stadium in 1993.

A darker side of African football was seen in Port Said on February 1 as 74 people died and at least 1,000 were injured when hundreds of al-Masry fans surged across the pitch to the visitors' end, and panicked Ahli fans dashed for the exit.

Witnesses said the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede.

Egyptians incensed by the deaths accused the ruling generals of failing to prevent the deadliest incident since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the "Ultras" -- Al Ahli fans whose experience confronting police at soccer matches was turned with devastating effect against Mubarak's heavy-handed security forces in the uprising.

Following the disaster, the Egyptian FA cancelled the remainder of their Premier League season.

Imperious Spain took their place among the game's greats in vintage style by thrashing Italy 4-0 to become the first team to win successive European Championship titles.

Spain's win was the climax of a tournament which produced some fine football and brought credit to co-hosts Poland and Ukraine.

It was unfortunate that both the hosts failed to get beyond the group stages where the Netherlandscapitulation in all three of their matches was also a major surprise.

After a goalless draw, Spain had won their semi 4-2 on penalties against Portugal who made a huge miscalculation in losing the shootout without Cristiano Ronaldo able to take a kick.

In the final, goals from David SilvaJordi AlbaFernando Torres and Juan Mata gave the world champions an easy victory in Kiev's Olympic Stadium over an Italian team down to 10 men through injury for the last half-hour.

The diminutive Silva scored with a rare header after a Cesc Fabregas pull-back in the 14th minute before a superb sprint finish from left-back Alba following a pinpoint Xavi pass doubled their lead four minutes before halftime.

Torres, who scored the winner in the final when they won the title in 2008, struck their third goal in the 84th minute before setting up fellow substitute Mata to add the final flourish in the 88th.

Italy, orchestrated by veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo, had beaten England on penalties in the quarter finals and Germany 2-1 in the semis.

England were managed by Roy Hodgson in the finals. The 64-year-old had succeeded Italian Fabio Capello who left his role as England manager in February.

The Italian coach's resignation came after he disagreed with the English FA's decision to remove the England captaincy from defender John Terry until after he had stood trial in July for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton

Ferdinand during a Premier League match.

Following Euro 2012, Capello took over from Dick Advocaat as Russia coach.