As another year draws to a close, it is hard not to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months – those moments that sparked wild celebrations and the disappointments that prompted long walks and a punishing hour with a punching bag. For all fans across the globe, 2012 –with domestic competitions, the Champions League and the European Championship – brought plenty of both.
In keeping with the positive hopes a new year brings, we will just focus on the high points for now. With an endless stream of intriguing storylines, a string of record-breaking individual and team performances and some mind-boggling goals, 2012 certainly left its mark.
Inside Futbol picks out ten of this year's most lasting memories.
Chelsea Defy Odds to Finally Win Champions League
A season that began with Andre Villas-Boas as the great hope at Stamford Bridge ended with Roberto Di Matteo at the helm and Chelsea lifting the Champions League (and the FA Cup). Seemingly out of Europe when faced with a 3-1 first leg deficit against Napoli, Chelsea roared back under Di Matteo to beat the Italians 4-1 in the second leg. A heroic semi-final performance followed against the might of Barcelona, with the Blues securing an unforgettable 2-2 result in the Camp Nou despite John Terry's reckless first half red card and progressing to the final. Their reward was daunting – a Champions League showpiece against Bayern Munich, who were playing in their home stadium. Nonetheless, Chelsea never backed down, levelling with two minutes to go after Bayern Munich had seemingly won it in the 83rd minute, then winning on penalties. Owner Roman Abramovich finally got his hands on the trophy he craved above all others.
Sergio Aguero Snatches Premier League Title for Manchester City
Manchester City controlled the 2011/12 title race for much of the year, only to surrender the advantage to cross-city rivals Manchester United down the home stretch. But Roberto Mancini and his players refused to throw in the towel, closing the gap as Manchester United themselves faltered. A vital 1-0 win over Sir Alex Ferguson's side handed the advantage back to Manchester City and set up a tense final day where Manchester United would need to better to their rivals' result. Manchester United ground out a victory at Sunderland while Manchester City gave their fans cause for major concern at home to QPR. The Citizens led 1-0, trailed 2-1 then levelled in the 92nd minute. Too little, too late, surely. Then Sergio Aguero wrote his name into Manchester City's history books forever with a mazy dribble and clinical finish to end the most thrilling title race of the Premier League era. The clock showed 95 minutes – and the trophy was heading to the blue half of Manchester.
Lionel Messi Breaks Gerd Muller's Goalscoring Record
Say what you want about Messi's talented supporting cast, the Argentine's body of work for 2012 defies belief. The little genius surpassed Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 85 goals in a calendar year (set in 1972) despite Barcelona's failure to land the Champions League or La Liga. This rampant run included a five-goal night against Bayer Leverkusen, 12 goals for Argentina and a string of La Liga hat-tricks. These heroics were unquestionably enough to silence any critics that believe Messi did not belong in the 'Greatest Player Ever' conversation. Sure, some international success with Argentina is still missing from his CV, but take the time to appreciate the quality of Messi's 2012 accomplishments.
Spain – Euro 2012 Winners and Record Setters
It was supposed to be someone else's turn. Off the back of their Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 glory, the Spaniards arrived in Poland and Ukraine as favourites but with the history books suggesting a third straight trophy would be beyond them. After all, Germany looked strong, Italy were revived and Holland were out for revenge for losing the last World Cup final. In truth, Spain reached the final without hitting top gear, collecting a 1-0 win over France and ousting Portugal on penalties. But they were clearly saving their best for last, as shown by the 4-0 demolition of Italy in the final. This was a team that had grown a complete sense of invincibility and was led expertly by the likes of Iker Casillas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. It was another memorable night to add to the Spaniards' collection and raised the bar ever higher. The target on their backs will be huge when the 2014 World Cup in Brazil rolls around.
Juventus' Unbeaten Serie A Campaign Triggers Italy's Euro 2012 Surge
Though Italy were on the receiving end of the best of Spain in the Euro 2012 final, there were clear signs of improvement in Italian football. Juventus led the way with an impressive unbeaten league season, claiming the Serie A title with 23 wins and 15 draws. Andrea Pirlo returned to his very best form in midfield (which carried over to the summer for Italy) while the backline of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci conceded just 20 goals in 38 games. With AC Milan no longer a dominant force and the struggles at Inter (who finished sixth), it was left to the men from Turin to put Serie A back on the map and propel the national team to the Euro 2012 final. They look poised for a deep run in the Champions League this season too.
Borussia Dortmund Prove Success Doesn't Always Come Hand-in-hand with Big Spending
It is no secret that Bayern Munich consider themselves the powerhouses of German football, boasting the biggest names and the biggest chequebook. But Dortmund sent out a refreshing message with their second successive Bundesliga title in 2012 – cohesion, faith in young players and an eye for a bargain can be key ingredients for success too. With a squad that was assembled on a tight budget, manager Jurgen Klopp extracted the maximum from each and every player. Dortmund clinched the title by eight points and have proven over the past four months that their brand of football is easily transferrable to the Champions League, topping a group that contained Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Robin van Persie Truly Arrives
The Dutchman had long been considered a classy performer, blessed with excellent technique and a wand of a left foot. But 2012 saw Van Persie take the next step in his career, turning Arsenal's 2011/12 season around with 30 league goals then completing a switch to Old Trafford and promptly proving himself to be Manchester United's biggest talent. His hat-trick at Southampton caught the eye as did his derby day winner against Manchester City. Despite a disappointing Euro 2012 run with Holland, the striker put himself alongside the biggest names in world football with his domestic performances. If Messi owned Spanish football, Van Persie could at least lay claim to the Premier League.
David Beckham Bids Farewell to Life in the MLS
The Beckham Experiment came to an end in November after the former England captain helped Los Angeles Galaxy to a second straight MLS Cup triumph. Beckham's stint in the U.S. was not always a smooth ride but he rewrote the narrative over the final 24 months, becoming just the second Englishman to win championships in three different countries. His arrival was never going to allow the MLS to compete with the NFL or NBA, but it did increase its popularity and sprinkle a little of Hollywood on every game he played. It also paved the way for the likes of Thierry Henry and Alessandro Nesta to see the appeal of North America. Fans around the world now eagerly await Beckham's next move; likely his last before retirement.
Corinthians Earn FIFA Club World Cup Glory
Just winning their first Copa Libertadores would have made 2012 a memorable year for Corinthians but the Brazilians followed it up by winning the Club World Cup in December, beating Chelsea 1-0 in the final. In the process, they broke Europe's five-year stranglehold on the trophy and staked their claim to being the best club team on the planet. With the highly-rated midfielder Paulinho and talented Peruvian Paolo Guerrero leading the attack, this is an exciting side to watch and many of the Corinthians players could be attracting interest from Europe's elite in the months ahead.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Wonder Goal vs England
Ibrahimovic is no stranger to spectacular goals. His career is jam-packed with them. But he raised the bar even higher with his stunning overhead kick against England in November – one of the Swede's four goals on the night. There appeared little danger as goalkeeper Joe Hart came out to head a hopeful long ball clear, but it dropped within range of Ibrahimovic who showed incredible technique to contort his body and direct a looping 30-yard bicycle kick over Hart and into the empty net. The goal of 2012.
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