Football has thrilled, enthralled and stirred the emotions over the course of 2012. Here, FIFA.com singles out 12 moments that have made it a year to remember in the beautiful game.
Zambia’s poignant prize
Zambia winning their first-ever CAF Africa Cup of Nations title in February would have been remarkable enough. That they beat heavy favourites Cote d’Ivoire to claim the trophy added shock value. But it was the fact that the game was their first in Libreville since the 1993 plane crash that killed all but one of their national team following a refuelling stop in the Gabonese capital that made this the most emotion-laden victory of the year.
Tears were shed for a very different reason later that month when a sell-out crowd and worldwide TV audience watched aghast as Fabrice Muamba fought for his life on the White Hart Lane turf. It quickly became clear that Bolton Wanderers’ Congolese-born midfielder had suffered a cardiac arrest and yet, despite the fact his heart stopped for an incredible 78 minutes, he lived to tell the tale and has since written a book about his brush with death.
The battle for the English Premier League title went down to the final minute of the final game of the season... and beyond. It was, after all, five minutes into stoppage time against Queens Park Rangers, with Manchester United’s match at Sunderland already over, that Sergio Aguero struck the shot that clinched Manchester City’s first championship in 44 years.
Drogba’s final fling
Didier Drogba’s place among Chelsea’s all-time greats was already assured by the time he headed them level in a UEFA Champions League final in which they had been second-best throughout. Yet that equaliser merely set the stage for the Ivorian’s crowning moment, a coolly dispatched penalty with his final kick for the Blues that secured the club’s first-ever European crown.
Tahiti conquer continent
Before this year, the OFC Nations Cup had never left the Antipodes. It was, therefore, a major shock when New Zealand, fresh from their FIFA World Cup heroics, failed to even reach the final in the Solomon Islands. Instead, the continental title was fought over by Tahiti and New Caledonia, and it was a solitary goal from Steevy Chong Hue that secured the title, and a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup, for the French Polynesians.
Rangers go under
Rangers’ perilous financial position had been an open secret but there was still shock when, after 140 years of history and a world record 54 league titles, the club was consigned to liquidation in mid-June. The Glasgow giants were subsequently reformed as a new company and granted entry to the Third Division, Scotland’s fourth tier, which they currently lead by nine points with a game in hand.
Italy were 2-1 down in their penalty shootout against England in the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final, and Riccardo Montolivo had missed their previous kick, when Andrea Pirlo stepped up. It was against this tense backdrop that the midfielder scored the cheekiest of chips, knocking the Three Lions off their stride and providing a memorable turning point en route to a 4-2 shootout win.
Spain’s final flourish
Having listened to sniping criticism throughout their run to the final, Spain provided their detractors with a stunning reminder of why this era belongs to them. Vicente Del Bosque’s side beat Italy by a record-high four-goal margin to retain their European crown and, in doing so, became the first team from the Old Continent to win three major tournaments in succession.
Morgan settles thriller
Old Trafford has staged plenty of memorable matches, but few have been as thrilling as the magnificent spectacle served up by USA and Canada in the semi-final of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. It had a fittingly dramatic climax too, with Alex Morgan sealing a 4-3 victory for the Americans in the very last minute of extra time.
Ibra to the four
This was the first-ever match at the Friends Arena, but it is unlikely that the sparkling new Stockholm stadium will ever witness a more devastating individual display. Zlatan Ibrahimovic became the first player in 915 matches to score four times against England, but it was the nature of his final goal – an amazing 30-yard overhead kick – that had the striker’s name on everyone’s lips the following day.
Messi passes Muller
'My record stood for 40 years. Now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him.” These were the gracious words of Gerd Muller after Lionel Messi scored his 85th and 86th goals of 2012, surpassing Der Bomber’s 1972 benchmark for goals in a single calendar year. The Argentinian finished the year on 91 goals in all competitions.
Corinthians’ Japanese joy
Paulista giants Corinthians had won the first edition of the FIFA Club World Cup back in 2000, but the tournament’s recent history had been a tale of European dominance. That made it all the sweeter for the Brazilians when, backed by a 20,000-plus band of travelling supporters in Yokohama, they deservedly saw off Chelsea thanks to Paolo Guerrero’s decisive second-half header.