10) A tale of one city – Manchester City vs Manchester United & last-minute joy/heartbreak
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, well that’s just careless. One of the major emerging stories in English football since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover at Eastlands in 2008 has been the renewed rivalry between Manchester’s leading lights, United and City. Carlos Tevez’s crosstown defection and the ensuing ‘Welcome to Manchester’ taunting only spat fuel on the rumbling fire.
When the two teams went on to meet four times in 2009/2010, the encounters were epic – perfect demonstrations of what the Spanish call Morbo – the tendency for rivalries to grow and regenerate by feeding off their own dramas. Not one, not two but three last minute winners from Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes helped add to the self-sustaining ecosystem of Mancunian enmity – not to mention the Tevez/Neville ‘bootlicker’ comments, and with the two teams now battling it out at the top of the table 2010 marked the return of spice to one of English football’s grandest derbies.
9) Barcelona 1-0 Internazionale – Mourinho and the sprinklers
Arguably the most memorable game of the Champions League 2009/10. Having dispatched of Arsenal with a mixture of ruthlessness and style, Barcelona were considered hot favourites to do what no other team has done in the Champions League era and retain the title. But in the semi-finals Internazionale and familiar old foe Jose Mourinho stood in their way. After a 3-1 defeat in the San Siro, Mourinho ratcheted up his usual pre-match hot air and bluster, calling Barcelona’s desire to reach the final, held at the Bernabeu, “an obsession.”
Mourinho’s gameplan – to cede possession and defend their lines at all costs – became all the more difficult with Thiago Motta’s early sending off. But Inter clung on for dear life and, despite their entire team completing less passes than Xavi on the night, Inter’s 1-0 defeat sent them through.
Cue pandemonium on the away team’s bench, an on-field sprint and Narcissus-like pose from Mourinho on the Camp Nou turf and the sprinklers. An incredible display of thou-shall-not-pass defending from Inter and a memorable night’s football.
8 ) Lionel Messi 4-1 Arsenal – a path to greatness
“The path to greatness is along with others.” Baltasar Gracian.
There are two traditional schools of thought in football that contradict one another greatly. 1) that the Champions League is now ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ than the World Cup in terms of quality and 2) that to be considered great, a player must do it on the biggest stage of them all – a World Cup.
Somewhere between the juxtaposition of these two flawed theories lies Lionel Messi. Messi was criticised for not carrying Argentina to greatness in South Africa. Nevertheless, despite the critiques that came with not scoring a single goal (he would have but for some admirable goalkeeping by Vincent Enyeama, and though unspectacular actually had quite a good tournament), Messi was exceptional in the Champions League and has had a golden year.
In 2010 Messi won the Pichichi (top scorer in Spain) and was also top scorer in the Champions League. Since the start of the 2009/2010 season Messi’s record reads a staggering 67 games played, 65 goals scored. But the true beauty lies in how he makes it all look so easy.
In April 2010 Messi’s four brilliant goals against Arsenal at Camp Nou simply blew away the Champions League opponents. And as he walked off the pitch afterwards, cool as you like, bouncing the match ball up and down like a child in a playground, this game became another stunning milestone on Lionel Messi’s path to greatness.
7) Chile 1-0 Switzerland and the meaning of a World Cup
This was a particularly special moment for me as I was at the game in Port Elizabeth and was fortunate enough to be there to witness the power of the World Cup firsthand. You see, while watching a World Cup on TV is enthralling enough, actually being there to witness it adds so many more dimensions to the experience, and provides one with a real appreciation of just how enormous an event it is for people worldwide.
Chile 1-0 Switzerland is the sort of result that, had I been at home in England, would likely have been mentioned little, but perhaps for a few pundits lamenting that the entertainment on show wasn’t quite up to their lofty standards. Yet for Chile this was an extraordinary result and an extraordinary moment. Prior to World Cup 2010, Chile had not qualified for 12 years and hadn’t won a World Cup match for 48 years. But after beating Honduras in their opening game, a 1-0 win over Switzerland sent Marcelo Bielsa’s all-out attacking force through to the knockout stages, sparking wild celebrations in Chile.
As I left the stadium and made my way into the dark of the Port Elizabeth night, I got caught up in a huge impromptu party in the bowels of Nelson Mandela Bay stadium. Chile’s travelling contingent went crazy. They wanted to celebrate and they wanted to celebrate immediately. For over an hour and a half, the stadium’s concourse in South Africa may as well have been Santiago, Chile such was the exuberant, joy-filled atmosphere. A sea of red, blue and white, flags waving, dancing, chanting, strangers embracing like long lost brothers. It was an incredible outpouring of glee and human emotion, a pleasure to be a part of and a real insight into the magic of the World Cup.
6) “Iniesta de mi vida!” – Andres Iniesta settles it for Spain
“Iniesta de mi vida!” A popular saying in Spain after the World Cup final and a trending topic on Twitter in Spain, the phrase is basically a nonsense. Uttered on live TV by co-commentator Jose Antonio Camacho after Iniesta’s World Cup winning goal in extra time, it’s literal translation is ‘Iniesta of my life.’ Whatever that means. It is, basically, gibberish. Somehow though, this non-sensical, barmy utterance of joy exploding out of Camacho’s mouth actually came to sum up the emotions of everyone in Spain perfectly. It was the Iniesta of all our lives.
Relive the moment in Iniesta’s own words:
Torres tried to pass it to the centre but the defence intercepted it and the rebound fell to Cesc. My instincts told me to fall back a bit and Cesc gave me a marvellous pass. I received it perfectly and only controlled it a bit. When I was controlling it, I noticed a silence in the stadium. It was strange, but I noticed it. Is it possible to hear silence with almost 100,000 people present? I heard it. It seemed like the entire world had stopped, as if everyone had frozen.
After I controlled the ball, it bounced into the perfect position for me to shoot and I knew that it would go in. Why? I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew. I waited a bit for it to come down and I shot. I know, it’s difficult to understand. But, in that moment, I knew that it would go in.
5) Iker Casillas save vs Arjen Robben, World Cup final
In terms of a single moment captured in time, Iker Casillas’ pistols at dawn save from Arjen Robben’s shot in the 62nd minute at Soccer City in the World Cup final was particularly memorable.
Played in by a sumptuous defence-splitting pass from Wesley Sneijder, time stood still like a fight scene in The Matrix as Robben went clean through on goal. All that stood between him, The Netherlands, a date with destiny and a place in World Cup folklore was one man – Iker Casillas. A battle of wills ensues. Eyes fixed, they gaze deeply into each other’s souls. Casillas bobs forward and bends his knees. Robben plays poker face, looking to sell a dummy while simultaneously keeping his body upright and still. Former teammates locked in a deadly duel. The fate of two nations hangs in the balance. In such moments lives change forever.
The handkerchief drops. Robben aims right. Casillas dives left. It’s over. The game is up. But an outstretched boot changes the course of destiny. The ball’s trajectory alters. Ever so slightly. But enough. Slowly, it spins wide. The guns fall to the floor. Spain survive. Robben falls to his knees, a haunted look on his face. Casillas is ghostly white with relief. The Duke of York stands over his wounded victim. Puyol clenches his teeth and slaps Casillas’ hand. The duel is over.
4) Germany 4-1 England – Modern generation has it’s ‘Magnificent Magyar’ moment
Strange to think that had Frank Lampard’s goal been given it could have all been so different for England, and the result against Germany might not have gone down as the seismic, belief-shattering thumping it turned out to be. But referees’ assistant Mr Mauricio Espinosa of Uruguay didn’t see it, England went on to get thrashed and English football as a whole has been left to confront it’s own numerous inadequacies and failings ever since.
Not a single English player made Fifa’s Ballon D’Or shortlist for 2010 and the state of English football today has been debated ever since Mesut Özil glided past Gareth Barry like Usain Bolt racing Homer Simpson to square for Thomas Müller and stick the knife in for what might on these shores be termed ‘a right old pasting.’ England’s entire World Cup campaign obliterated in one afternoon – and with it the bluster and bravado that for so long dominated the discourse when debating English football and it’s self-proclaimed ‘best league in the world.’ Richard Keys hasn’t been the same since.
3) Uruguay, Ghana, Asamoah Gyan, Luis Suarez – A Morality Play & Heartbreak for Ghana
Football is often like pantomime. We create heroes and villains and once the boundaries are defined that’s that thankyou very much. Luis Suarez’s handball on the line against Ghana was considered an act of treachery in some parts of the world, an act of heroism in others. Either way, this was the single most dramatic moment of World Cup 2010 in my opinion and so heartbreaking a way for a team to lose a football match you would struggle to conjure a more brutal means of elimination if you tried.
Watching back Asamoah Gyan’s penalty hit the bar still leaves me short of breath and covered with goosebumps even now, and like many of the memories here one has the impression that the entire world paused to come together and centre on that one moment in time. Gyan’s tears, Suarez’s glee, sat aloft on the shoulders of his teammates, Abreu’s final twist of the knife with his brilliant chipped penalty, Ghana – and by extension Africa – denied an historic semi-final place. As a despondent Ghanaian friend of mine remarked afterwards, ‘life just isn’t fair.’ Brilliant drama.
2) Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid – The new Dream Team’s crowning moment
All I can really say about this game is that Barcelona gave what was probably the single greatest demonstration of pure football genius I have ever seen in my lifetime. Played on a Monday night, as if to emphasise the focus of the eyes of the football world on club football’s showpiece event, Pep Guardiola’s side ripped Real Madrid to shreds the way Manny Pacquiao does his opponents in the boxing ring.
A prolonged, 90 minute series of wonderfully crafted swift jabs and hooks, punctuated by five haymakers of jaw-shattering brutality. The look on Florentino Perez’s face at 4-0 in the second half said it all – “I’ve spent hundreds of millions of Euros, year after year, signed some of the world’s best players and brought in one of the world’s greatest coaches and we are getting absolutely thumped. What do I have to do to beat these guys?!”
The week before this rout, Barça beat Almeria 8-0. Two weeks later they put another five past Real Sociedad. Like the Dream Team of Johan Cruyff in the early 1990s, the Barcelona of Messi, Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Iniesta and co are an exceptional, era-defining team. This was an exceptional, era-defining performance.
1) 11th June 2010, Johannesburg, South Africa
For more on this one see an article I wrote while in South Africa – “I cried, we cried.”
Arriving at Sandton City fan park with another 100,000-odd South Africans to watch the opening day of a World Cup the nation – and continent – had been anticipating for years was a hugely emotional experience. And I have to be honest and admit that emotion just about got the better of me when Bafana Bafana lined up for the national anthem ahead of the first game of World Cup 2010 against Mexico as everybody in the fan park stood to salute and sing their national hymn. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal of that game, one of the best team goals of the tournament, only added to the wonder of a truly moving occasion.
The rise and rise of Blackpool and Ian Holloway – Blackpool’s balls-out, adventurous style has been like a breath of fresh air for top-flight English football. Whether at Molineux or Anfield, Ian Holloway sets his teams up to pour forward at all opportunities, and so far despite the inferior monetary value and wage packets of his players it has paid off. Blackpool sit comfortably in the Premier League table and are poised to stay up. Watching Holloway go on the offensive about the football world’s topic du jour in his press conferences every week has also been hugely entertaining.
The Togo team bus attack in Angola – An incredibly low moment in the year but one that unfortunately cannot be ignored, the deadly gun attack on Togo’s team bus on it’s way through Angola to the African Cup of Nations in January marked a dreadful start to Africa’s year in the spotlight.
And the winner is… Russia / Qatar – FIFA’s decision to take the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to new frontiers proved controversial to say the least.
Marcelo Bielsa’s attacking philosophy – 3-3-1-3. How’s that for a formation? Marcelo Bielsa’s tactically innovative style and quirkily charismatic nature endeared him to an entire nation, as well as winning him admirers worldwide.