by ‘Ifreke Inyang
It is not always an easy task to pick the top ten phenomena in a year. But here we go. Here’s a quick warning: Our list is dominated by football, but we have chipped in a few moments from other sports that we absolutely enjoyed this year. And it is in no particular order.
With this great achievement, Japan …captured the first World Cup trophy for an Asian nation…
Let’s not even argue about this, the EPL is the most exciting league in the world. And this year, there were a lot of fantastic moments that stood out. From Manchester United lifting their record-equalling 19th league title to their demolition of Arsenal at Old Trafford. Quick mention goes to Robin Van Persie and Arsenal, who tore apart Chelsea in a thrilling game that ended 5-3 at Stamford Bridge. But our pick out of the lot is the Manchester derby, where City humbled United 6-1. Alex Ferguson’s team, the fans and pundits were left stunned after a devastating display attack of football by Roberto Mancini’s men. Balotelli was the star of the game and we will always remember his goal celebration where he pulled up his jersey to show a shirt that read: “Why always me?”
The Champions League is where the best of the best battle. The games are usually more intense and dramatic. Arsenal fans went bonkers after they defeated Barcelona in a very open game of football and Manchester United fans watched helplessly as Lionel Messi and Barcelona ran circles around their players at Wembley to lift the trophy. But nothing prepared them for the ultimate humiliation – dropping into the Europa League from the 2011/2012 group stages. The Red Devils went into the final group stage of the competition in need of just one point against Basel. Defensive mix up ensured that they were two goals down and that Phil Jones’ last gasp goal meant nothing.
This is easily Arsene Wenger’s testing ground. Every other year, he experiments with teenagers who he always herald as the future of the club. In February, his latest crop of youngsters made it all the way to the final of the Carling Cup, where they lost against Birmingham City. Zigic headed the Blues in front, before Robin van Persie equalized with a spectacular volley. However, Birmingham City, against all odds went on to win the trophy, after Szczesny and Koscienly failed to clear a loose ball and Nigeria’s Obafemi Martins scored.
It has been a bad year for Nigeria sports wise. The Super Eagles spectacularly failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations after they conceded a last-minute equalizer against Guinea. The People’s Elephants, Enyimba, failed to reach the finals of the CAF Champions’ League. The female national team did not offer any consolation either. They lost to Cameroon and as a result, the Indomitable Lionesses joined South Africa as the continent’s two female qualifiers for the London Olympics. Even the U-23 team will not be present at the Olympics next year. But nothing compares to the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the next continental fiesta. We were about three minutes away from qualifying, before a series of school boys error shattered all hopes.
Italian Serie A
There were a lot of interesting games in the Serie A this year, but our pick is AC Milan winning their first Serie A title since 2004. They won the league with three games to spare after a 0-0 draw at Roma. After the game, AC Milan had 78 points, nine more than their fierce rivals, Inter, but head-to-head results decide the destination of the Scudetto in the event of a tie. The Rossoneri won both league matches between the sides and so the side of Milan the title was heading was effectively settled. AC Milan’s triumph brought to an end a run of five successive league titles for Inter Milan. It also marked a wonderful first season for coach Massimiliano Allegri, who joined AC Milan last summer after he was sacked by Cagliari last April.
Spanish La Liga
Forgive the sarcasm, but any game that is usually worth our while in Spain is always between Barcelona and Real Madrid. This year alone, there has been about seven El-Clasico clashes spread all through the domestic campaign , the Copa Rey and the Champions League. The only game Jose Mourinho edged Pep Guardiola was the final of the Kings Cup, where a Cristiano Ronaldo bullet header delivered Mourinho’s first trophy in Spain. Barcelona have time and again emphasized their superiority over their fierce rivals. The game that we thoroughly enjoyed is the first meeting this season. Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead after just 22 seconds of the game. What followed was a barrage of attacking football from the Catalans. By half time, Alexis Sanchez had leveled scores. They went on to win the game 3-1, making rubbish of pundits who claimed Madrid was closing the gap on them.
In a year when earthquakes ravaged Japan, the Japanese female national team gave the country a reason to smile. The team won the Women’s World Cup in July. They came into the final game as underdogs and almost lost until Homare Sawa scored a goal in the second half to bring the scores to 2-2. The game was eventually decided by a penalty shootout, in which the Japanese team out-kicked the Americans 3-1. With this great achievement, Japan not only captured the first World Cup trophy for an Asian nation, it also broke its 25-game losing streak to USA’s national female side.
740 days and 26 tournaments. That is how long it took for Tiger Woods, who was once an invincible force in golf to win another title. His last conquest before now was the Australian Masters – his 82nd title worldwide – in November 2009 and it was his seventh that year. About twelve days after this victory, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant outside his home in Florida. The revelations that followed didn’t just stun the world, it practically wrecked his life – it cost him his marriage and major sponsorship deals.
But in the last five months, he has added three sponsors and shown signs of coming back to his best. He ended the year third at the Australian Open and delivered the point that clinched the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Move aside the Federer-Nadal rivalry. This year, keen tennis observers were held spellbound by the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry. Federer and Nadal have played each other 25 times but Nadal and Djokovic have already eclipsed that. They’ve played each other in 28 matches. In this year’s US Open, many followers were eager to get a taste of the Federer-Nadal rivalry again. Nadal was already through to the finals and Federer had to play Djokovic in the other semi-final. It never happened. Although he went two sets down to the Swiss, the Serbian rallied back and saved two set points to defeat Roger Federer, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, to book a spot in his second consecutive Open final. Our tennis game of the year.
The drama in basketball comes to life during the play-offs. This year, the pick of the bunch was Miami Heats’ victory over Chicago Bulls. It is not as if the Bulls are the most talented team or were favoured to win. But they led by 12 points with 3:14 left. Then the magic happened, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 16 points in the last three minutes in an 18-4 Miami finish and even they couldn’t explain how they did it.