1. FIFA corruption. It's been a long time since anybody thought of FIFA as a bunch of do-gooders, but this has been a damaging year for its reputation nonetheless. As Sepp Blatter's merry troupe was courted by World Cup bidders, two members (Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Temarii) were suspended for offering to sell their votes, and the rest of the executive committee did nothing to quell suspicions that it was standard practice by giving the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to mega-rich, risky options Russia and Qatar, respectively. Blatter says he wants to give soccer to the world -- though South Africa saw not a cent of the $2 billion profit that FIFA, which refuses to pay tax in host countries, made from last summer's World Cup.
2. The world goes loco for Spain. This was the year everyone got down with tiki-taka. First came the ticker-tape finale to La Liga, which saw Barcelona claim the title with a typically decisive contribution from Leo Messi (34 goals for the season, and 15 in Barca's first 12 league matches this term). Then Spain -- the reigning European champion -- unleashed its hypnotic pass-and-move soccer, orchestrated by midfield magicians Xavi and Andres Iniesta, to claim the World Cup. A new standard has been set: There is winning, and then there is winning. No wonder that Ballon d'Or short list, announced at the start of December, is composed of this trio. One will be named world player of the year on Jan. 10.
3. Are the Europeans coming or going? At the other end of the World Cup scale was France, or les farceurs. Abject on the pitch, brawling off it, the French were literally laughed out of the tournament. With England not much better, the demise of European soccer was apparently in the cards -- except that Spain, Germany and the Netherlands rather jinxed that theory. The Germans were uncharacteristically bewitching, with Thomas Müller seducing a generation before the group stage was over. Meanwhile, Dutch stock dropped faster than its bruised opponents, and the brutality of the final -- Nigel de Jong's chest-high boot on Xabi Alonso, in particular -- shocked and disappointed everyone. Somehow, referee Howard Webb failed to show a red card until the 109th minute -- let's not get started on the standard of refereeing in South Africa.
4. Internazionale does the treble. Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid was emphatically humbled by Barcelona recently, but it was quite another story earlier in the year as he led Internazionale to a Champions League, Scudetto and Coppa Italia-winning treble, the first in Italian soccer history. Mourinho's Catenaccio (defensive system) stood obstinately in Pep Guardiola's way in the Champions League semifinals, laughing in the face of accusations of anti-football and all the way to a comfortable win over Bayern Munich -- despite having just a third of the possession -- in the final. Domestic honors haven't been hard to come by at San Siro, but this was Inter's first European Cup triumph since 1965.
5. An up-and-down year for England's talisman. In late March, when Wayne Rooney had racked up 33 goals with Manchester United in first place, it seemed certain that we'd spend this time looking back on an exceptional year in the life of the striker. And we are reflecting, but mainly because his reputation has flipped a spectacular 180 in the past nine months. In that time, he's scored only three goals, reaching his on-field nadir in South Africa, where he played like a lost tourist. Off the pitch, his worst moment came in September, when Sunday newspapers broke stories about his affairs with prostitutes while his wife, Colleen, was pregnant. But his most expensive flirtation was with Manchester City -- a dalliance that cost United a five-year, £220,000-a-week ($347,000) contract.
6. Thierry Henry moves to MLS. It was an eventful year for New York Red Bulls, starting with the opening of its new stadium and ending with an almighty choke against San Jose in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But for MLS fans, it was the arrival of Thierry Henry from Barcelona -- augmenting the league's most expensive roster -- that stood out. He may not have the celebrity va-va-voom of David Beckham, but he had more medals in his cabinet and an appearances/goals/assists record of 651/306/157 prior to signing. Just ask Toronto what the trio of Henry, Juan Pablo Angel and Rafa Marquez is capable of doing.
7. Liverpool sold ... eventually. Human evolutionary changes must have taken place in the time it took for Tom Hicks and George Gillett to relinquish power at Liverpool. The club was put up for sale in April against the warring pair's wishes (they were holding out for a big-money sale), and was finally signed over to New England Sports Ventures in October, at a loss of around £150 million ($237 million). In that time, Hicks and Gillett had brought a taste of Dallas (the TV series) to Merseyside, with a dubious Texan injunction their final, undignified attempt to prevent the sale. Although manager Roy Hodgson is unlikely to have received too many Christmas cards, results have started to pick up since the arrival of John Henry.
8. Bursaspor's explosive Super Lig triumph. In the first 50 years of Turkey's Super Lig, only four teams claimed the trophy, and because Galatasaray and Fenerbahce had hogged 34 titles between them, even Besiktas' 2008-09 victory, its 13th, looked out of place. But that was nothing compared to Bursaspor's leap from nowhere -- it had never even finished in the top three -- to win the crown in May. It needed to beat Besiktas (head-to-head record of 13 wins to 3 in Besiktas' favor), and hope that Fenerbahce failed to beat fifth-place Trabzonspor, to win. When exactly that happened, Bursa's elation was only helped by news that someone at Fenerbahce had mistakenly announced it champion over the PA system, prompting wild celebrations that were abruptly cut short -- then dissolved into a riot.
9. Champions League gate-crashed. The times they are a-changing: Not only did the 2010 Champions League semifinals proceed without an English club (the first time in seven years), but a French side graced the last four for the first time in six years after Lyon beat Bordeaux in the quarterfinals. Les Gones fell to Bayern Munich, which thus made its first final in nine years; Internazionale trumped Barcelona to make its first in decades. A blip? Perhaps. But in the 2010-11 season, there have been group stage debuts for FC Twente, Bursaspor and Tottenham, which unexpectedly topped its group, and FC Copenhagen has become the first Danish side to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.
10. Philippines beats Vietnam. The Asean Football Federation's biennial Suzuki Cup might not be too high up on your list of priorities, but this year's tournament produced arguably the biggest upset in its history: Defending champion and federation powerhouse Vietnam lost 2-0 to the Philippines, ranked 151st in the world and without so much as a point off Vietnam in nearly 20 years. Accusing the Azkals of parking the bus, Vietnamese coach Henrique Calisto refused to shake his opposite number's hand after the match. Simon McMenemy was upset by the gesture but wouldn't be drawn into a slanging match after a result that prompted the country's vice president, Jejomar Binay, to promise a national training program.
Honorable mention: A memorable year for Luis Suarez, who was named Netherlands Player of the Year for his goal-scoring exploits at Ajax before his World Cup "save" put Uruguay into the semifinals at the expense of Ghana. Though that play in South Africa made him a hero back home, any rehabilitation of his image elsewhere will probably have to wait until after his seven-match suspension for biting PSV's Otman Bakkal on the shoulder during a match in November.
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