2013 year in review: Soccer
From Zambia winning the African Cup of Nations in a thrilling penalty shootout, to Safa suspending its president and four other officials in the wake of a Fifa report on match-fixing in Bafana Bafana’s run-up to the 2010 World Cup, the stream of football action has been relentless. ANT SIMS reflects on the highs and lows of a year that felt like an eternity.
Soccer – sorry, football – seems to never end. Fans of the game seem to be constantly drip-fed a stream of some or other tournament which is on the go somewhere and yet, miraculously, nobody ever seems to tire of it. In 2012, there were plenty of talking points and plenty of controversies, some old, some new, but the entertainment was seemingly endless.
Zambia wins 2012 Afcon
As romantic sports stories of the year go, nothing will beat Zambia’s triumph over Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations this year. Nearly a decade after tragedy descended on the Zambian team when a military plane crashed into the ocean, killing 25 players and officials on board as well as a state news agency sports reporter and the military transport plane’s crew, Zambia won the Afcon tournament. A thrilling penalty shootout which ended 8-7 in Zambia’s favour was enough to leave headline writers and those with a love for the human side of sport in tears. The highlight of the spot-kick decider was probably Zambia’s keeper Kennedy Mweene stepping up to slot in a penalty. The man showed some serious balls, no pun intended.
Chelsea winning the Champions League
Forget parking the bus, Chelsea anchored a cruise ship in their Champions League final clash against Bayern Munich. The Germans eventually found a way to the back of the net through Thomas Muller in the dying minutes of the game. Didier Drogba then equalised and the game went to extra time and Chelsea eventually won on penalties. Chelsea are far from the picture-perfect club with their rich Russian owner firing coaches like crackers on Diwali – including Roberto Di Matteo, who helped them win the Champions League final. What the club did show was that you don’t always need artistry to win trophies.
Bafana get a brand new coach
For years, those in charge of the national football team have thought that their failings on the pitch lie with the person who coaches them. So this year, they fired Pitso Mosimane and put Gordon Igesund in charge, adding that they expect the Durbanite to pull several rabbits out of a hat with a hole in it. Igesund is expected to take the team to the semi-final of next year’s Afcon and he needs to help the side qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It’s quite the mandate and even for the magician, it’s a tricky task. He’ll have to do all of this without Steven Pienaar, who decided that international football is not for him and he’d rather stick to the English Premier League. One player hardly makes the team, of course, but Igesund has heavy expectations resting on him.
This year Fifa has finally made strides towards actually implementing the technology in leagues and matches across the world. At the Fifa Club World Cup, the technology was in place, but there were hardly any conclusions drawn from it as it simply wasn’t needed. The closest it came to being called into action was in the final, when Corinthians’ goalkeeper Cassio dove to stop a shot by Chelsea's Gary Cahill in the 11th minute. Cassio trapped the ball under his legs about a foot in front of the goal, but play went on as it was clear that the ball never crossed the line. Sepp Blatter, however, insists that the technology is here to stay and there will be further tests at the Confederations Cup and at the 2014 World Cup.
Euros, the complete non-event
Did you even know there was a European Cup this year? Remember any of it at all? No? Don’t worry, neither did we. While glossing over the major talking points of the year, this scribe had to pick the brains of an esteemed writer for an Afrikaans newspaper to help recall what else happened in the world of soccer. Spain won and England couldn’t make it past the group stages, in case you forgot. It was business as usual, except for Greece making it to the quarter-finals, which made the Daily Maverick’s Styli Charalambous very excited and then severely disappointed.
Fifa match-fixing report fingers Safa officials
For some odd reason people still react with shock and dismay when a match-fixing saga hits “the beautiful game”. It was no different when Fifa presented Safa with a 500-page report on some dubious events in friendlies leading up to the 2010 World Cup. Safa responded swiftly, placing its president and other officials on “special leave” while it investigates. Fifa says in its report there is “compelling evidence” that untoward things happened in a number of Bafana Bafana friendlies. Safa has promised swift action. We suspect that those looking for answers or insight might define “swift” and “action” rather differently than the association. DM
Photo: Chelsea football player Didier Drogba holds the Champions League trophy during a victory parade along the Kings Road in Chelsea, west London May 20, 2012. REUTERS/Paul Hackett