1) The headbutt that was heard around the world: It cost France the World Cup
Zinedine Zidane in his swansong match of his stellar career and on the brink of taking France to a second title in this year’s World Cup decided that his pride was more important than Les Bleus. He reacted to Marco Materazzi baiting his mother and sister, and leveled him with a headbutt. It proved costly with Zidane sent off and a visibly rusty Trezeguet shooting the ball over in the penalty kicks that gave the Italians their fourth title. The consolation, if ever there was a player who deserved to be leveled, it would be Materazzi. The headbutt becomes a defining point in Zizou’s career and his worth as a player will never be complete without this discussion. There are very few that believe that the Azzurris would have won with Zidane in the line up.
2) The Azzurris win the 2006 World Cup: Amidst scandal and suicide
The Azzurris showed what wins teams the World Cup: Teamwork. With their discipline, opportunism, and their faith in their defense, the Azzurris marched to their fourth title. All this in the maelstrom of the worst scandal in soccer history with four clubs implicated in the Serie match fixing. The scandal shook Italian soccer with even the Vatican expressing their dismay. Worse was to follow as disgraced Juventus sports director Gianluca Pessotto attempted suicide during the World Cup, which necessitated Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluca Zambrotta leaving squad duty, to visit their friend in the Turin hospital where he lay recuperating from massive internal injuries.
3) Germany finds itself in the 2006 World Cup: Klinsmann and his merry men
Germany did not win this World Cup losing to their arch rivals Italy in the semifinals, 0-2 in one of the most entertaining matches in the tournament. However, by the end of the World Cup, Germany as a country discovered a new found exuberance shaking of ages old stodginess and stoicism. A change wrought by Juergen Klinsmann and his merry men who did not hold back their enthusiasm and animation on the field. The new Germany showed it did not care too much for Donald Rumsfeld’s characterization of it as Old Europe. Klinsmann made it cool to watch German soccer. No mean feat for someone who had been dismissed as a California bimbo by the German soccer establishment.
4) The Serie scandal: Jogo Feio, Fiat, and Juventus
The Serie scandal exploded when tapped phone conversations revealed that Juventus’s general director, Luciano Moggi, nicknamed Lucky Luciano by his critics, discussing the assignment of referees for league games with Pierluigi Pairetto, the refereeing official for Italy’s soccer federation — a clear violation of league rules. But that was only the tip of it. Other parts of the transcripts, culled by investigators and reported by the Italian news media, show much more: players and managers being threatened and blackmailed; numerous discussions over refereeing assignments before games; allegations of collusion among coaches, federation officials and a popular soccer talk-show host; the blacklisting of those who challenged the corruption; and, of course, the lavish greasing of palms. In the end Juventus was relegated to the Serie B and AC Milan, Fiorentina, and Lazio took point deductions and the faith of a country in its sporting heroes took a beating. The scandal prompted Cardinal Camillo Ruini, a close aide to Pope Benedict XVI to say ”From a good Italian and from an old fan, I am sad and disappointed. I would have always liked that sporting events were genuine.”
5) The sun sets on the British Empire: The club buyouts
This year continued where the following few years left off. After oil as an investment, foreign consortiums found British soccer clubs ripe for the picking. Portsmouth, Aston Villa, West Ham, and most recently Liverpool, the most storied English club succumbing to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s, Dubai’s billionaire ruler. A third of the Premiership clubs are now owned by a motley crew that includes a Russian oligarch, a reclusive NFL owner, a fugitive Israeli gun runner’s son, an American credit card baron, an ex FIFA vice president, and of course, Al Maktoum, a horse and camel racing addict. But does the average Premiership fan care that these people have no clue as to Lou Macari’s fish and chips shop? Nah. As long as it gets them a title even as the player’s paycheck is being cut in Jumeirah.
6) Internacional beats Barcelona: South America still hangs tough
Internacional beat Barcelona in the 45th edition of world club supremacy, in the FIFA World Club Championships (aka Intercontinental Cup) between a South American vs a European club. South American clubs have shown that they continue to hold their own even in this age with most of their star players leaving for the more lucrative European leagues. Indeed, Barca has its share of South Americans led by Ronaldinho, Messi, Edmilson, Sylvinho, Saviola, Belletti, and Thiago. Yet, all of Barca’s firepower came to nought, as Adriano Vieira slotted a goal for Internacional in the 72nd minute. The exodus of players from South America continues unabated but when it comes to the greatest club, South Americans edge Europeans out 24 to 21. Last year, Sao Paolo beat Liverpool, 1-0.
7) Boca Juniors self destruct: The Argentinian Apertura is won by Estudiantes
All Boca Juniors needed to do was to win one game in the Apertura to win this year’s Argentina title. In a stunning collapse, they lost their final two games to Belgrano and Lanus. In the final standings both Boca Juniors and Estudiante were level, necessitating a playoff game to decide the Apertura title. Before the Estudiantes game, Boca coach Ricardo La Volpe had vowed to resign his job if his team did not win. The threat seemed to work as workhorse Martin Palermo scored the first goal for Boca sending their fans into ecstasy. However, goals by Mariano Pavone and Jose Sosa pulled Estudiantes through. La Volpe was expressly brought on by Boca honcho Mauricio Macri on August 22nd to take Boca to the title after Alfio Basile was selected to lead the Albiceleste.
8) The year of the new kids on the block: Africa is the powerhouse
Four out of the eight new teams in this World Cup were from Africa. Angola, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana. And France’s squad that nearly won them a second title were mostly composed of players from former French colonies in Africa from Algeria to Senegal. Africa’s competitiveness is reflected in the fact that soccer big hitters like Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroun, and Senegal could not find a spot in the World Cup. All though no African player made it to the FIFA top 23 squad, players like Didier Drogba, Aruna Dindane, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari, Bakari Kone, Haminu Dramani, Emmanuel Adebayor, Hatem Trabalsi, Ziad Jaziri, Mohamed Kader, made their mark this World Cup. African players lead the Premiership. La Liga, and Ligue in most goals scored. El Ahly won the third spot in the Club World Championships and Mohamed Aboutreika showed that he is Africa’s best player. However Africa was not the only big winner, as Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors showed that they had come to play in their matches against Sweden and England. Although they lost, they quickly earned the love and respect of fans everywhere. The Socceroos were pipped at the post by a heartbreaking Fabio Grosso acting job but the Guus Hiddink coached team showed that they were genuine and gritty with tons of talent in Timmy Cahill, Brett Emerson, Lucas Neill, and Harry Kewell.
9) Ferenc Puskas passes away: The incandescent days of Hungarian soccer
The soccer world mourned a legend when Ferenc Puskas died on 17 November, 2006. He was the star in a team that boasted legendary players like Sandor Koscis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, and Joszef Boszik, that made Hungary virtually indestructible in the 50’s. He scored 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary and led them to an Olympic title in 1952. Puskas also captained a Magyar team, the first foreign team to beat England in English soil in 1951. The Magyars pulverized the English, 6-3. In the 1954 World Cup, Puskas almost led the Magyars to their first World Cup title but in the final he was injured and the Magyars lost to the Germans, 2-4 in a match known as the Miracle at Berne. With Alfredo Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Francisco Gento, and Jose Santamaria he was part of the legendary Real Madrid teams that won 5 Spanish championships, 3 European Cups, and 1 Intercontinental Cup. He scored 155 goals in 179 apperances. When he died, an emotional Alfredo Di Stefano said “He was a better person than a player. And as a player he was extraordinary.” Puskas returned home to Hungary, virtually penniless, a victim of his unbounded generosity as a human being.
10) Juergen Klinsmann rebuffs US soccer: Is Jose Pekerman next?
The search for a big name coach for resurrecting the fortunes of the US World Cup team took a nosedive so fast that it became a nosebleed when Klinsmann on December 7, 2006 rejected US Soccer’s offer to make him the new coach of the US team. Virtually every soccer fan in the USA had rationalized reasons for his acceptance. California home, married with an American wife, loves the fitness and conditioning skills of American sports, highly telegenic, and so on and so forth. In the end, Klinsmann probably did not find the US job challenging enough. After his rejection, it is the turn of Jose Pekerman’s name being bandied about. The problem is that he understands only Spanish. But wait a minute, there is hope. Pekerman is related to Gregory Peck and due to this proximity should understand English very quickly, consequently taking up the US coaching job. Not.
This is Soccerblog’s list and there are of course many more which might be equally deserving. If you have any that you want to highlight please feel free to bring it to our attention. We can always create another list. Matthew Taylor’s goal is not an event.
1) The headbutt that was heard around the world: It cost France the World Cup