The Iraq national team wins the Asian Cup
If we could provide an example of a definitive moment which soccer brings a nation together, this would be it. A country riven with sectarian divisions caught between an unpopular occupation and a remorseless insurgency is brought together by a group of soccer players and a Brazilian coach who took over just months before, their lives constantly threatened on and off the field. The Iraq team with one victory after another brought the country closer and exceeded all expectations by winning the Asian Cup. Iraq paused its violence as the world took notice.
The coming of Beckham to America
The British invasion came and went but it left an everlasting musical impression. The MLS turned to David Beckham to revamp its image as a retirement league. The multi-million dollar move had the chattering masses divided over his actual motive. Would he deliver? Unfortunately it would be his ankle that provided the final twist as his influence fell far short of the hype. Injuries kept out Beckham and the LA Galaxy failed to make the playoffs. But the move rejuvenated his wife’s career and guaranteed Kevin Harmse a job as Beckham’s on field bodyguard. The world will have to wait a little longer for his actual contribution to the MLS.
Off field violence and corruption rock Italian soccer
The murder of Filippo Raciti, a police officer in the Catania and Palermo derby, precipitated an orgy of violence in February that led to hundreds injured and forced Italy’s soccer federation to suspend matches for a week. Deja vu. In November, Gabriele Sandri, a Lazio fan was killed by a policeman trying to sort out a fracas between Lazio and Juve fans. The incident leads to riots as as hundreds of fans battled the police. Matches are suspended again as Italy goes through a process of self recrimination and soul searching. Foreign players openly question the future of the Serie. The Calciopoli fallout continues as the first hearing for 37 suspects indicted for sports fraud and criminal association is held on December 15. The Azzurri book a berth to Euro 2008 finals beating out a tough Scotland, proving yet again, there is no news like bad news, to motivate them.
The death of Antonio Puerta
In August, Antonio Puerta, Sevilla’s 22 year old midfielder collapses in a match against Getafe. He lies unconscious for three days in hospital with multiple organ failure and irreversible brain damage. Puerta’s death shocks the world and highlights an invisible killer, a type of cardiomyopathy that afflicts athletes in their prime and previously taken the lives of Mark Vivien Foe and Miklos Feher. Tragically, his girlfriend was expecting their first child. His jersey number is provisionally retired only to be used by his son born October 22, in the event he plays for Sevilla.
Thierry “Titi” Henry leaves Arsenal
The topscorer for Arsenal with 226 goals finally leaves for Barca nine seasons and two Premiership titles later. Titi Henry was Arsenal’s talisman in a team shorn of superstars. He cites the departure of David Dein and the uncertainty surrounding Arsene Wenger’s future at Arsenal as instrumental in his break from Arsenal. In this crisis, fans bitterly divide between the no one player is bigger than the club camp while others fatalistically predict Arsenal’s imminent fall from the Premiership’s stratospheric reaches. Arsenal’s critics highlight Henry’s departure as an example of Arsenal’s failure to retain quality players due to Wenger’s small potatoes mentality. Suddenly what had worked wonderfully in the past looked out of touch and antiquated in the new “break the bank” approach of the Premiership.
The Special One resigns
Mourinho is Chelsea and Chelsea is Mourinho. Or so we thought. Roman Abramovich obviously thought differently as his rift with Jose Mourinho deepened despite Peter Kenyon’s pre-season Kumbayah pronouncements. In September Mourinho shockingly resigned and sportswriters, fans and players went into crisis mode. No more Mourinho as newsfodder. Who else could game the referees, condescend to the likes of Ferguson, Wenger, and Benitez, prowl the sidelines, grace Amex commercials, charm the ladies in a muffler and a three day stubble, and piss all over a multi million pound star squad and their godfather, Roman Abramovich? Yea, Mourinho was all chutzpah and brought loads of oomph to the Premiership. Avram Grant: He has nothing on ye, Jose.
Real Madrid steals an unforgettable title
The Serie and the Premiership were locked up long ago. Boring. La Liga proved to be the watering hole for all those interested in seeing a race to the wire. The Merengues were seemingly dead with losses to clubs like Celta Vigo, Recreativo, Levante, and Racing. Bitter fans barracked Ramon Calderon who used the media to label them as ignorant and undeserving. Fabio Capello mocked Beckham for his move to the MLS confining him to the sidelines even when healthy. Guti was old. The midfield was full of starlets. Van Nistelrooy was the only one scoring with Jose Antonio Reyes a ghost. And then something happened on the way to the forum. Guti found his feet and Capello brought back Beckham as Real turned their way around. On May 12th Real finally took the lead winning a close one against Espanyol. Barca and Sevilla slipped. Fast forward to the last day, Real tied with Barca, just ahead on tie breaker. Playing Mallorca, the first half finished a goal down, RVN their top scorer limped out with injuries, and it all looked bleak. But this was destiny as Capello brought on Reyes in place of Beckham at half time and the substitution paid off as the ex-Arsenal striker scored an equalizer. It was not going to be enough as they needed a win. Diarra gave Real the lead before Reyes struck again to seal the win and calm those palpitating hearts. Real had won their first title in four years. Fabio Capello was sacked, Reyes transfered to Atletico Madrid, and Barca was forced to ponder what their fate would have been if Messi had not resurrected Maradona in his performance complete with a Hand of God goal against Espanyol. La Liga was the best of the best in 2007 in performance and dramatic content.
Jupp Derwall: The revolutionizer of Turkish soccer passes away
Derwall’s Euro and World Cup accomplishments for West Germany could well have been enough to merit a mention in 2007’s soccer events of the year. W.Germany won the 1980 Euro and made it to the 1982 World Cup finals losing to Italy. These accomplishments were overshadowed by his cynical orchestration of the match against Austria which led to the Algerians being eliminated in the group stage of the World Cup. Derwall’s brand of soccer fell out of favour when Germany was eliminated in the 1984 Euro but surprisingly saw it being resurrected in Turkey when he accepted the position of Galtasaray’s manager. His style of coaching introduced new tactical ideas and training methods to Galtasaray and Turkey. Fatih Terim, Turkey’s present coach who trained under Jupp Derwall considers him influential in the changing the fortunes of Turkish soccer as it burst forth in the 2002 World Cup with the exploits of Hakan Sukur, Umit Davala, and Hasan Sas.
Small Argentinian clubs upend the big ones
Lanus wins the 2007 Apertura beating out big time clubs like Independiente, San Lorenzo, Boca Juniors, Racing Santander, and River Plate. It was their first domestic title in their 92 years of existence. Following them was Tigre, the runners up, a club that was making its first top flight appearance in 27 years. A week later Arsenal de Sarandi won the Copa Sudamericana beating San Lorenzo, Goias, Guadalajara, River Plate, and in the finals Club America. It was their first ever major title, their previous one being winners of Division C. Arsenal was forced to play the Copa finals in a different stadium because their venue fell way short of CONMEBOL’s seating requirements of 40,000 for a major final. It was not Martin Palermo, Rodrigo Palacio, Fernando Belluschi or the usual suspects who created waves but a little known striker called Jose Sand for Lanus whose 15 goals in 15 matches was instrumental in their winning the Apertura. And in the Copa Sudamericana, a midfielder named Martin Andrizzi became the hero for Arsenal scoring the goal that gave them the title.
Corinthians are relegated
A club championed by the millions of working class Brazilians and whose players organized a historical resistance to military dictatorships and the culture of paternalism falls from the premier division. The outcome of a fly by night operation when Kia Joorabchian’s MSI bought big name players whose 2005 title winning exploits convinced Corinthians to give MSI majority financial control over the club in exchange for permanent league glory ala Galacticos. A fools gold that proved elusive once MSI decided to sell of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to the higher paying Premiership. MSI backed out as it became the target of money laundering investigations with arrest warrants issued for Kia Joorabchian and his partner, Boris Berezovsky. The promised influx of big name players dried up. Corinthians had to play this season with a number of second and third leaguers. Their fall has been dizzying considering that seven years ago they won the Club World Cup with names like Marcelinho, Edu, and Luizao.
The Iraq national team wins the Asian Cup