Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best of the Decade in Soccer

As the first decade of the new millennium reaches stoppage time, it's time to honor some of the stars and great moments from the past ten years. Here are some of my favorites:

Best Team- 2008-09 FC Barcelona: Great sides are measured by championships, and Barcelona won everything there is to win in 2009. The highlight was a convincing 2-0 win over defending champions Manchester United in the Champions League Final, which followed League and Spanish Cup titles. Spanish and European Super Cups and the World Club Cup completed the six-pack for Lionel Messi and company.

Best Goal- Steven Gerrard, 2006 FA Cup Final: Sure, I'm a little bit biased here, but I challenge you to find a better strike. Trailing West Ham 3-2 in the final minutes of the Final, Captain Fantastic delivered and the Reds ultimately won in a shootout.

Best Tournament- Euro 2008: June in the Alps was a month to remember. The Dutch looked like an unstoppable force in the group stages, until they were dismissed by Guus Hiddink's cagey Russian side. The surprising Turks rode their late-game heroics to the semifinals, before falling to Germany. But in the end, the tournament belonged to Spain, which extinguished decades of disappointment thanks to Fernando Torres' sublime game winner in the Final.

Best Manager- Alex Ferguson: Whether you like ManU or not (and I've made it no secret on here that I don't), you have to admire the accomplishments of Sir Alex at Old Trafford. After capping the '90s with a treble-winning campaign, Ferguson's troops kept on rolling through the decade that followed, capturing six Premier League titles and a Champions League crown in 2008.

Biggest Gag- England's Euro 2008 Qualifying Campaign: Despite all their stumbles along the way, including draws against Israel and Macedonia, England were still in position to qualify for Euro 2008 heading into their final match. Needing only a home draw against a Croatia side that had nothing at stake, England fell behind 2-0, rallied to equalize, but then gave up a late winner and missed the continent's showpiece event.

Best Game- Liverpool over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final: I may have mentioned this one a time or two before on this blog, but just to show you I'm no homer, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl gave the match similar praise in his end of decade review. Down 3-0 at the half, Liverpool tied the match within a six-minute span in the second half, then defeated favored AC Milan on PKs for their fifth European Cup.

Biggest Shock- Greece wins Euro 2004: While their defensive-minded tactics weren't always crowd-pleasing, the Greeks earned the world's attention with a stunning run to the European title in Portugal. After edging Spain for second in their group on the third tiebreaker, the Greeks netted three straight 1-0 wins in the knockout stages over France, the Czech Republic, and the hosts.

Best Way to Spend a Week- 2006 World Cup: The Germans put on a fantastic tournament for visitors from around the world, including two brothers who had the time of their lives.

Best Source of Comedy- Special 1 TV: The real Jose Mourinho held plenty of entertaining press conferences, but his puppet alter ego and his friends took soccer comedy to new heights.

Biggest Moment- Zidane's World Cup Head Butt: Zinedine Zidane was on the brink of capping his legendary career with a second World Cup title, but instead he went loco and drilled his head into the chest of Italy's Marco Materazzi. Instead of hoisting the trophy, Zidane was in the locker room as Italy triumphed in a shootout.

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