Soccer's memorable moments in 2011
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Women's World Cup produced a few of the best matches in the sport's history, a storied club team made its case as the best ever, while another fell from grace.
Yes, 2011 had its ups and downs in the sport of soccer.
But the memorable moments, including those already listed, as well as the many goals - from all levels of the sport - that will live on forever in the hearts (some broken) of coaches, fans and players, especially one, defined the year.
A sport that could not escape controversy (again), also produced a fairy-tale ending for one team. And what year would be complete without David Beckham, as he finally produced a title - five years in the making - in MLS.
Although there were certainly other moments, both unforgettable and incredible in the last year, the following are 10 memorable moments - both good and bad - in the sport from the last year (in chronological order):
Fernando Torres left Liverpool for Chelsea just before the end of the transfer window in January, and at the time, the approximately $80 million transfer fee seemed exorbitant. With the year about to close, it has without a doubt been a transfer bust for the ages. Chelsea overpaid by about, oh, $80 million! That's not even taking into account his salary after the British record transfer fee. Considering Torres can count his Chelsea goals on one hand, it's impossible to overlook this deal. He's just 27, but Torres will never live up to the price.
Rooney's epic goal
Wayne Rooney's bicycle kick created a lasting image most will never forget.
Wayne Rooney was not the only person to convert a bicycle kick during the last year, but the England striker's incredible goal for Manchester United - in the derby against rivals Manchester City - created a lasting image most will never forget. Rooney adjusted to a deflected right-wing cross to try an overhead kick that "nine times out of 10... go into the stand," he told Sky Sports. The goal - fired into the top corner - gave United a 2-1 win in early February and it also sent the Red Devils on the way to another Premiership title.
Just two days after Rooney's goal, the sport lost one of its greatest scorers, as Brazilian (just to avoid confusion with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo) Ronaldo ended his storied career. Although many greats call it quits every year, Ronaldo can lay claim to being the best of his generation. With 62 goals in 98 matches for Brazil, he was on the 1994 World Cup winning team, led it to the final in 1998 and a fifth title in 2002. The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year had an incredible mix of skills, and his scoring instinct was unrivaled.
Barcelona 'The Great'
In just the span of a few weeks in May, Barcelona won its third straight La Liga title and captured its second straight Champions League crown. With a big contingent of Spanish players - who helped their country win Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup - the club titles placed the team into the argument of the greatest squads in the history of the sport. While the debate could last forever, there can be no doubt Barca belongs in the conversation. Should the Catalans win another Champions League crown next year, the argument - for many - will be over.
Sepp Blatter was re-elected for a fourth term as FIFA president in June, but his last term started - and has continued - amid allegations of corruption and controversy. Blatter's only opponent, Mohammed bin Hammam, dropped out of the race the day before the election and was later banned for life from all soccer activities for ethics violations, including bribery. He was not the only one - as more were also punished. Blatter, of course, was not punished. He ended the year poorly as well, saying a post-game handshake would fix on-field racism.
River Plate relegated
Can you imagine Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester United being relegated? Well, last year in Argentina, the country's most famous team, River Plate, was demoted from the top division for the first time in its 110-year history. With a record 33 Argentinean top-flight titles to its name, River Plate is possibly the most storied club in history to be relegated (because of on-field failure; Italy's Juventus was relegated a few years ago for match-fixing). River will not forget the June day when it lost the second leg of its relegation playoff.
Wambach's U.S. miracle
Abby Wambach scored a goal in early July that every person envisions, whether it be in their backyard, during practice or just in their dreams. Only she did it in the dying seconds of overtime in a Women's World Cup quarterfinal. With the U.S. trailing Brazil - and a player down - Wambach reached a perfect pass from Megan Rapinoe to head home the tying goal in stoppage time of the second extra period. Her goal tied the game at 2-2, and the U.S. beat Brazil in a shootout. A few days later, the U.S. was playing in the World Cup final.
Japan's incredible run
Speaking of that Women's World Cup final, it managed to upstage the once-in-a- lifetime quarterfinal between Brazil and the U.S. Japan tied the match late in regulation, fell behind early in overtime - on a goal from Wambach - and added a second tying goal from hero Homare Sawa in the 117th minute (or with just 3 minutes left in the second overtime). Japan - devastated by an earthquake and tsunami just four months earlier - defeated the U.S. on penalties, 3-1, as it knocked off Germany, Sweden and the U.S. to capture its first-ever title.
Beckham lifts MLS cup
David Beckham arrived in the U.S. five years ago touted as the savior for MLS, but he needed every day of his stay in the league (he's reportedly on his way back to Europe) to claim a championship. Fittingly, Beckham helped set up the lone goal in the MLS Cup final. There is no doubt Beckham helped lift MLS, and his impact will have a lasting impression. MLS has grown enormously during his time in the league, and his final match provided a lasting image - of Beckham, and L.A., lifting the Anschutz Trophy.
Attacked GK red carded
AZ Alkmaar goalie Esteban Alvarado was red carded for defending himself from a drunk fan who tried to attack him during a Dutch Cup match vs. Ajax in late December. Yes - sent off for defending himself from a drunk fan. While referee Bas Nijhuis was not breaking new ground (Dorchester Town player Ashley Vickers was red carded for tackling a fan earlier this year), AZ coach Gertjan Verbeek pulled his club off the field following the incident. The game did not resume. Thankfully, the red card was overturned two days later.