2011 in Football: A turbulent year Part 2

Manchester City's remarkable rise, Uruguay's stunning Copa America triumph, the continued erosion of FIFA's credibility. There was no dearth of headlines in 2011.

Football News: Barcelona vs Man United

We continue our look back at football in 2011 with the second of our two part series. You can read the first part here. 

July: Uruguay romp to Copa America win

Before the tournament began, Argentina was the name on everyone's lips. On home turf and boasting a fearsome frontline, Sergio Batista's men were expected to romp to their 15th continental title. By the end of the tournament, they were not even Batista's men any more.

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And instead of Brazil, it was Diego Forlan's Uruguay that knocked them out. Ever in the shadow of their more illustrious continental rivals, Uruguay's tightly knit squad came to the fore - led by the irrepressible Luis Suarez. The Liverpool man scored four and formed a lethal frontline with veteran Forlan as Uruguay beat Argentina on penalties before easing past Peru and Paraguay in the semi-final and final respectively.

In a continent celebrated for its individual flair, teamwork and unity carried the day. 

For Lionel Messi and Co. the wait for a major international trophy went on.

July: Japan lift FIFA Women's World Cup

Japan win World Cup on penalties

The scars left by the Tohuku earthquake in March will take a long time to heal, but the Japanese eves brought at least some succor to their ravaged nation with a penalty shootout win over powerhouse USA in the final of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.

It was a story straight from a fairytales book. Unfancied and still reeling from the catastrophe back home, the Japanese women were not expected to progress deep into the tournament, much less challenge for the trophy.

But as they quietly made their way throug the group stages and then notched up wins over Germany and Sweden in the quarters and semis, the world sat up, took notice and then started rooting for the women battling to bring back a semblance of joy to their countrymen. 

When captain Homare Sawa scored three minutes before end of extra-time in the final to force penalties, smiles lit up the faces of supporters at the Commerzbank Arena in Franfurt. And when Saki Kumagai scored the decisive kick, those smiles turned to outright joy.

It was one of the most heartwarming moments of the year, one that even the defeated Americans could appreciate. As Sawa lifted the trophy, the world cheered with her.

August: Arsenal's nightmare

Man United 8-2 Arsenal

Gunners' fans may want to avert their eyes now, for August was one of the most painful months for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger's regime.

Captain Cesc Fabregas departed after yet another summer of toing and froing between the Gunners and Barcelona. Even though it was expected, the Spaniard's departure was painful nonetheless. That was swiftly followed by Samir Nasri packing his bags for Manchester City. The Frenchman's exit was far more acrimonious, with fans feeling that money had been the primary motive for his move.

As if that wasn't enough, things were in turmoil on the pitch as well, as the opening few weeks got progressively worse. Arsenal opened with a draw against Newcastle, lost to Liverpool at home before suffering a humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was a shocking result, and one which put Wenger under scrutiny for perhaps the first time during his tenure with the club.

Tribute to the Frenchman then, for pulling his team out of the mire and making them look like strong top-four contenders once again since then. But the demons of August though will take a little more time to be banished.

September: Tevez and the Munich-gate affair

It will forever be remembered as the day Manchester City fans turned against Carlos Tevez and, perhaps, saw him for his true colours.

Ever since the Argentinean arrived in England with West Ham, pundits drooled with admiration at the striker's work rate and willingness to chase every ball for the good of the team. City fans were no different, the club made him its captain and he was adored by the blue half of Manchester despite several attempts to manufacture an exit from the club.

Then in late September 2011, City flew out to Munich for a crucial UEFA Champions League game against Bayern. The Bavarians beat City 2-0 and handed Tevez his ticket out of Manchester after TV cameras appeared to catch him arguing with manager Roberto Mancini during the game. It later emerged that Tevez had refused to come on as susbtitute.

Tevez's tantrum evoked much anger from Citizen fans and the club were worried enough about a backlash that they asked for extra security to be ready for the team's return to Manchester.

October: Demolition derbies dominate

Man United 1-6 Man City

Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal

It was the most hyped Manchester derby in a century. After three years of breaking the bank, City were finally playing like champions while United, who had won their 19th title just months ago, were keen to show who the boss really was.

It was expected to be a battle for the ages at Old Trafford. Instead, it turned out to be a thrashing that will be remembered for ages. A brace each from Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, along with goals from David Silva and Sergio Aguero condemned United to one of their worst ever home defeats. It was the strongest sign yet that winds of change were blowing through Manchester.

"It was our worst ever day," said Sir Alex Ferguson. Few disagreed with him.

Meanwhile in London, Chelsea and Arsenal played out another astonishing game that saw eight goals at Stamford Bridge - five of them from the visitors. After having had a nightmare start to the season, the Gunners stormed back in emphatic fashion, thanks for a hat-trick from Robin van Persie and goals from Andre Santos and Theo Walcott.

For Van Persie, it was the continuation of a stellar year - one in which he has already equalled Thierry Henry's calendar year record of 34 goals and stands just two behind Alan Shearer's all-time tally of 36.

October: Race, of the wrong kind, takes centrestage

Luis Suarez banned for eight games

Terry charged for racial abuse

It should have been remembered for the superb football dished out by the top sides, but October will be inextricably linked with two unsavoury rows, whose repercussions are still being felt.

First, Manchester United defender Patrice Evra accused Liverpool striker Luis Suarez of racially abusing him (Suarez supposedly called Evra "Negrito") before a police complaint was filed against Chelsea captain John Terry for calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand by a racial epithet.

Suarez was slapped with an eight game ban after being found guilty by the FA in December while Terry was charged by England's Crown Prosecution Service in the same month. In a year that holds the promise of one of the most exciting title-races in recent history, it's a pity that the wrong kind of race hogged the limelight.

October: Small sides dare to dream big

Taylor credits spirit for soaring Magpies

Even they must have known it couldn't last, but that would not have stopped Newcastle and Levante from enjoying their dizzying positions in the Premier League and La Liga tables respectively.

The Magpies must have been fearful of another meltdown after manager Chris Houghton's sacking, but Alan Pardew fitted in seamlessly to make sure his side were flying high nearly three months into the season. Taking advantage of a relatively relaxed opening run of fixtures, Newcastle were occupying a vertiginious third  - ahead of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - on the last day of October. 

Levante's position was even more rarified. The minnows were actually top of La Liga ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last week of October - a position that even their craziest fan could not have envisaged. They eventually entered November in third spot - a mere point behind Barca and two behind Real.

By December, Newcastle had slipped to seventh and Levante to fourth, but for 10 weeks it was refreshing to see somewhat unfamiliar names jostling for pride of place at the very top of the table.

November: All roads headed to Poland and Ukraine

Germany, Holland, Portugal to do battle

Some believe the European Championship is currently a better competition than the FIFA World Cup, and when the lineup for Euro 2012 was confirmed in the middle of November, few could argue, considering the quality that will be on show next summer.

Portugal, Czech Republic, Croatia and Republic of Ireland negotiated their way through a number of tricky play-offs to join the likes of Spain, Germany, Holland, England and Italy at next summer's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

And with the draw throwing up a number of mouthwatering ties, including a group consisting of Holland, Germany, Portugal and Denmark, Euro 2012 looks set to be one of the best summer tournaments in recent memory.

November: Dortmund throw Bundesliga race wide open

Bayern Munich 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Stung by finishing third in the 2010/11 Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich got the new campaign off to a storming start by winning nine of their opening twelve league matches.

On the other hand, defending champions Borussia Dortmund were unimpressive early on, losing three of their opening six games, leaving many to suggest the Bundesliga title race was a foregone conclusion.

However, a good run of form saw Dortmund cut Bayern's lead to just five points setting up a crucial clash at the Allianz Arena on November 19.

Undeterred by a hostile home crowd, Dortmund claimed a 1-0 win courtesy of Mario Gotze's opportunistic strike in the 65th minute, moving just two points behind Bayern, and ensuring the next few months will make for an interesting Bundesliga title race.

December: Un clasico El Clasico

Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona

Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-1 at Santiago Bernabeu to come out tops in one of the most eagerly-anticipated El Clasicos in recent memory.

With Real Madrid holding a three-point lead in the table with a game in hand, they looked set to break Barcelona's stranglehold in La Liga and perhaps more importantly, to finally record a win over Pep Guardiola's men (Barca have beaten Real six times and drawn once in the seven El Clasicos since Guardiola took over).

It started so very well and ended so very badly for Mourinho. Real forced Valdes into an error moments into the match and snatched the first goal after just 23 seconds to take the lead and the shift in the balance of power seemed underway. 

Ultimately, Barca's class proved too much for Los Blancos to handle though and the match ended effectively 25 minutes before the final whistle when Cesc Fabregas added to Alexis Sanchez and Xavi's goals. Real, like so many other sides, were forced back to the drawing board in their quest to overcome irrepressible Barcelona.

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