TOP 5… FOOTBALLING MOMENTS OF 2009

2009 was a banner year in football. Barcelona won everything in sight, the USA took further strides into the international football arena by reaching the final of the Confederations Cup, United took the title for a record-equalling 18th time and lost Cristiano Ronaldo to the relentless player-recycling machine that is Real Madrid. Come with me now as I recount my top five footballing moments of 2009.

1. Manifest Destiny: Lionel Messi scores the clinching goal in the Champions League Final, 27th May

He’s the best footballer in the world, winner of both the World and European accolades to that effect, and in 2009 he’s done no wrong. In a year where he’s picked up winners medals in six different competitions on top of his personal prizes, surely no moment was more fitting than the sight of the 5’7 Argentinian rising like a salmon to nod home the goal that killed off Manchester United and sealed the Champions League trophy.

2. Eye of the Storm: The last three minutes of Argentina vs. Peru, 10th October
Diego Maradona’s Argentina side needed to win to keep their World Cup qualification fate in their own hands, and they led going into injury time through a Gonzalo Higuain goal early in the second half. As the game moved into the 90th minute, against the backdrop of a spectacular thunderstorm, Peru levelled through a Rengifo header. However, it wasn’t over. 2 minutes later Martin Palermo, recalled to the international scene after a ten-year absence, poked home a low cross from four yards out. He took off to celebrate his winner and Maradona did the same, sliding across the soaked turf on his belly like a deranged Argentinian Jurgen Klinsmann. However, it still wasn’t over. With the last kick of the game Rainer Torres unleashed a hit-and-hoper directly from the kickoff, and the players, managers and fans alike watched it arc through the sodden air, only to smash against the crossbar and go out for a goal kick. The whistle blew, Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 four days later and made it to the Finals.

3. Bafana Bullet: Katlego Mphela’s free kick vs. Spain in the Confederations Cup, 28th June
It’s the 93rd minute of the Confederations Cup third-place playoff. The Confederations Cup,  FIFA’s forerunner to the World Cup, is hosted by South Africa. The South Africans have performed above themselves, elimination in the semi-finals setting up a game with European champions Spain for third place. The stadium is heaving with home support who, having been in raptures when Katlego Mphela opened the scoring, now bite their nails as the same player lines up a free kick. They have just seen Mphela’s goal wiped out by Daniel Guiza, two goals in two minutes late on apparently giving the Spaniards the bronze medal. Mphela has other plans though; he lines up and smashes home the set-piece from 25 yards, leaving Iker Casillas grasping at thin air and causing the stadium to erupt like nothing since Vesuvius. The sight and sound of the Royal Bakofeng reverberating with joy as Mphela wheeled away with delight will forever drown out the fact that Bafana Bafana lost the game in extra time, and was probably the first true indication that perhaps Africa was finally ready to host the World Cup.

4. Laid to Rest: England beat Croatia 5-1 at Wembley to seal World Cup qualification, 9th September
Think back to that fateful night in November of 2007, Steve McClaren cowering under his brolly as his England side fell apart and lost 3-2 to Croatia. Think about the feeling you felt as England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 started to sink in. Now strike forward 22 months and rejoice as England, in the same venue as the indignity described above, proceeded to slay those demons. Two goals apiece from Lampard and Gerrard and an emphatic exclamation mark from Wayne Rooney sealed the victory but didn’t tell the whole story, as the game became less a competitive affair and more an assertion of how far England had come since that rainy evening two years prior. Fabio Capello has got them playing, said the press. England are finally working as a unit, we look good going forward, solid at the back, stable in possession. The 100% qualification eluded us as events conspired against England on their jaunt out to Kiev, but 9 out of 10 ain’t bad. Problems may have arisen since then with the goalkeepers and the back line, but on that night, for a few golden hours, the whole nation believed we could be world-beaters.

5. From Russia With Love: Andrey Arshavin scores 4 to dent Liverpool’s title hopes, 21 April
I hate Arsenal and I’m not ashamed of it. They’re a fantastic football team, that point cannot be argued with, but I still hate them. I hated David Dein, I hate Arsene Wenger, I hated their silent old stadium, I hate their new stadium with uncovered seating that soaks people who’ve paid seven billion pounds for a season ticket every time it rains, I hate the  delusional nature of your stereotypical ‘Gooner’ fan who believes beyond all reasonable evidence to the contrary that anyone even connected with Arsenal can do no wrong. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I absolutely love Andrey Arshavin. He is a sensational footballer and does something that no Arsenal player has done since Ian Wright: he plays with personality. Henry was ruthless, efficient and deadly, Bergkamp was masterful but ice-cold, but Arshavin charges around the pitch looking like a right little scamp. You just want to ruffle his hair and send him out to pick pockets. And that’s what he did at Anfield on April 21st when he single-handedly took Liverpool’s defence to pieces, stole a point from under their noses and put that tiny little chip into the windscreen of the Liverpool title-chasing juggernaut, a chip which would eventually shatter the dream. He was quick, he was tricky, he was accurate, but most of all he didn’t once stop smiling, and the only thing I hated about him was that he played for fucking Arsenal.

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