This year witnessed the birth of a new global superstar, as Neymar inspired Santos to a first Copa Libertadores title since 1963 and threatened to crash Europe’s hegemony of the Ballon d’Or.
Already a YouTube sensation because of his distinctive mohawk hairstyle and jaw-dropping dribbling ability, Neymar confirmed his reputation by guiding Pele’s old club back to the summit of the South American game.
He scored the opening goal in the 2-1 defeat of Uruguayan giants Penarol in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, before stealing the show and finishing top scorer as Brazil won the under-20 South American Championship.
He could not repeat his success with the senior side at the Copa America, but the 19-year-old was still the only player based outside Europe to be named on the 23-man shortlist for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or.
His performances for club and country saw him strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid, but last month he committed himself to Santos until the 2014 World Cup, when he will carry the hopes of the host nation on his shoulders.
One of the year’s most enduring images captured Pele embracing Neymar after the Copa Libertadores final in the middle of the Pacaembu pitch in Sao Paulo.
The great Brazilian was even moved to declare Neymar a “more complete” player than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, but Neymar came out second-best in this month’s FIFA Club World Cup final, as Messi scored twice in a 4-0 Barca win.
“Messi is the best, there’s no question about that,” Santos coach Muricy Ramalho said. “He’s been building up to be the best player for many years, but Neymar is improving and in the future he will be the best.”
With Brazil and hosts Argentina both crashing in the last eight at the Copa America, Uruguay were able to claim a 15th continental crown, which followed on from their superb fourth-place finish at the previous year’s World Cup.
After eliminating old enemies Argentina on penalties and beating Peru 2-0 in the semi-finals, they crushed Paraguay 3-0 in the final through an early strike from player of the tournament Luis Suarez and a Diego Forlan brace.
“I’m really proud of the way we played and the way we did it,” Uruguay captain Diego Lugano said after hoisting aloft the trophy at Buenos Aires’ fabled Estadio Monumental. “We’ve made a lot of people very happy.”
A month after controversially winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar welcomed the cream of the Asian continent to Doha for the Asian Cup in January.
Although a logistical success, the tournament was notable for poor attendances, but it concluded with a high-quality final decided by a fine extra-time volley from Tadaneri Lee that gave Japan a 1-0 win over Australia.
The Blue Samurai also tasted success in the women’s game, with Japan securing their first ever World Cup title after beating the US on penalties in the final in Frankfurt, Germany, in July.
Mexico had two reasons to celebrate as well, following up their triumph in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with success in the under-17 World Cup on home soil.
For all the on-pitch spectacle, the year will go down as a black year for world soccer’s governing body FIFA after a succession of corruption scandals saw the organization’s name dragged into the gutter.
Sepp Blatter won a fourth consecutive term as president in June, but only after his main rival, Mohamed bin Hammam, had been removed from the race over bribery allegations that would eventually earn him a lifetime ban.
“I cannot go now,” Blatter said this month. “I haven’t finished my mission. The organization’s image needs to be improved.”
The FIFA chief also announced plans to introduce goal-line technology in time for the 2014 World Cup, despite objections from UEFA president Michel Platini.
As the new year approached, fans had reason to reflect on the losses of some of the game’s most cherished names.
England great Nat Lofthouse, former Hungary star Florian Albert and Socrates, captain of the acclaimed 1982 Brazil World Cup side, all passed away, while the sport was stunned by the tragic suicide of Wales manager Gary Speed.
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner has welcomed Ferrari’s U-turn to support a Formula One engine freeze from 2022. The move gives Red Bull a chance to continue using Honda power after the Japanese supplier exits next year. Speaking ahead of yesterday’s final practice for today’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Horner said that Ferrari’s decision was encouraging for F1 and everyone involved in the business end of the sport. “It’s positive news,” he said. “I think all the manufacturers, all the CEOs of the automotive industry, they all recognize the investment and cost of these engines, particularly with the new technology coming for 2026,
An influx of soccer players to India from Australia has highlighted changing fortunes as the Indian Super League (ISL) flourishes and the A-League hits lean times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just two Australians played in the Indian Super League last year, but 10 were among the 11 teams when the competition got under way in a bio-secure “bubble” in Goa last week. Non-Australian A-League players have also made the move, including English striker Adam Le Fondre — last season’s second-highest goal-scorer with Sydney FC — along with German defender Matti Steinman and Aaron Holloway of Wales. Much of the change is down to
‘ONE LAST APPLAUSE’: An homage of cheers resounded through Buenos Aires on Wednesday night, while earlier a contingent met at the Obelisk to remember their hero Stunned Argentines were on Wednesday plunged into grief by the death of the country’s favorite son Diego Maradona, a sublimely gifted sporting hero they saw as “the most human of gods.” The news fell like a hammer blow to a nation beaten down by months of economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, but one where soccer is seen as a panacea for all ills. At 10pm, Buenos Aires exploded in cheers, horns, sirens and lights for the man who famously wore the No. 10, after a viral social media message called for “one last applause.” The homage resounded throughout the night in all
Argentine prosecutors on Friday were investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Diego Maradona and whether it could have involved medical negligence, judicial sources said. “There are already irregularities,” a close family member told reporters. Maradona’s lawyer, Matias Morla, had earlier called for an investigation into claims that ambulances took more than half an hour to reach the soccer star’s house in response to an emergency call on the day of his death. A preliminary autopsy report established that Maradona died in his sleep at noon on Wednesday of “acute lung edema and chronic heart failure.” The prosecutors’ office in Buenos Aires has opened