The Orbit

The Orbit

The Best 11 winners of 2012

As a soccer balance sheet at the end-of the year, we suggest these 11 winners of 2012. The order is not important, as you can place them on your footballing map according to your priorities. The timing and geography of each has its importance, like players on a field, but we have tried to identify transcendence. There is a little something about putting a number on achievements. You decide the order on your list. Here's mine:

1) Spain - With no letdown in performance or motivation after winning the 2010 World Cup, Spain reinforced its brand and legacy by adding the Euro 2012 in a thumping final over Italia. It's difficult to apply a 4-0 goleada to the kings of catenaccio (even if they no longer apply that tactic). To keep the base and incorporate new blood like Jordi Alba is the key.

2) Didier Drogba and Fabrice Muamba- The Ivorian striker proved he is the heart and soul of any jersey he wears, inspires club and country mates, and on a Chelsea team which bunkered down and struck on the tying goal against Bayern in Munich. His lightning goals gave the European title for the first time ever to a London club. For his part, Muamba survived a heart attack on the pitch on March 17 playing for Bolton. That itself is a triumph.

4) Mexico and Zambia- For both these traditional also-rans, 2012 brought a triumph. For Mexico's Olympic team, to get a medal was the objective. As the London 2012 tournament progressed, the Mexican team added other heights and another trophy to its Toulon title (and the Pan American gold medal in 2011 in Guadalajara). Zambia won the African Cup of Nations in penalties against the Ivory Coast. This the nation that lost all its players (save Kalusha Bwalya) in a 1993 air crash. Kalusha is now the federation president.

Mexico may not be finished. Javier Hernández, Marco Fabián, Oribe Peralta and Jesús Corona proved they have the stuff to stay at the highest levels. And to win.

5) Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley-  Under less glare in the Dutch league with AZ Alkmaar, Jozy is reaching the potential his physical gifts suggest as his 11 goals have him near the lead in the Eredivisie scoring table. Bradley's achievement is meritorious, as getting the starting call for Roma in an eminently tactical position (with a task of bilanciare for Francesco Totti and the rest of the offensive horses going forward) in the most tactical of leagues is a feather in his capello.

6) Radamel Falcao and Colombia – Start the season with a bang: three goals to soundly beat European champion Chelsea in the European Super Cup. Then continue scoring for club and country, which could mean a return to the World Cup for Colombia. Let's see if January brings a transfer for the striker, the best pure scorer now (Ibra will email me to dispute this).

7) Borussia Dortmund – Producing talented players like Mario Götze and Marco Reus, coming out of the toughest Champions League group (D with Real Madrid, Man City and Ajax) without showing a scratch show that this industrial city does things right, from stadium, fan support to player development. Can they win the Champions again?

8 ) Malaga, Glasgow Celtic, Shakhtar Donetsk and Galatasaray – These less fancied clubs made it to the elimination phase of Europe's best club competition and give it some spice. Málaga has the best defense, a great attack of worst bank balances in the competition, and even though its players have finally been paid, they would probably play for free. Celtic was heroic in its matches against Barcelona, and beat them at home (while rivals Ranges flounder). Shakhtar has been champions of Ukraine for several years running and its band of Brazilians travel well. The team from Istanbul's educated quarter seemed to be out of the Champions, but pulled out a comeback, beating Man United and Braga and moving through.

9) Sergio Agüero – He's not even the best footballer at the family Christmas dinner table, but this fireplug forward scored the goal that saved Man City's season at 93 minute and 20 seconds, giving the Citizens the Premier League title over the neighbors at Man U by goal difference. Diego Maradona's son-in-law was impossible to mark in Independiente and Atlético Madrid, and has proven he can score in Spain and England (something Fernando Torres cannot boast). While Roberto Mancini and the rest seemed to survive the season, Aguero gave it great punctuation. Soon, Swansea's Michu and Chelsea's Juan Mata can join this select club of select performers.

10) Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta. Although he only won one title (Copa del Rey), his goalscoring consistency is uncanny, otherwordly, extraordinary. Don't want to wear out the Thesaurus, but how many times did you think, "Messi only scored one?" A total of 91 goals in 2012, consistency, creation and talent that never disappoints. Iniesta gave great support and great moments. Wonder why these two creators are in this position on the list?

11) Corinthians - The Timão (big team) and the biggest in Sao Paulo became South American and world club champion, in the same year, filling the trophy case against Chelsea in the final in Japan. In 2000, they had won the FIFA club title, but then they were not continental monarchs. This time, there is no dispute in the last achievement of the year.

Keyvan Antonio Heydari Keyvan Antonio Heydari

Keyvan Antonio Heydari

A journalist/documentarian, Keyvan has covered soccer for 20+ years, traveling as contributor to The New York Times, France Football, NPR, Univision, Terra and more. Sport through a cultural prism.

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