Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Looking Back on a Summer of Soccer (pt. 1)

Its Championship week for the Charleston Battery and I figured a good way to pass the time til the big match on Saturday would be to take a look at all that's happened in the world of soccer throughout the summer.  Dividing this post into two parts, the first will take a more global tack while the second installment will recap events a little closer to home.

Euro 2012
The fourteenth edition of the European football championship was co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.  The tournament boasted a number of brand new and renovated venues in anticipation of the event.

The Czech Republic carried Group A despite a negative goal differential.  The Germans dominated Group B with a perfect record as the Netherlands registered three shocking defeats in an early exit.  Spain carried Group C, checked only by a 1-1 draw with the Italians.  England impressed with a strong showing leading Group D.

The Knockout Round was rife with drama and penalty kicks, as England was edged by Italy in the Quarters and Spain squeaked by Portugal in Semifinal.  "Super Mario" Balotelli proved too much for the confident German squad, sent home in the other Semifinal tie.  In the end, Spain defended their title, becoming the first nation to win consecutive Euro's by putting Italy to the sword in what could scarcely be called a competition.

London 2012
Of course football was one of the marquis events at the London Summer Games and the Men's and Women's tournaments both drew impressive crowds across Great Britain.  In the past, soccer at the Olympic Games has been overlooked because many high profile footballers aren't competing in the tournament either due to the age cap or a club team's unwillingness to risk injury in international play.  However, this Summer Games, there was plenty of great football, a good sprinkling of controversy, and some very surprising results.

In the men's tournament, Great Britain (not England) fielded a unified team for the first time since the Summer Games in Rome in 1960.  Team GB carried their group which included a lively tie with Senegal.  Mexico and South Korea made it out of Group B, followed by Brasil's sweep of Group C with Egypt advancing as well.  Japan were dominant in Group D but the big story there was Spain's failure to even register a goal, finishing last in the competition.

Great Britain lost a heartbreaker to South Korea in PK's and Mexico survived a thrilling 4-2 decision over Senegal in extra time.  Mexico ended Japan's run for the gold and faced Brasil in the final match.  The story of the tournament was told in that final match.  Mexico found the net after 28 seconds and went on to dominate Brasil whose injury time goal fell short as the game finished 2-1.  Shocking fans and even the players themselves, Mexico's miraculous upset was one of the best stories of the London Olympics.

In the women's tournament, the United States was billed as the favorite and did they deliver!!  In terms of drama and entertainment, it was top-drawer stuff from the USWNT.  Opening play with an exciting 4-2 comeback win against France, it was an adrenaline trip all the way to the gold medal match.  With familiar heros Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe there was a steady supply of goals each time our girls took the pitch.  Handling New Zealand in the Quartfinals, the US faced a stern test in Canada in the Semis.  In an iconic Olympic moment, Alex Morgan's clutch header goal with seconds remaining in stoppage time of the second period of extra time lifted the US over the Canadian in the 4-3 result.  That dramatic win set the stage for a gold medal rematch of last year's World Cup Final against the women of Japan.  Scoring early and again just after the break, Hope Solo and the United States survived a furious assault by the Japanese squad yet emerged victorious!
US 1-0 Mexico
Closing the chapter of this summer's international football, the US Men's National Team achieved a historic triumph by defeating the Mexico national team in a friendly at the Azteca.  There has always been a fierce rivalry between the two sides and the 'North American Clasico' is highly anticipated by fans of both squads.  Needless to say, the USMNT managed a major coup when Michael Orozco Fiscal, an uncelebrated substitute, came off the bench to net the winner with only nine minutes in regulation.  The win marks the United States first victory in Mexico in 75 years!  Congrats boys!!

(photo credit: wikipedia, US Soccer FB, London 2012 FB)

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