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English football thrills, racism casts shadow

12 Dec 2012 05:46:57

English football thrills, racism casts shadow

English football enjoyed the most heart-stopping climax to a top-flight season ever in 2012, and yet a spate of racism cases drew a pall over the Premier League as the year came to a close.

Injury-time goals by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero on the season's final day saw Manchester City pip Manchester United to the title on goal difference, ending their 44-year wait for the English crown in sensational fashion.

Chelsea also toasted a golden year, beating League Cup winners Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup final and then edging Bayern Munich on penalties to become the first London club to taste glory in the Champions League.

It was not enough to spare coach Roberto Di Matteo from the sack, however.

The Italian was shown the exit in November with Chelsea tumbling towards the Champions League trapdoor alongside a City team who went out of the competition in the group phase for the second season running.

That left United and Arsenal as England's only representatives in the last 16, sparking concerns that the nation is fading as a European force after providing eight of the competition's last 16 finalists.

As well as failing in Europe, City had fallen six points behind United in the league as Christmas approached, but nothing could erase memories of the unbridled joy that erupted at the Etihad Stadium on May 13.

Roberto Mancini's side, runners-up in 2011, needed only to match United's result at Sunderland to claim the title but as stoppage time arrived, they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers and United were 1-0 up.

Dzeko equalised, and with United's players anxiously awaiting news on the Sunderland pitch, Aguero drove in a 94th-minute winner -- drawing a memorable cry of "Aguerooooo!" from Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler -- to deliver City from the huge shadow cast by their cross-town rivals.

Mancini called it a "crazy finish to a crazy season," while City captain Vincent Kompany observed: "Miracles do happen in Manchester. But on this side of the road, this time."

Another Italian coach was celebrating wildly six days later, Di Matteo screaming "I won it!" at Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich as he scaled the steps to receive the Champions League trophy at Munich's Allianz Arena.

Didier Drogba was the match-winner, heading in an 88th-minute equaliser to force extra time and then stroking home the decisive spot-kick, before leaving for China after a glorious eight-year spell at Stamford Bridge.

Di Matteo, a temporary replacement for the sacked Andre Villas-Boas, was handed the job on a permanent basis but despite several high-profile signings, an alarming dip in form in the autumn cost him his job prematurely.

The year provided many striking images -- not least the sight of Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba lying prone on the turf at White Hart Lane after suffering a cardiac arrest in an FA Cup tie at Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite his heart stopping for 78 minutes, rapid action from the emergency services helped the 24-year-old to make a miraculous recovery, and although he was forced to retire, his story captivated the nation.

Away from the on-pitch drama, 2012 was a year in which English football showed its dark side.

The country's footballers were compared unfavourably with the stars who shone at the London Olympics and the recurring accusations of racism that cropped up throughout the year did nothing to restore their reputation.

Luis Suarez's feud with Patrice Evra resurfaced in February when the Liverpool striker refused to shake hands with the player he had racially abused the previous October -- an incident that had seen him suspended for eight games.

Chelsea captain John Terry was also banned, for four matches, after being accused of a similar offence towards QPR's Anton Ferdinand.

Referee Mark Clattenburg, meanwhile, was cleared over allegations he abused Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel after the Football Association declared he had "no case to answer".

It was not confined to the pitch, either, with each weekend seeming to throw up a new story about a fan abusing a player on Twitter or performing monkey gestures in the crowd.

Stripped of the England captaincy over the Ferdinand affair, Terry retired from international football.

Fabio Capello subsequently resigned as national coach, but his successor, Roy Hodgson, led England to a creditable quarter-final showing at Euro 2012.

The Premier League trumpeted the arrival of a colossal new domestic television deal worth £3.018 billion ($4.832 billion, 3.749 billion euros) in June, but more scandals could tarnish its appeal in 2013.


AFP

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