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The Highs and Lows of Latino Fútbol in 2010

Its critics said it couldn't be done, but Spain proved its nay-sayers wrong this past summer. After years of stumbling and woefully underachieving, the talented Spaniards finally found themselves on top of the soccer world, winning their very first World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 11. 

Spain's triumph was among many Latino soccer stories in 2010, including Mexico's coaching change and a Colombian star winning player of the year. But the Spaniards' hoisting of the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy made for the biggest headlines in the Hispanic fútbol world. 

Having never reached the semifinals, Spain became the first European team to win off continent and the first team to lose its opening match to capture soccer's grandest prize. 

“It’s unbelievable, incredible,” said Andrés Iniesta, who scored in the 116th minute in a 1-0 win over the Netherlands. “It took a lot of energy. To win a World Cup is an indescribable feeling."

La Furia Roja – who survived rough and at times illegal play by a physical Dutch team – were deserving champions. Behind striker David Villa and a patient possession game, the Spaniards kept leaving opponents by the wayside. 

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“We have fantastic players," coach Vicente del Bosque said. "This is immeasurable for Spain."

The rest of the competition wasn't as kind to Hispanic teams, except for surprising Uruguay behind the superlative Diego Forlan. The Uruguayans managed to finish fourth after a controversial quarterfinal win  via a penalty-kick shootout. Luís Suárez was awarded a red card for stopping a sure Ghana goal with time running out in extra-time as the Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty. 

The rest of the South American contingent, led by five-time world champion Brazil and two-time winner Argentina, directed by the mercurial Diego Maradona, fell short of its goal. The Brazilians were bested by the Dutch in the quarterfinals, 2-1, while Argentina and the fabulous Lionel Messi self-destructed in an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Germany in the quarters. 

The year did not go the way of Messi, considered by many to be the best player in the world. His Barcelona side lost in the UEFA Champions League champion Inter Milan, 3-2, in the total-goals semifinal series. 

However, Barca rebounded in the new season as its highlight had to be a 5-0 demolition of arch-rival Real Madrid. 

Mexico managed to get out of its World Cup group with a 1-1-1 record, besting France, 2-0, tying South Africa, 1-1, and losing to Uruguay, 1-0. But the Mexicans met their match in a 3-1 second-round loss to Argentina, thanks to some questionable officiating and the magic of Carlos Tévez. 

The Mexicans managed to be successful off the field, at least. It drew huge crowds wherever it played in the United States. However, coach Javier Aguirre resigned after the World Cup. 

That led to the hiring of José Manuel de la Torre, who had the job of picking up the pieces for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup and beyond. His challenges include making sure the team is on the same page in the wake of six month suspensions handed down to Carlos Vela and Efraín Juárez for allegations made following a party after an international friendly with Colombia in September. 

CONCACAF Champions League champion Pachuca did not fare well in the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, either, losing to TP Mazembe Englebert of the Congo, 1-0, in its opening game. 

The Mexican team finished fifth, as it outlasted Al-Wahda Sports Club (UAE), winning a penalty-kick shootout, 4-2, after playing to a 2-2 draw. 

Domestically, Monterrey captured the Mexican Primera's Apertura final this past fall, 3-1, after dropping the first leg to Santos Laguna, 1-0. It was Monterrey's fourth league championship and second in its last three seasons. 

U.S. international Herculez Gomez made a name for himself by scoring a league-best 10 goals for Puebla in the Clausura season -- the first time an American player led a foreign league in goals -- before he switched to Pachuca for the Apertura season. He was joined in Mexico by another American international, Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein, who signed with Tigres.

Veteran Colombian midfielder David Ferreira leaped over a bunch of superstars and well-known names to win Major League Soccer MVP honors while leading FC Dallas to the MLS Cup. Dallas, however, fell to the Colorado Rapids in extratime, 2-1.

Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for three decades, is a frequent contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.

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