Published December 31, 2012
| Sports Network
The more things changed in 2012, the more they remained the same.
Manchester City won its first league title in 44 years in the most dramatic fashion possible, while Chelsea captured its first Champions League crown in an equally compelling manner.
Yet for all the change that took place across Europe this year, two constant forces in the game continued to dominate.
Spain collected another major title this summer with a 4-0 win over Italy in the final of Euro 2012, and Lionel Messi had a pretty good year as well.
Finances had a major impact on 2012 for both PSG and Rangers, while racism proved to be an all-too-familiar topic of discussion.
The past 12 months were filled with plenty of interesting twists and turns, remarkable feats worth savoring, and instances of ugliness we would rather forget.
The following moments are just a few of the ones that stand out when we take a look back on the year that was in 2012.
MANCHESTER CITY WINS EPIC TITLE RACE
After waiting 44 years to lift the league title, Manchester City treated its fans to one of the most dramatic season-ending games ever as City scored two goals in stoppage time to down QPR, 3-2, and win the Premiership on goal difference ahead of rival Manchester United. With the club on the verge of an epic collapse at the Etihad Stadium, Edin Dzeko scored on a header to level the contest at 2-2 against 10-man QPR early in stoppage time. But City still needed another goal after United's 1-0 win against Sunderland that same day. The scenes that followed were absolutely incredible as Sergio Aguero scored the winning goal in the dying seconds to snatch the title away from United and deliver it to the Blue half of Manchester. Delirium erupted inside the Etihad while United's players and fans, which watched the conclusion of the City game on the big screen at the Stadium of Light, were left gutted.
LIONEL MESSI OVERTAKES DER BOMBER
The past 12 months have not been great by Barcelona's absurdly high standards as the club failed to win La Liga and was bounced in the semifinals of the Champions League by Chelsea. But 2012 was still a year to remember for Lionel Messi as he set yet another record by scoring 91 goals in a calendar year for Barcelona and Argentina in all competitions, breaking the mark of 85 set in 1972 by German and Bayern Munich legend Gerd Muller. We already knew that Messi was the best player on the planet, but after this otherworldly display, his name has to be mentioned along with those of the all-time greats like Pele and Diego Maradona. At 25, Messi is already an unstoppable force and it's not a stretch to think that he could continue to rewrite the record books for years to come. In 2012, we got to witness a season for the ages from one of the best players to ever play the game.
CHELSEA FINALLY CROWNED CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE
After coming close so many times over the past decade, Chelsea finally reached the summit in 2012, and did so in the role of the underdog. With an interim manager and a team missing key players John Terry, Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic through suspension, the Blues were outplayed for much of the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, which was a big favorite playing the match in its home stadium. And after going behind to an 83rd- minute goal from Thomas Muller, it looked like Chelsea would come up short yet again. But Didier Drogba scored on a header two minutes from time before goalkeeper Petr Cech stopped Arjen Robben's penalty kick in extra time to send the game into a shootout. Drogba eventually clinched the win from the spot to stun the German side, but the final was only the culmination of an incredible run. Chelsea also overturned a 3-1 first-leg deficit in the round of 16 against Napoli to win 4-1 in the second leg at Stamford Bridge. And maybe most impressive was the fact that the Blues came from 2-0 down with 10 men at defending champions Barcelona to grab a 2-2 draw to reach the final.
SPAIN'S REIGN CONTINUES
After winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain had clearly established itself as the biggest force in world soccer. But ahead of Euro 2012 this past summer, there were those who doubted whether La Roja had enough to become the first country to ever win three straight major titles. The team would be without key men Carles Puyol and David Villa because of injuries, while top contenders Germany and the Netherlands seemed to be bona fide challengers to the throne. However, after opening the tournament with an unconvincing 1-1 draw against Italy, Spain reeled off four straight wins to return to the final, where the defending champions put together a devastating performance against Italy, hammering the Italians 4-0 to reinforce the fact that this is one of the best teams of all time.
U.S. WOMEN TOP CANADA IN THRILLING SEMIFINAL
The United States and Canada gave us one of the most thrilling, bizarre and controversial matches of 2012 in the semifinals of the women's soccer competition at the Summer Olympics in London. The Americans had reached the previous four finals at the Olympics, but their streak was in major jeopardy as Canada's Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick to give the Canadians a 3-2 lead with 15 minutes to play. What followed will go down as maybe the most interesting decision of the year as referee Christiana Pedersen called Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball longer than six seconds, which gave the U.S. an indirect free kick inside Canada's penalty area. It is a call seen about as often as pass interference on a Hail Mary, but it proved crucial as Megan Rapinoe's free kick struck the arm of a Canadian defender, allowing Abby Wambach to score the equalizer from the penalty spot. But the drama didn't stop there as Alex Morgan netted the winning goal just seconds before the end of extra time, handing the U.S. a 4-3 win that will leave Canadians fuming for a long time.
PSG RAIDS AC MILAN
It wasn't so much the fact that big-spending PSG added one of the best strikers in the world as well as a top defender over the summer. It was that both players came from AC Milan, which would have been an absurd notion 10 years ago. But the ambitious French outfit plucked both striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Thiago Silva from the Rossoneri with an offer that the Italian giants couldn't refuse, illustrating the ever-changing landscape of the game in Europe. PSG's spending has drawn the ire of many French clubs, but the fact that Milan couldn't say no speaks both to the troubling financial situation in the Italian game as well as the ability of deep-pocketed owners to turn around the fortunes of a club in an instant. The spending of PSG has resulted in the club entering the winter break tied atop the Ligue 1 table with Lyon and Marseille while a knockout round berth in the Champions League was also achieved. Milan struggled badly at the start of the new season, and despite a recent surge in form, still sits 17 points off the top of the table and in seventh place. For a team so synonymous with success, 2012 won't be remembered as a great year for AC Milan.
Pre-match handshakes got way too much attention in 2012, and it was because of the ugly epidemic of racism. The two most high-profile cases came in England where Chelsea captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand, while Liverpool's Luis Suarez found himself in a similar situation with Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Suarez had received an eight-game suspension for his abuse against Evra, but made the situation worse when he refused to shake the Frenchman's hand prior to a match between the sides. Terry's ordeal had far-reaching consequences as he was stripped of his England captaincy by the FA, resulting in the resignation of national team boss Fabio Capello. Terry stood trial in July for his abuse of Ferdinand but announced his retirement from the international game just before that, bringing a sad end to a distinguished career with the Three Lions. And if racism didn't play a big enough role in 2012, one of the largest fan groups of Russian club Zenit St Petersburg reminded us of how far we still must come. The group publicly demanded that the club refrain from signing any black or gay players, saying: "We're not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition."
RANGERS BANISHED FROM TOP FLIGHT
Founded in 1872 and one of the 10 founder members of the Scottish Football League, Rangers remained in the top flight every year until 2012, when the club was relegated to the Third Division because of financial problems. Not only did the sanctions rob us of one of the sport's best rivalries, the Old Firm match with Celtic, but it also left the Scottish Premier League without one of its two marquee clubs. Without Rangers, Celtic is the only big fish the small pond known as the SPL, forcing the league to take a financial hit as well as sucking much of the drama out of the season. It will take some time for Rangers to make its way back to the top flight, but it's fair to question what will be left at that point as the league struggles to remain relevant.