24th December, 2010
From the earliest days of January to the last days of December, this was a year of tragedy, scandal and controversy for the worldâ€™s most popular sport.
Even the first World Cup finals in Africa, held in South Africa in the southern hemisphereâ€™s winter months of June and July, left a bitter-sweet memory,Â rather than a golden one to cherish for generations.
As well as a poor World Cup, soccer suffered tragedy when gunmen attacked the Togo team at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola at the start of the year.
There was scandal at the pinnacle of the game with FIFA suspending two of its executive committee members after allegations that they were prepared to sellÂ their votes to decide the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
FIFAâ€™s controversial decision to award the 2022 finals to Qatar, despite fears from FIFAâ€™s own inspectors about playing in the Arabian summer heat, also madeÂ headlines around the world.
While there were great on-field triumphs, including Inter Milan becoming European champions for the first time since 1965 and the continuing brilliant formÂ of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, some top clubs, afflicted by poor financial management, struggled to cope with debts.
The World Cup represented a success for South Africa which organised a safe, largely crime-free tournament with enthusiastic crowds and a unique atmosphere,Â but it had few memorable matches and a truly awful final.
The game, which ended in a deserved 1-0 win for Spain over a cynical Netherlands side thanks to Andres Iniestaâ€™s winner four minutes before the end of extraÂ time, was a spiteful affair of 13 yellow cards and a sending-off for Dutchman Johnny Heitinga.
A lack of goals, bitterly cold weather at the first winter World Cup in 32 years and a shortage of stand-out performances throughout, all contributed to theÂ sense of anti-climax.
The unpredictable flight of the Jabulani ball may have been one factor; others were the lack of goals and a prevalence of draws in the opening round.
That trend concerns FIFA so much it has convened a task force to try to improve matters for the 2014 finals in Brazil.
The gameâ€™s biggest names failed to impress in South Africa. Perhaps the players were tired after long, tough European seasons but Messi, Kaka, FernandoÂ Torres and Wayne Rooney did not score a goal between them, while Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo scored only one goal each.
Italyâ€™s reign as world champions ended in first-round elimination while France, runners-up four years earlier, imploded with a player revolt over theÂ expulsion of Nicolas Anelka and they went home, like Italy, without winning a match.
France was convulsed by the antics of its team, sparking a national inquiry which ended with some players receiving bans and unpopular coach Raymond DomenechÂ losing his job.
His replacement Laurent Blanc suspended all 23 World Cup squad members for his first match in charge while Anelkaâ€™s 18-match ban effectively ended hisÂ international career.
African teams also disappointed with five of the six eliminated in the group stage, including South Africa, the first host team to fail to reach the knockoutÂ rounds.
While the World Cup was disappointing, at least it avoided much of the crime many in the West had predicted, especially after the attack on the Togo team inÂ January when a bus carrying the squad came under gunfire in the Angolan separatist enclave of Cabinda. A bus driver, the teamâ€™s assistant manager and a mediaÂ officer died.
The Togo squad returned home and withdrew from the tournament which continued without them and was eventually won by Egypt.
At the end of the year FIFAâ€™s decision to name the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals on the same day effectively led to the governing bodyâ€™sÂ biggest scandal since it came into existence 106 years ago.
Following allegations by the Sunday Times newspaper in London that two FIFA executives were prepared to sell their votes for cash, FIFA were forced toÂ investigate and somewhat reluctantly suspended and fined six officials, two of them from the decision-making executive committee.
Allegations of collusion among voting committee members continued to dominate headlines after FIFA awarded the 2018 finals to Russia and, more surprisingly,Â the 2022 finals to Qatar, the tiny Arab country of 1.6 million people where summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius.