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Opinion

Football's top ten moments of the decade

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Roar Guru
1st January, 2020
12

It’s been an eventful ten years of international football. To ring in the new year, he’s my list of the best ten moments of the beautiful game over the past decade.

10. Portugal become European champions, Euro 2016
After the heartache of losing the 2004 final on home soil, Portugal’s victory was their first piece of international silverware. The contributions of international stalwarts Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Nani were instrumental throughout the competition to allow Eder the opportunity to strike the injury-time winner in the final against France.

The victory was also further vindication of Cristiano Ronaldo’s standing as Portugal’s greatest ever player, as he achieved something Portugal’s golden generation lead by Luis Figo or even Eusebio could not achieve.

9. Iceland defeat England, Euro 2016
England’s new low became Iceland’s new high as the Nordic minnows shocked Europe by dumping their more illustrious counterparts out of Euro 2016 at the Round of 16. Iceland’s pragmatic and functional style of play weren’t without their charms, and they were worthy winners through an expertly worked set-piece routine involving a long throw, a flick on and a predatory finish. They also demonstrated their ability to play on the floor with a well-constructed team goal that was eventually the winner.

The result demonstrated the massive strides made in Icelandic football in recent years, as they also put up more than a fight in the quarter-finals against France despite a 5-2 defeat.

8. Robin van Persie header against Spain, 2014 World Cup
Perhaps the World Cup’s most iconic header of all time, the Netherlands’s revenge mission for their 2010 final defeat to Spain began in spectacular fashion. Daley Blind’s searching long ball found Van Persie entering the Spain box, where the Dutch forward met the descent of the ball with a looping, diving header that gave Iker Casillas no chance.

The goal inspired a brilliant performance from the Oranje as they humiliated Spain 5-1, and the pure aesthetic beauty of the former Arsenal man’s goal was an iconic moment of the 2014 World Cup.

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7. Wales reach semi-finals, Euro 2016
Not since making the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup has Wales made such an impact on a major tournament. Led by the magic of Gareth Bale and ably supported by the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams and Joe Allen, Wales topped a group that included England.

Their togetherness and spirit were evident throughout as they upset one of the tournament’s favourites, Belgium, in the quarter-finals, with Robson Kanu scoring one of the goals of the tournament to inspire a 3-1 victory. Their run would come to an end at the hands of eventual champions Portugal, but this was the best performance at a European championship all decade for British football.

6. Zambia become African champions, Africa Cup of Nations 2012
Despite having to contend with the might of Ivory Coast in the final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Zambia overcame all the odds to win in 8-7 in a dramatic penalty shootout. Although they did not have big names in their team of the size of Didier Drogba or Yaya Toure, the Zambians upset the Elephants in a victory that held great emotion.

The final was held not far from a 1993 plane crash that killed all passengers, including the entire Zambia football team. As fate would have it, Zambia would make history 19 years on from the tragedy to become African champions for the first time in their history under the leadership of Herve Renard.

5. James Rodriguez goal against Uruguay, 2014 World Cup
In Colombia’s return to the world stage after a 16-year World Cup absence from 1998, James Rodriquez scored the goal of the tournament to reignite the nation’s flagging recent football history. His chest control, swivel and sumptuous volley past a despairing Fernando Muslera in the second round against Uruguay was a moment that got even neutrals off their seat.

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Such audacity and conviction in the strike, Rodriquez would inspire Colombia to the quarter-finals as the tournament’s top scorer, with six goals. In what was a period of stagnation and flux in the post-Carlos Valderrama era, James Rodriquez’s iconic goal was the catalyst for a decade of greater fortunes for Colombian football.

A third-place finish in the 2016 Copa America and another knockout-stage appearance in the 2018 World cup were testament to the growing presence of Colombia in South American and world football.

4. Didier Deschamps makes history, 2018 World Cup
France’s 2018 World cup triumph made Didier Deschamps only the second player in history alongside Franz Beckenbauer to have captained and also managed their country to World Cup glory. As an uncompromising midfield general he helped Les Bleus win their maiden world title in 1998 with the genius of Zinedine Zidane to call upon, and in 2018 he had Kylian Mbappe who became the second-youngest player to score in a World Cup final.

Having been in charge since 2012 and tasted bitter disappointment with defeat in the 2016 European championships, Deschamps’s redemption was testament to his long and patient work with a new golden generation of French players, who look capable of remaining competitive for the next decade.

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3. Chile back to back South American champions, 2015 and 2016
Lionel Messi’s continued lack of an international trophy with Argentina is largely down to the heroics of Chile’s golden generation, who won the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.

Jorge Sampaoli’s hard-pressing and combative Chileans had won a gruelling match via a penalty shootout against Argentina on home soil, their first-ever continental title. If that was considered some fluke, there would be no doubt of their championship credentials when they defended their title in the Copa America Centenario against Messi and Argentina again.

They did it the hard way again, on penalties, as this time under Juan Antonio Pizzi Chile showed it was not Sampaoli, tactics or luck that had brought them back-to-back glory; it was the collective fighting spirit and battling qualities of the players, led by Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel, as La Roja restored Chile’s status as a South American power.

2. Germany defeat 7-1 Brazil, 2014 World Cup semi-final
In the single most memorable result of the decade, Germany’s 7-1 annihilation of hosts Brazil in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup brought a different kind of humiliation compared to the ‘Maracanazo’ of the 1950 final. That was a closely fought final that was a legitimate contest, while the 2014 massacring was an event of genuine ignominy and shame.

Germany’s systematic slaughtering of Brazil as the hosts self-destructed without Thiago Silva’s leadership and Neymar’s inspiration will go down in the annals of World Cup history as a seminal moment that delivered a first European success on South American soil. With Brazil’s continued struggle with its identity, this was a telling reminder of football’s championing of collectivist and team values over individual brilliance.

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1. Spain’s treble, 2008-14
La Furia Roja’s World Cup victory in 2010 and European glory in 2012 are great enough achievements to take the top spot, but if you consider Spain also won Euro 2008 in an unprecedented run of three successive tournament victories and we get to the manner in which it was done, we are talking about legacy. Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque’s revival of Spain’s underachieving fortunes under a possession-based game that suffocated opponents allowed the Spanish to utilise what they were great at- passing.

The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata represented what was brilliant about Spanish football: touch, vision and distribution all over the pitch. It was not unusual to see four to five midfielders being fielded as Spain defeated Germany, Holland and Italy to dominate world football for more than half a decade.

They are considered among the greatest international teams of all time and played an integral role in influencing both club and international teams throughout the decade when it came to playing possession-based football.