2013 was a varied and often frustrating year in football on the world stage. From the Qatar World Cup debacle, to the looming outline of match-fixing becoming ever clearer behind the curtain of the game, there were plenty of scandals and sagas. Still, the game itself grabbed the spotlight too, and it’s power for good was on display throughout the year at the intersection of sports, politics, and life. Here are the 10 biggest football stories of 2013.
#1 – Qatar World Cup Debacle: The World Cup is watched, lived, and breathed by over half the population of planet earth, and amazing statistic when you consider that only 32 countries are actually involved. In Spain, nine out of ten people watched the 2010 World Cup final. The World Cup is a very powerful, romantic, and blissful creature, despite all the demons that FIFA carries. So when the 20
22 World Cup was awarded to Qatar – a tiny desert country with zero football culture, little other history and culture, and a population the size of a small American state, it was a ghastly betrayal of the love of the planet.
In 2013, the depth of the issues surrounding Qatar hosting the tournament was exposed, as was FIFA’s reckless and slip-shod conduct in awarding the tournament. With temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in the Qatari summer, the normal June-July World Cup schedule was rendered impossible – this despite the insistence of the Qatar World Cup bid that the tournament wouldn’t have to be moved to the winter.
While FIFA looked at moving the World Cup to the winter, and destroying the rhythm of European leagues, interest in the United States, and the general feel of the World Cup, reports of slavery and other human rights violations poured out of Qatar. FIFA was going to officially move the tournament – nine years away, no less – to the winter in October, until a few Executive Committee members pushed the vote back indefinitely.
FIFA faces lawsuits and all kinds of headaches if they do move the tournament, but a summer event is impractical. It seems like the only way anyone could vote for Qatar to host is the allure of bribes. In any case, Qatar has been exposed as less fit to hold the World Cup than your Christmas party, and one of the biggest blunders of FIFA’s greedy reign has tumbled into tumult.
#2 – Brazil Confederations Cup Protests: The scenes were surreal: As Brazil thundered to thrilling Confederations Cup Final shattering of World Champion Spain, teargas wafted into the famous Maracana Stadium from protests that were going on just outside the stadium.
Brazil’s relationship with its national team is complicated – as the money being poured into stadiums for the 2014 World Cup caused the Confederations Cup to be used as a stage for protests about Brazil’s dwindling middle class, failing health-care system, poor infrastructure, the people of Brazil stood behind the Selecao, if not the government, and the team stood behind the people protesting.
The demonstrations spanned the life of the tournament all across the huge countries, rarely violent, but heavily covered. In Rio, more than 100,000 people turned out to protest during the tournament. Security presence in Brazil ahead of the World Cup is expected to be unprecedented, while the demonstrations are likely going to gain more life ahead of the tournament.
The expense of the World Cup is a luxury most in Brazil think their country cannot afford, and should not take on. They certainly have a case.
#3 – Sir Alex Ferguson Retires: He is in a class of his own – a manager who was the face of a league and a period in football more than any one player.
Though his legacy is untouchable, Ferguson was in turns a monster: A snarling, vindictive man who could reduce people to tears – but that was the power the man held. It’s amazing to think that Ferguson was knighted for his accomplishments in football 15 years before he retired. That gives you a sense of how much he accomplished, and he molded the greatest entity in the sporting world into his image and being and legend more than any other man has done with any other club in the history of football.
Watching United struggle now with the same squad and setup that Ferguson guided to an easy title in his last year in charge also gives you a sense of his talent. In the coming years, we’ll say it was a privilege to watch Alex Ferguson work his trade.
#4 – Sao Paulo Stadium Collapse – Closely linked to the protests that took place during the Confederations Cup was the November 27th tragedy at the sight of the Sao Paulo stadium, which will host the World Cup opener. Two people were killed when a crane fell, but FIFA wouldn’t release names, leaving the world media scrambling in search of answers and identities.
To think that the arena was under 300 days from hosting the opening match, Brazil against Croatia, is deeply troubling. All the new stadiums in Brazil have had deadlines pushed back for completion, and the idea of Manaus hosting World Cup games is simply laughable. At the time, the ex-President of Corinthiens, Andres Sanchez, said, “Deaths, unfortunately, happen.” Few statements are callous and horrible enough to capture the sentiment of anger around a true tragedy, but this one did the trick. Nothing about the build-up to the World Cup has done anything but fan the flames in Brazil.
#5 – More Match-Fixing: The idea that match-fixing happens makes sense: We talk all the time about the enormity of money in football, and perhaps this is applicable most to gambling. Of course, there is no way to excuse match-fixing, but there is also very little way to deny its effect on the game. Just how high and far does match-fixing run? We don’t know. But in 2012, multiple Honduran players were arrested, games and teams were suspended and deducted points in the Middle East, and reports in Europe and by professional investigators have left the sport reeling.
At some point, match-fixing will take center stage. That time might be just around the corner.
#6 – You’re Welcome Mexico: Every so often in football you get a story that defies the rules of drama. It’s just too unbelievable, too perfect, or too heartbreaking. Truth, though, is stranger than fiction, and the most incredible saga of 2013 was on the final day of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF. Mexico had become a laughingstock, a circus going bankrupt. On their fourth coach in six weeks, and coming off a win against Panama where they needed a miraculous 20 yard bicycle kick to save their qualification hopes, the curtain was finally about to close on the an embarrassing sideshow.
As the rain poured down in Costa Rica, where the already-qualified hosts led the dreadful Mexicans 2-1, the sun shone on little Panama, who were beating Mexico’s arch-rival the USA, also already-qualified, to go through to a playoff. Both games went into stoppage time, Panama getting the win and Mexico loss needed to knock El Tri out of the World Cup.
And then, in just a moment, Graham Zusi of the United States turned in a header to save the American’s bitterest enemy from World Cup oblivion. When Aron Johnannson scored just a minute later to make it 3-2 USA, Mexico was officially saved.
The scenes in Mexico were incredible – commentators proclaiming their love for the United States, others bashful that Mexico was so bad the US’ B team saved them. In any case, it was the surrealist chapter in one of world football’s best rivalries, somehow, someway, despite winning only two out of ten qualification games, Mexico is going to Brazil.
#7 – Bob Bradley In Egypt: It’s hard to pick just one favorite moment about Bob Bradley’s tenure in Egypt, but for me, Bradley’s staunch determination and hope was best summed up when the US government issued a decree for all American’s remaining in -revolution-revenged, war-torn Egypt to leave immediately, and Bradley and his wife Lindsay didn’t bat an eyelash.
In the end, Egypt’s hearts were broken by the same team that has plagued the stoic Bradley his entire career, the Black Stars of Ghana. But the achievements of Bradley, a bald, New Jersey Christian, in gaining and returning the love and dreams of Egypt, a country that so badly needed a reason to love and dream, will live forever.
#8 – Robbie Rogers Comes Out: When Robbie Rogers came out as gay, he did so in a fell swoop where he also retired from the game. Perhaps Rogers feared that he wouldn’t be well-received in the macho world of football like others before him, and perhaps he just needed a mental break, a sabbatical of sorts. But after the reaction to Rogers’ announcement was deservedly positive and supportive, Rogers the soccer player began to test the waters for a return.
Of course Rogers knew and knows that activists make their biggest impact in the field, and so when he made his return official by coming on as a late substitute for the LA Galaxy in a summer-time win over the Seattle Sounders, Rogers made a statement and became the first openly gay athlete to play in a major American team sport, and one of the first openly gay footballers playing in the world. It was another step in the right direction on the long road towards equality and acceptance.
#9 – Brazil Wins The Confederations Cup: Despite the general chaos surrounding the football last summer in Brazil, football was played, and the hosts dominated. Brazil haven’t had their fullest measure of mojo since Luiz Felipe Scolari left after the 2002 World Cup, and the esteemed Selecao had hit a new low when he took the reigns back last year.
But Brazil soared in the Confederations Cup, playing some scintillating football en route to an impending final with Spain. It was there that Brazil made their mark, establishing themselves as favorites for 2014 in 90 other-worldly minutes, and retaking their place on top of the football world.
#10 – German Invasion of Wembley: The biggest club event of the year, the UEFA Champions League Final, was held at Wembley Stadium, which made the fact that it was the first Champions League final held between two German teams all the more meaningful.
Once on the biggest stage, both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund acquitted themselves well, playing a thrilling final, and showing the coming-of-age of German club football to the world.