25 Most Incredible World Football Photos of 2011

Adam HirshfieldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Emmanuel Adebayor of Spurs scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at White Hart Lane on November 21, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Soccer can be a chess match, a slow-moving battle where well considered game-planning and managerial tactics play out over the course of 90 minutes.

But it can also be a fast-moving, action-packed, summer-blockbuster sort of thriller, where remarkable skill and astonishing plays can make the difference between an enormous victory and a crushing defeat.

While football is really a game of action, its greatest moments can be captured almost as wonderfully by terrific photography.

Here are the 25 best photos from world football in 2011.

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25. Messi Ballet

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona beat Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid to score the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 27, 2011 in
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Let's start with the Argentine wonder. Lionel Messi of Barcelona beats Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos to score the opening goal during their Champions League semifinal first leg on April 27.

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24. Getting Kicked in the Yaya

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Jermaine Jones and David Dunn (R) of Blackburn Rovers tangle with Yaya Toure of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City at Ewood Park on April 25, 2011 in Blackb
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jermaine Jones and David Dunn of Blackburn Rovers vie for the ball with Manchester City's dangerously challenging Yaya Toure (left) during their Premiership match on April 25.

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23. Dutch Duel

AZ Alkmaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado goes after a fan who invaded the pitch during his Dutch Cup tilt against Ajax. Alvarado shockingly received a red card for kicking at the fan, even though he was simply retaliating after being kicked himself by the fan.

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22. Looking Sexy in Sheffield

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16:  Fans celebrate after Gary Madine of Sheffield Wednesday scores his teams second goal during the npower League One match between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday at Bramall Lane on October 16, 2011 in Sheffield, En
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Some well-dressed (and seemingly well-lubricated) fans celebrate a Sheffield Wednesday goal against Sheffield United on Oct. 16.

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21. United in Frustration

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) comforts teammate Javier Hernandez during the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laur
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney comforts teammate Javier Hernandez following the Red Devils' Champions League final loss to Barcelona on May 28

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20. Timberrrrrrrrs!

FOXBORO, MA - APRIL 2:  Eric Brunner #5 of the Portland Timbers  and Zak Boggs #33 of the New England Revolution fight for the ball at Gillette Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Eric Brunner of the Portland Timbers gets horizontal following a tackle from Zak Boggs of the New England Revolution on April 2.

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19. Neymar Strikes a Pose

TOYOTA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 14: Neymar of Santos Futebol Clube celebrates his goal during the FIFA Club World Cup semi final match between Kashiwa Reysol and Santos at Toyota Stadium on December 14, 2011 in Toyota, Japan.(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Brazilian starlet Neymar celebrates after scoring a ridiculous goal against Kashiwa Reysol during the FIFA Club World Cup semifinal on Dec. 14

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18. Peeved Keeper

Jae C. Hong/AP
Jae C. Hong/AP

U.S. national team netminder Tim Howard expresses his frustration with his defense.

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17. Celebrating in Style

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Hard AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso clearly answers the "Boxers or briefs?" question as he enjoys his side's clinching of the Serie A championship on May 7.

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16. Ordering Up a Goal

Denmark's Michael Krohn-Dehli celebrates with the crowd after scoring during his country's Euro 2012 qualifier against Portugal on Oct. 11.

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15. Obstruction, Anyone?

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - OCTOBER 11:  Michael Krohn-Dehli of Denmark celebrates in front of the crowd after scoring the first goal for Denmark during the EURO 2012 group H qualifier match between Denmark and Portugal at Parken Stadium on October 11, 2011 in
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

No, Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United aren't practicing their pairs figure-skating routine. The two clash during their sides' Premier League matchup at Villa Park on Dec. 3.

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14. 'Why Always Me?'

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Stephen Warnock of Aston Villa and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United clash during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park on December 3, 2011 in Birmingham, England.  (P
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Kooky Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli shows off his now infamous T-shirt after scoring against Manchester United, just a day after shooting fireworks out of the bathroom window in his house. Not surprisingly, he was booked for the celebration...the T-shirt, not the fireworks.

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13. The Best of Best

Newcastle's Leon Best scores past Robert Green of West Ham during their Premiership match at St James' Park on Jan. 5.

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12. Tossed Swansea

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Leon Best of Newcastle United scores the opening goal past Robert Green of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Ham United at St James' Park on January 5, 201
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers is thrown in the air by his players after earning promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship playoff final against Reading on May 30.

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11. Checkered Pass

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30:  Swansea Manager, Brendan Rodgers is thrown in the air by his players after winning the npower Championship Playoff Final between Reading and Swansea City at Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Dean Mou
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Croatia's Josip Simunic looks positively freezing, especially against this smoky background during his nation's Euro 2012 qualifier on Nov. 15 against Turkey in Zagreb.

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10. Game of Shadows

ZAGREB, CROATIA - NOVEMBER 15:  Josip Simunic of Croatia in action during the EURO 2012 qualifier, play off second leg match between Croatia and Turkey at the Zagreb Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Marc Albrighton of Aston Villa and Wolves' George Elokobi battle for the ball at Villa Park on March 19.

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9. Saving Face

Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech gets his helmet and mask straight prior to his country's Euro 2012 playoff match against Montenegro on Nov. 15. Cech and the Czechs stopped the home side to earn a spot in this coming summer's European championships.

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8. Battling in the Box

PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO - NOVEMBER 15:  Petr Cech of Czech Republic prior to the EURO 2012 Qualifier, Play Off Second Leg between Montenegro and the zech epublic at the City Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Podgorica, Montenegro.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Gett
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Players from Brazil and Norway eye an incoming corner kick during the FIFA Women's World Cup match on July 3 in Wolfsburg, Germany.

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7. Froggy Footy

Mike Hewitt/FIFA
Mike Hewitt/FIFA

A bullfrog hops around on the pitch as Carlos Costly of Honduras carries the ball against the USA during their Oct. 8 match at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

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6. Sun and the Beach

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 08: A Bull Frog hops around as Carlos Costly #13 of Honduras brings the ball up against the USA at Sun Life Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

El Salvador's Agustin Ruiz is challenged by Francesco Corosinitti of Italy during the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup quarterfinal at Stadium del Mare in Ravenna, Italy, on Sept. 8.

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5. Dangerous Clearance

Lars Baron/FIFA via Getty Images
Lars Baron/FIFA via Getty Images

Phil Bardsley of Scotland clears the ball under serious pressure from Denmark's Simon Kjaer during the nations' friendly at Hampden Park in Glasgow on Aug. 10.

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4 (tie). Soccer on the Sand

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 10: Phil Bardsley of Scotland clears the ball under pressure from Simon Kjaer of Denmark during the International Friendly Match between Scotland and Denmark at Hampden Park on August 10, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by La
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

A pickup soccer game is played on Ipanema Beach just prior to the preliminary draw for the 2014 World Cup on July 28 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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4 (tie). Flare for the Dramatic

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Men play football on Ipanema Beach ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 28, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Croatian fans enjoy their country's Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey.

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3. Tilt-Shift Tally

ZAGREB, CROATIA - NOVEMBER 15:  Fans of Croatia enjoy the game during the EURO 2012 qualifier, play off second leg match between Croatia and Turkey at the Zagreb Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Yaya Toure of Manchester City scores the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Stoke City.

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2. Rooney Revelry

Richard Heathcote/The FA
Richard Heathcote/The FA

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney scores an incredible game-winning, bicycle-kick goal in the Feb. 12 Premiership derby match against Manchester City at Old Trafford.

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1. Last-Moment Wonder From Wambach

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores a goal from an overhead kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on February 12, 2011 in Manchester, England.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

American striker Abby Wambach celebrates her last-second, injury-time equalizer against Brazil during the FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal on July 10 in Dresden, Germany. The U.S. went on to win the game in penalty kicks.