Mario Balotelli, Lionel Messi and Your Definitive World Football Guide to 2012

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2011

Mario Balotelli, Lionel Messi and Your Definitive World Football Guide to 2012

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    A bushel-load of goals, trophies, matches, incidents, brilliance, madness, heroes and villains were gifted the way of the worldwide football watcher in 2011—and 2012 proves to be every bit as magnificent and unmissable.

    Here we'll take a look at the teams, players and leagues which will hit the headlines in the forthcoming year, as well as a few other pieces to look out for.

    Whatever your team, wherever you watch football, whoever your favourite player is, the one thing we have in common is that we love football in all its stupendously exhilarating glory, suspense and drama.

    This is your definitive guide to 2012 football, feel free to leave your comments below with other snippets we should be keeping an eye on over the next 12 months!

    Thanks for reading.

The Crazy World of Mario Balotelli

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    Mario Balotelli, Manchester City's front-page-loving forward, has been at it yet again.

    Most recently he has been photographed arguing with team-mate Micah Richards on the training ground, supposedly after the Italian did not pass the ball to the English full-back.

    In 2011 alone Balotelli made the headlines for throwing a dart at a Manchester City youth player, took a young boy skipping school for the day back into school and confronted other youngsters who were bullying him, had to be substituted from a Europa League game for apparently suffering a grass allergy, been hauled off in a pre-season friendly game for back-heeling an easy opportunity to score wide of goal, was sent off against Liverpool for two bookable offences within just eighteen minutes after coming on as a substitute—and saw his own house set ablaze after he and some friends were letting off fireworks indoors.

    While the improvement in his on-pitch performances this season are evident, it is still absolutely clear that Balotelli will continue to hit the headlines for his crazy antics as much as his goal-scoring ability.

    Who knows what shenanigans Mad Mario will come up with for the new year?!

Euro 2012: Will Spain Continue to Dominate or Will Germany, Holland Challenge?

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    After winning both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, Spain are without a doubt the national team to beat in 2012's upcoming European Championships.

    The seeded side of Group C, Spain will face Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Croatia in what seems like a relatively straight-forward opening three fixtures for the number one ranked side in world football—but a defeat to Switzerland in the opening game of World Cup 2010 will certainly give them food for thought about taking it easy early on.

    For those that place stock in FIFA's ranking system, Italy and Croatia also both fall in the top 10.

    The main challengers to Spain's title are expected to be Group B pair Germany and Holland, who along with Portugal and Denmark are in the so-called Group of Death.

    Either one of the former sides are capable of going through to the tournament's end, with attacking flair and goalscoring ability paramount in both national sides.

    Elsewhere, both Russia and the Czech Republic will fancy their chances of making an impression on the latter stages having been drawn in Group A alongside joint-hosts Poland and Euro 2004 winners Greece, while Group D sees England and France drawn together along with Sweden and the other hosts of the tournament, Ukraine.

    Kicking off on the 8th June and running through to July 1st, it promises to be three exciting weeks for fans of International football all over Europe.

La Liga Dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid to Continue

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    Hands up who thinks the Premier League is too predictable?

    How about this then:




    Those are the number of points that the third place team at the end of the season have finished behind the second place team in Spain's top flight, La Liga, over the past three seasons.

    Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate Spanish football.

    This season already, not even at the half-way stage, there is a seven point gap already between the top two and the third place team, Valencia.

    Only once in the last eight seasons has a side managed to break their way into the top two (Villarreal, 2nd, 2007-08) and not since 2003-04 (Valencia, 1st) has a side managed to finish ahead of both of the Spanish giants.

    The trend is set, and will continue for this season at least.

    Valencia usually offer up some kind of threat, for a while at least, but do not have the financial muscle to compete with their rivals, while Malaga have recently found themselves in the money as a result of being taken over by Qatari royal family member Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, but are very much a work in progress and can expect to take another year or two to even begin thinking about a title challenge.

    Despite spending almost 60 million euro on the likes of Santi Cazorla, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joaquin, Jeremy Toulalan and Nacho Monreal they lie only in sixth position, with a goal difference of zero and a full 13 points behind the top two.

Anzhi Makachkala: Will Their Spending Reap Rewards?

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    Massive spending on Samuel Eto'o, Balazs Dzsudzsak, Mbark Boussoufa, Roberto Carlos and Jucilei amongst others propelled Russian Premier Division side Anzhi Makhachkala into the European spotlight in 2011 following their takeover by Suleyman Kerimov.

    With the league set to re-start in March 2012—the Russian league was split this season into two parts to align it with other major European leagues—plenty of football-watchers will be keeping an eye on whether the huge investment begins to pay dividends.

    At present Anzhi lie in 7th place, 13 points off leaders Zenit St. Petersburg, and are seven points off 2nd place CSKA Moscow, who occupy the Champions League qualifying spot for the league.

    They recently appointed Yuri Krasnozhan as their new head coach following the dismissal of Gadzhi Gadzhiyev in September; Roberto Carlos had been leading the side in the interim period.

    Further spending is certainly a possibility, even in the forthcoming winter transfer window, with the likes of Robin van Persie of Arsenal linked with a big-money move to Russia.

African Cup of Nations 2012: Who Are the Contenders?

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    International football gets underway early on in 2012 as the African Cup of Nations kicks off in January, running through to February, in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

    Two years ago Egypt triumphed in the final over Ghana in the 2010 edition but the holders will take no part this time around after failing to qualify; indeed they came bottom of their qualifying group.

    They are not the only big country who will be missing from the main event in Africa; Cameroon did not qualify, Nigeria and Togo also miss out, while South Africa failed to qualify due to an apparent country-wide oversight of the rules.

    South Africa, Niger and Sierra Leone all finished equal with nine points in their group, but it was head-to-head results between the three which separated them—meaning Niger progressed to the finals.

    The early favourites will come from Group B giants Ivory Coast, Group C pair Tunisia and Morocco, and 2010 runners-up Ghana along with Mali in Group D.

Neven Subotic to Make Big Money Transfer

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    Mats Hummels or Neven Subotic?

    For the uninitiated, those are the two first-choice central defenders of German outfit Borussia Dortmund, who last season (2010-11) helped Dortmund to the Bundesliga title with a league-best defensive record of just 21 goals conceded all season, with just seven of those coming at home.

    The pair, both 23 years of age, won many plaudits last season for their strong partnership, but Subotic has been long-linked with a move to England, with Chelsea in particular recognised admirers of the Serbian defender.

    This season sees Dortmund lying in second place at the midway point of the season and, though Hummels has started all 17 of their league games, Subotic has had to make do with looking on from the sidelines after suffering a multiple-facial fracture after an accidental clash with former Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos back in November.

    Subotic is expected to return to action soon enough and, should his performances be back up to scratch for the second half of the season, expect some big name sides to come in with offers for him in the summer.

    Hummels, being German, has less reason perhaps to leave the Bundesliga than Subotic—but both will be in high demand in 2012 if Dortmund give any inkling that they would be prepared to sell.

Lionel Messi: Can He Score More Goals Than the Number of Games He Plays?!

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    16 games, 17 goals.

    That is Leo Messi's strike record so far for the 2011-12 campaign in La Liga. In all competitions, he has netted an almighty 29 goals in 26 games.

    Messi's Barcelona record for the past two seasons reads thus:

    2009-10, 52 games played, 45 goals scored

    2010-11, 53 games played, 50 goals scored

    Could 2012 finally be the year when the Argentinian ends a season having scored more goals than he has played in matches?!

    You wouldn't bet against it...

Manchester City Set to Lead the Charge for Their First Premier League Title

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    As we head into 2012 the English Premier League is led by two clubs from Manchester; the red half of United and the blue half of City.

    With a newly-attack-minded Roberto Mancini at the helm they have swept most teams before them with a huge array of forward talent, from the creative genius of David Silva to the understated but equally important James Milner, to the huge cost and great goal-return of Kun Aguero.

    Will they spend in January?

    A key question, perhaps.

    City arguably only lack depth (and by depth I mean two genuine first team choices as they have in other areas of the field, as opposed to a first choice and then merely other options) in defence.

    Should they decide to splash out and land another player or two, it is hard to see them not having the momentum and ability to continue to break down teams and stride on to win their first ever Premier League title.

Russian Premier Continuing to Become One of Europe's Most Important Leagues

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    CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, Spartak Moscow and Rubin Kazan; the Russian Premier League has already seen plenty of it's sides make waves in European competitions over the past few years and 2012 will doubtless see the number of watchers the division pulls in continue to increase.

    With big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala on everyone's radar after their huge signing potential was displayed in 2011, the Russian league will likely now pull in even bigger viewing numbers from afar after the recent change to align the calender with the rest of the continent's main domestic leagues.

    Igor Akinfeev, Roberto Carlos, Seydou Doumbia, Keisuke Honda, Samuel Eto'o, Domenico Criscito, Bruno Alves, even Aiden McGeady—plenty of big name players already ply their trade in the top flight of Europe's largest country and plenty more will arrive during the coming year.

    For years already the Russian and Ukrainian domestic leagues have attracted South Americans, particularly Brazilians, to Europe on account of the good wages, possibility of continental football and low entry barriers such as work permit issues, and now plenty of mainland Europe's star names are being linked with moves to the biggest sides.

    With 12 matches of the campaign remaining once it starts up again in March, current league title holders Zenit once again lead the pack, but between CSKA (2nd) and Kuban Krasnodar (8th) only nine points separate the rest of the Champions League qualifying spots contenders.

    Russian football is fast-growing into one of Europe's most competitive and interesting leagues and will surely only continue along this trajectory in 2012.

Pep Guardiola to Leave FC Barcelona?

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    Having won six trophies in his first twelve months on the job as FC Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola could have retired already as one of the most successful ever coaches of the club.

    A La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble haul in his first season were joined by the Spanish Super Copa, European Super Cup and Club World Cup, all in 2009.

    2010 brought another League title and the ensuing Super Copa while in 2011 Barcelona clinched another league title and European Cup under Guardiola's stewardship—making it 10 trophies in three seasons.

    Since the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign Barcelona have again added the Super Copa, European Super Cup and Club World Cup to their trophy cabinet, making Guardiola the most successful ever Barcelona manager with 13 trophies in his three and a half years in charge—and he has only led the team in 16 competitions to date.

    Not a bad record.

    But is it all good and rosy for Barcelona?

    Well, since the 2009-10 season Guardiola has repeatedly only signed one-year contracts with the club, and has previously stated that his time with the club cannot go on indefinitely.

    He believes that a club and its players will tire of a manager, and vice-versa.

    Where will Barcelona look after Guardiola does leave?

    And if the summer of 2012 does indeed see Pep leave the Blaugrana, where will his next job be?

Brazilian Forward Neymar to Make His Move...but Where Will He End Up?

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    Brazilian wonderkid Neymar da Silva Santos Junior is arguably the hottest piece of transfer property available on the worldwide market right now.

    Available, that is, if you have anywhere between £20 and £40 million to spend, depending on which media outlet you care to believe, and are able to convince the charismatic youngster that your club is the best place for him to continue his career.

    Already with eight goals for the Brazilian national team to his name, Neymar has been strongly linked to either of Spain's giants Real Madrid or Barcelona, but there is still every possibility that he could follow in the footsteps of plenty of his forebears and move firstly to Italy, with both Milan sides credited with interest in any possible deal, while Chelsea of the English Premier League reportedly had a transfer turned down by the player himself last year.

    Pace, trickery, finishing ability and composure; Neymar has it all.

    And plenty more besides—diving, petulance, an ego the size of Marouane Fellaini's hair-do and the iron-clad self-centred belief that he is capable of the best and as a result deserves it.

    Whichever coach takes him away from current club Santos will have his work cut out to bring out the full potential of Neymar, but if they manage it they will also have one of the upcoming stars of the modern game.

Luis Enrique at A.S. Roma: Watch the Spanish Maestro Lead Them Back to Big Time

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    For one to watch in the dugout during the coming twelve months as opposed to on the pitch, try taking a look at AS Roma manager Luis Enrique Martinez Garcia, or merely Luis Enrique to you and me.

    Though he has had something of an inauspicious start to his career in Rome, the Spaniard has much going for him which should stand him in good stead—should he be allowed the time to implement his ideas, something which is not exactly afforded without reason in Serie A.

    Having led Barcelona 'B' to the second tier of Spanish football, and the play-offs for the top flight (which Barca Atletico could not compete in) Luis Enrique left for the Roma job and made Barcelona starlet Bojan Krkic one of his first signings.

    With other players such as Erik Lamela, Maarten Stekelenburg, Miralem Pjanic and club legend Francesco Totti at the club he certainly has the tools to put long-term success in place, and having followed in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona he is well-versed in what it takes to succeed at a demanding club.

Luis Suarez Can Guide Liverpool into the Champions League to Showcase Abilities

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    Approaching the one-year mark since Liverpool spent in excess of 25 million euro to prise Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez away from Ajax, nobody is doubting the wisdom and value of the move.

    One of the best performers in the Premier League over the past twelve months, Suarez has left many a defence bamboozled by his trickery, movement and close control.

    12 goals in his 34 Reds appearances thus far is not quite on the same standing as his strike record for Ajax, but the number of assists he also offers and his all-round game play is beyond reproach.

    Liverpool sit fifth in the table at the turn of the year, with only goal difference separating them from Chelsea in the final Champions League spot, though the Reds have played a game more.

    An appeal process has yet to be applied for with regards to an eight match ban handed to Suarez for allegedly racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United, but should the Reds be able to see through the period without their attacking talisman, especially if it is reduced, then they have a great chance of breaking back into the top four of the league for the first time in three seasons.

    "El Pistolero" could then take on Europe's premiere competition next season and leave them as grounded as most of the Premier League's defences have been.

    There is little doubt that he has the ability to make an impression on the Champions League—but first Liverpool need to win the battle to get there.

Paris-SG to Win Titles or Fire Coach Antoine Komb... Wait, Carlo Ancelotti?

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    Originally, this particular slide was intended to be about how manager Antoine Kombouare was a man under huge pressure, with huge expectations placed upon him, and how he needed to deliver trophies—or else be sacked in 2012.

    Paris Saint-Germain saved me the trouble of explaining those pressures by sacking him on December 30th, and immediately replacing him with Carlo Ancelotti, the former Chelsea and AC Milan boss.

    Since being taken over by Qatari owners keen to make a big impression on the European game, PSG have splashed out heavily on signings such as Javier Pastore for £37 million, a French record.

    Forward Kevin Gameiro, midfielders Momo Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi and winger Jeremy Menez also all joined as the club sought to return immediately to the top of French football.

    Kombouare managed that; PSG sit top of Ligue 1, three points clear of Montpellier at the half-way stage, but clearly that was not enough for the club's owners.

    Having signed a new deal with the French club, Ancelotti will be acutely aware of what is expected from him over the remainder of this season (staying top of the French league) and next (making an immediate impact in the Champions League).

    Time will tell if the owners were right to dismiss Kombouare when they did, and if their plans for making the club "a strong global brand" can come to anything with so many like-minded competitors on the continent these days.

The 2012 Olympic Games and Team GB

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    The decision has been taken and Stuart Pearce is the man who will lead Team GB in the Olympics in 2012.

    Under opposition from Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish footballing authorities, who do not want to compromise their own single status in international football, it seems that all British players will indeed be considered for selection for the Olympic Games next year and Pearce may well call upon them.

    Gareth Bale of Tottenham and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal have already indicated that they will be prepared to take part, both being Welsh, while veteran English midfielder David Beckham has long spoken of his desire to represent Team GB during the games.

    Pearce may select a squad of 18 players with a maximum age of 23, with the exception of three over-age players who may be called up.

    The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will all be eligible for inclusion—but will not play in the Olympics if they make the Euro 2012 squad.

River Plate: To Return or to Die?

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    Imagine Liverpool, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich got relegated one year.

    Imagine the horror and stunned look of dawning on the faces of the supporters as the final, final whistle blew in the match which sealed the fate of that side.

    That is what happened in Argentina in 2011, as River Plate, which claims over half the entire country's football allegiances, were relegated to the second division after years of off-the-field mismanagement and on-the-field underperformance.

    For the first time ever, River Plate, the most successful side in Argentina, would play in the National B division, in spite of the several safeguards against any big club getting relegated that are routinely—and not so routinely—employed in the country.

    Relegation in Argentina is determined not over one season's worth of football, but three; an average points tally is taken from the past three Apertura and Clausura competitions (six competitions in total) and River found themselves facing the drop.

    The powers that be intervened to the extent of suddenly introducing a play-off between River and the fourth-best side of the National B, but River also lost that two-legged match 3-1 on aggregate.

    Star players such as Erik Lamela, Leandro Caruso, Diego Buonanotte and Roberto Pereyra jumped ship, while former players Fernando Cavenaghi and Alejandro Dominguez rejoined to aid the return.

    2012 will see the beginnings of whether or not River Plate can rebuild their identity and their club, and get themselves back into the top flight of Argentinian football. After 18 games, the side currently sits 2nd in the league.

Football in China to Take on Higher Profile, but to Who's Detriment?

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    Following the news in December that Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka would be upping sticks and joining Chinese Super League outfit Shanghai Shenhua, rumours have circulated that plenty of others, including current team mate Didier Drogba, could be set to join him in helping to make that particular domestic league one of the world's superpowers.

    The new campaign gears up in March of 2012, running through to November, and teams are getting their big-name signings ready for action this winter.

    Shanghai Shenhua have already made moves and appointed a new head coach in the form of prominent Frenchman Jean Tigana, while Guangzhou Evergrande already brought in Brazilians Muriqui and Cleo for the season just finished, which they won the title for.

    The same side also have one of the world's highest-paid players in their ranks, Argentinian Dario Conca, who earns a reported 10.4 million US dollars per year—not bad for a player who has never made even a single appearance at International level.

    But with so much cash being thrown at imports to raise the quality of the game locally, and of course to chase trophies, will Chinese football on a wider scale really benefit?

    If the same amount of money was being thrown at the footballing infrastructure, at coaching elite managers and at youth football, you would perhaps say yes.

    But the indications are that such funds are only being directed towards player transfers and wages, while managers and/or head coaches continue to change with alarming frequency.

    More needs to be done at boardroom level—of both individual clubs and of the governing body of the country—before such a strategy will have a knock-on effect to the overall standard of the game in China, and in turn to Chinese international football.

Look Forward to the Expected Returns of Players Taken Ill

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    Football is a magnificent game to watch, and those who play it are rewarded in more than monetary terms.

    Their job, their day-to-day life, is of playing football.

    But on the odd occasion, all does not go as rosy and straight-forward as it perhaps aught to.

    2011 saw several top-flight footballers around the globe taken with ill health, with various ailments restricting the players to the extent that they have had to suspend their playing and training activities completely.

    Hopefully they will go on to make a full recovery in the coming year and return to doing what they surely like doing best—playing football.

    Selection of players currently unavailable for duty:

    Antonio Cassano, AC Milan. Cassano suffered a suspected stroke in November and had to have heart surgery to close a hole in the organ. He is expected to miss the rest of this season in recovery.

    Team-mate Gennaro Gattusso is also likely to miss the remainder of the season with a nerve problem affecting his eye.

    Gael Givet had heart surgery this month but could return for Blackburn Rovers as soon as their first fixture of 2012.

    Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher is fighting for his career entirely according to reports and is set for an extended spell away from football after suffering with an inflammatory bowel condition, ulcerative colitis.

2012, the Year of the Breakout Youngsters

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    Brek Shea, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rafa Alcantara, James Rodriguez, Lucas Rodrigues Moura—pick your youngster, and keep an eye on them.

    Some massive, massive talents are on the rise in the worldwide game and 2012 could well be the year we see a whole host of them take big steps towards cementing themselves as first team regulars.

    I suggest you take a look around B/R to find out more about any of the names if you don't know about them already; them and easily 20 other impressive youngsters.

Mexican Primera Division Football

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    Having already spoken about the rise of the Russian league, we now turn out attention to another exciting and upcoming league, this time from outside of Europe.

    The Mexican Primera Division might not be the first one you would think of as being a closely-fought and interesting domestic competition to follow, but it truly is.

    At the end of the first half of the season (the Apertura tournament), only six points separated the top eleven teams.

    Guadalajara Chivas ended the half-season top of the table, one point ahead of Cruz Azul.

    The Clausura kicks off the first week in January, running through to the end of April.

Qualifiers Ramp Up for World Cup 2014 in Brazil

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    The first qualifiers for the next edition of the FIFA World Cup, to be held in Brazil in 2014, took place this year—an incredible 31 months before the tournament proper kicks off.

    Congo, Namibia and Mozambique were amongst the victors in the first round of games which took place in the African section of qualifying.

    During 2012, further games in the same region will take place including games featuring the last hosts South Africa.

    The regions of Asia, North and Central America and the Caribbean, Oceania and South America also got underway in their respective qualifiers during 2011 with plenty more fixtures to come next year, while Europe, the last region to start the qualifying period, will begin their campaign in September after the European Championships take place next summer.

    The long road to World Cup glory will have well and truly kicked off in 2012.

International Youth Football in 2012

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    2011 was a rich year indeed for fans of youth football; the Under-17's World Cup was held in Mexico, as well as the Under-20's edition in Colombia, both of which are prime viewing for casting a watchful eye over the next generation of International superstars.

    2012 though will still play host to plenty of youth competitions which will bear watching.

    In Europe, while both the Under-19's and Under-17's tournament finals take place in 2013, the qualifiers will take place during 2012. Many top-flight players who are involved in and around their clubs' first team tend to get involved with the Under-19's side in particular.

    The Asian Under-19's Championships are to be played next year. The tournament itself acts as a qualifying campaign for the Under-20 World Cup which will be played in 2013, with four places in the 2013 World Cup up for grabs.

    Similarly, the Asian Under-16's tournament will take place in 2012.

    It's not just all the boys who get to partake in International tournaments though; the FIFA Women's Under-17's World Cup will be held in Azerbaijan in September and October of 2012, with young players hoping to emulate some of their heroes who featured in the Women's World Cup, played in Germany this year.

    In addition, the CONCACAF region (North, Central America and Caribbean) hosts the 2012 editions of the Under-20's and the Under-17's Women's Championships.

    Photo courtesy of

Oceania Nations Cup 2012

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    Not a tournament which might register with too many Northern-Hemisphere football followers, the OFC (Oceania zone) hosts the 2012 Nations Cup in Fiji in the summer, where holders New Zealand will be expected to comfortably romp to victory once more.

    The All-Whites have won three out of the last six editions and with Australia no longer participating, having moved to the Asian zone instead, there is no real challenger to stop New Zealand making it two-in-a-row.

    Along with New Zealand, Group B is comprised of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and hosts Fiji, while Group A will see Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Tahiti Nui and an as-yet unknown fourth side do battle.

David Beckham: PSG or LA Galaxy?

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    International mega star David Beckham finally got his hands on some silverware at the end of his contract with LA Galaxy in the MLS as his team won the MLS Cup with a win over Houston Dynamo, but is out of contract next month.

    Though Beckham himself has not given any firm indication of where he will be definitely signing and playing in 2012, most media outlets have speculated that should the midfielder decide against renewing with LA Galaxy, he will be moving to the newly-rich French outfit Paris Saint-Germain.

    Reports have varied from the move being 95% complete to being still undecided on, though any talk of Beckham returning to the Premier League with QPR or Tottenham was quickly quietened.

    The latest reports from the BBC in England have Becks leaning towards staying in the States.

    Two things are for sure; David Beckham believes himself still capable of playing at the top level and wants to feature for Team GB at the Olympic Games in 2012, and his new salary, whoever is paying it, will be astronomical.

FIFA Ballon D'Or and Further FIFA Awards

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    On the 9th January 2012, FIFA will make their presentations for the prestigious yearly awards such as the Ballon d'Or (Player of the Year), the Coach of the Year, the FIFPro World XI Select and other non on-field awards.

    The full list of finalists and previous winners of the two main awards are:

    Ballor d'Or

    Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi (previous winner Lionel Messi)

    Football Coach of the Year

    Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson (previous winner Jose Mourinho)

FIFA Goal of the Year Award: Lionel Messi, Neymar or Wayne Rooney?

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    We all love a great goal, whether a solo run, a sublime piece of skill or smashing volley.

    Obviously, providing it isn't against your own team.

    Well, those lovely blokes at FIFA hand out an award each year (the FIFA Puskas Award) to the best goal from the previous twelve months and it just so happens that they've picked one of each type for the final three, and you get to vote for the winner. Check out the goals now and make your pick, and the winner will be announced on January 9th.

    Which will be Neymar, obviously. Right?

An Important and Emotional Decision for the Football Association of Wales

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    On November 27th, British football received a huge shock with the news that former Newcastle and Leeds midfielder, and current Wales international team manager Gary Speed had been found hanged in his own home.

    Aged just 42, Speed had overseen the revitalisation of Welsh football and had potentially one of the most exciting and talented generations of players at his disposal to work with over the coming years including Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Joe Allen.

    Whilst Welsh football in particular was understandably grieving for a period of time, the Welsh FA acknowledge that in the new year they will have to begin making a decision as to who will replace Speed and lead the team through the qualifiers for the World Cup in 2014.

    National team coach Raymond Verheijen believes that he and fellow coach Osian Roberts should be left to continue the work the trio, along with Speed, began, though his comments drew criticism from some sections over their timing.

    Welsh legend Ryan Giggs has also been named by some as a potential successor who younger players would look up to.

The Manchester City / Carlos Tevez Saga Will Finally Come to an End

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    It is fair to say that Carlos Tevez's time in English football has not exactly been the norm.

    Signed by West Ham United under a part-ownership deal, whereby the London club did not fully own the rights to Tevez's contract, he initially floundered at a bottom-half club along with midfielder Javier Mascherano who arrived under similar conditions.

    Tevez was in and out of the side, before finally discovering his goal scoring touch and helping the Hammers to safety.

    He then left for Manchester United on, effectively, a two-year loan deal—but rejected the chance to sign for them permanently come the end of that spell.

    He cited "not wanting to join United's great rivals" as a reason for turning down a move to Liverpool—before promptly signing for near neighbours Manchester City instead.

    At Eastlands Stadium, as it was then, he was an instant hero, amassing an impressive goals tally and being handed the captains armband, revered by the supporters.

    But last summer it all changed.

    A breakdown of relations with manager Roberto Mancini resulted in Tevez losing the captaincy and creating a huge furore after he apparently refused to enter the field of play as a substitute in one match, prompting a club suspension, investigation and four-week fine (estimated to be around £800,000) which was later reduced to two weeks' upon intervention from the PFA.

    Currently up for sale and, presumably, still not even in the country to make himself available for selection, Tevez is anything but a City player now in all but name, and is merely awaiting a team prepared to take a risk on a player who will doubtless perform admirably before wanting to move somewhere else.

    Inter and AC Milan head the pack of suitors, though Real Madrid have also been mentioned as a possible new club.

    City do not want to loan the player out without the guarantee of a permanent transfer in the summer—meaning the January window may not necessarily see the exit of the Argentine forward.

The Premier League January Transfer Window

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    Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, come in, your time is up.

    English Premier League side Arsenal are almost certain to see both comings and goings in this season's winter transfer window, with possibly both those attackers set to depart the Emirates Stadium after a poor past twelve months.

    Legendary striker Thierry Henry, on the other hand, looks set to return to the club where he remains idolised with a two month loan spell.

    Through the rest of the Premier League teams will be looking to sign that player who could just help them avoid relegation, or qualify for Europe.

    Gary Cahill is seemingly set for a move from Bolton to Chelsea after the two clubs agreed a fee, despite the player hitting a desperate run of form this season, while Newcastle United will be looking for a central defender after seeing a move for forward Modibo Maiga fall through over fitness concerns.

    Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and probably every other side are also expected to make moves next month.

    Everton, meanwhile, will bring in USA playmaker Landon Donovan on loan.

New Year's Resolution: Pick a New League to Follow!

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    Many fans of football will, understandably, perhaps only watch the domestic league of the country they live in or the country in which their favoured team plays.

    Perfectly reasonable.

    But, goodness me, you are missing out on a whole host of footballing treats if you do so.

    Italian league too "tactical" for you? Try the German league. Outstanding technical level of football in many matches.

    Spanish domestic top division too predictable? How about then taking a look at the Russian league, where any one of eight top-half teams are still in with a shout of a Champions League spot come the end of the season?

    Or, if you already follow, or half-follow, most major leagues, why not take a stab at keeping an eye on one of the lesser lights of the game?

    The Romanian league has come a long way in the past decade, while closer to home for the UK readers, the Irish league is worth a look for up-and-coming youngsters.

    Shamrock Rovers' players will have done themselves no harm in the "shop window" of the Europa League this season.

    Trust me, football is a good thing all-round!


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