10 Sleeper Soccer Teams That Will Explode in 2012
The new year is almost upon us, and once again looking ahead to the future is catching all of us in its net.
We all can hope that the clubs we hold so close to our hearts are the ones that make the best and brightest contribution to the campaign, and their silverware cabinet, this season.
While some club names may appear big on this list, these are no doubt teams that could explode in the months ahead in the second half of the 2011-12 season and the start of the 2012-13.
You may have only recently heard of Cyprus-based APOEL Football Club (Athletikos Podosferikos Omilos Ellinon Lefkosias or Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia), but the current champions of the Cypriot First Division won Group G of the UEFA Champions League earlier this month.
They did so ahead of Zenit St Petersburg, while dumping Reigning UEFA Europa League champs FC Porto and Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk out of the competition.
With 21 Cypriot Championships, 19 Cypriot Cups and 12 LTV Super Cups, they are the most decorated team in Cyprus' history after 85 years. However, their history in Europe was relatively limited except for several defining moments.
In 1963 they became the first Hellenic club to advance in a UEFA competition only to be handed a 16-1 defeat in the second round of the Cup Winners Cup by Sporting Lisbon. A forced withdrawal from the 1986-87 European Cup after being prohibited from playing against a Turkish side by the Cypriot government, as they were drawn against Besiktas, saw them banned from Europe for two seasons.
Their recent time in the Champions League has seen them in the group stages twice. The first time was in 2009-10 where they were eliminated with only three points in a group with Chelsea, FC Porto and Atletico Madrid, who finished in that order ahead of them.
Only two years later, they see themselves in a position to possibly advance to the quarterfinal round of UEFA's biggest competition, and if they were to do so they could parlay their success into great signings and start to grow their club even further in Cyprus and in Europe.
Borussia Mönchengladbach were the golden club of German Football in the 1970s when they won five Bundesliga titles.
That time period also saw them win two UEFA Cups while being runners-up to two others, as well as runners-up to the 1977 European Cup.
The Foals continue to remain close to the top of the table in the Bundesliga, and they could have a chance of blazing a path to the top of the league in 2012 as a surprise club of the season.
If anything, they should have a great chance for at least European qualification for the first time since they returned from the second division in 2008-09.
The real wild card will be if they can keep their lineup in one piece as a top-four finish is sure to see many players, including Marco Reus, set for major moves over the summer.
While the English Premier League side Manchester City may not be thought of as a sleeper, there is more of a chance that they are sleeping giants than a guaranteed success.
City has not won a league title since 1967-68, which was their first since 1936-37. Outside of that, their most recent trophy was the 2011 FA Cup victory over Stoke City in May of this year. Before that, the last piece of silverware was the 1976 League Cup.
However, this season, despite being unceremoniously dumped out of the UEFA Champions League, the Citizens still have a chance to win four total trophies in the first half of the new year.
The English League Cup, English FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and the coveted English Premier League title are all within striking distance, but the Citizens are still unproven. If they can compete on all four fronts and come away with multiple pieces of silverware, they will finally be elevated from hopefuls to legitimate yearly contenders.
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has been the lovable underdog and underachiever of the UEFA community for years. Only in the last 25 years have they started being competitive enough to make some competitions.
With three qualifications for the World Cup in 1990, 1994 and 2002, they reached the quarterfinals in 1990 and the Round of 16 in the last two. The controversy over their non-qualification for 2010 has been such a hot topic, I won't even go into it.
Their European Championship history has recently taken a turn for the interesting as they qualified for the 2012 Euros for only the second time after making it to just the group stage in 1988 before.
However, while their group in Ukraine and Poland is against the World Champions and defending European Champions Spain, plus 2006 World Cup Champions and one-time European Champions Italy and Croatia, the "Boys in Green" have a chance to advance if they can pull off a victory against Croatia and possibly draw or beat Italy.
Seeing the Emerald Isle in the the quarterfinals would be a feel-good story for the ages.
In the last 10 years of the Spanish La Liga, only one team has been able to displace Real Madrid and Barcelona from the top of the table. That was the 2001-02 and 2003-04 Valencia sides of Rafael Benitez.
The Spanish tactician later moved on to Liverpool, winning the 2005 UEFA Champions League that has, at times, overshadowed his success in La Liga.
However, Valencia are sitting in third place of La Liga and while they may be seven points behind, there are still 22 games left in the season and plenty of time to make up that kind of deficit.
More importantly, Los Che continue to be on a roll and already stole a point from Barcelona in a 2-2 draw in their first match of the season. Real Madrid won 3-2 in their first meeting, but that is their only loss in their last 11 matches.
If there is one club that has a chance to make a run for a surprise title bid, it is Valencia.
The biggest story with Liverpool for 2012 is that they are a sleeper club that has depth in the squad, but can they add more depth in quality in January?
There is no doubt that they have the ability to play with the best in the English League as they have held both of the League's top two clubs, Manchester City and Manchester Untied, to draws and beat Arsenal while they were in early season transition.
However, losses to Tottenham, Fulham, Stoke City and multiple draws against teams in the bottom five make them a sleeper. If they finally get their formula right and their shots on target, they could be a major player in the calendar year of 2012, as they still have a chance for a domestic cup double between the Carling Cup and English FA Cup.
Inter Milan will be glad of their 2011 results as the first half ended well with a second-place league finish and an Italian Cup victory.
But their less-than-stellar start to the 2011-12 season has seen them become underdogs who need to come back into the league, but they are making progress.
The appointment of former AS Roma boss Claudio Ranieri has seen them win 11 and draw two of the 18 matches he has presided over and has lifted them to fifth place in the Serie A with advancement to the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Although recent years had seen Inter as perennial favorites, the loss of Samuel Eto'o and the drop in form of many once-strong first team players has made them a sleeper who must make a resurgence in 2012.
Spanish La Liga side Malaga CF are slowly assembling a team to compete for the European places of their national top flight.
The addition of Spanish national team player Santi Cazorla, Dutch legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Netherlands defender Joris Mathijsen, Joaquin and Isco from Valencia, as well as former Lyon midfielder Jeremy Toulalan and Sergio Sanchez Ortega from Sevilla has seen them once again increase their depth and skill.
Under the leadership of former Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini, they have been on the rise and currently sit in seventh place. If they make more shrewd signings in January, they could finish in the top five of Spain and head into the UEFA Europa League.
Russian Premier League side Anzhi Makhachkala are the next big thing expected to come out of the country.
Their major money investment to lure Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan and the signing of Yuir Zhirkov and Roberto Carlos, among others, earlier in 2011 also helped to put the upstart billionaire-backed club on the radar.
January is expected to see them dip into their pockets once again as they continue to keep putting together as powerful a veteran club as money can buy.
The year 2012 will see them with their first full season in the Russian Premier League with Samuel Eto'o leading the line, and it is expected to be their best season in their history.
Paris Saint Germain
It has been since 1994 that Paris Saint Germain were Ligue 1 Oranje winners in France, and even as current table toppers they still have much room to improve.
PSG should explode throughout the year of 2012 as long as the team continues to play well. They may be a little out of practice for a league title race, but they won the 2004, 2006 and 2010 French Cup, which proves they can win with expectations on their back.
However, a title race is not something that the majority of the current roster is used to, at least not as the leaders of one, and hopefully that does not cause them to falter as there is a chance that they can finally rise back to the top.
While these are just 10 of the teams that will likely explode in the 2012 season, I know that there are more that were missed.
If you have a sleeper team out there, give us a shout about them in the comments section.