Yearender Soccer: Glory for Spain and Lionel Messi but problems never far away
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Among his 90 goals were 12 for his country including hat-tricks against Switzerland and Brazil as he equalled former striker Gabriel Batistuta's Argentina record tally in a calendar year.
And while the likes of Spain and Messi - and his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo - can delight and inspire, soccer can also cause untold suffering as events in Egypt and the Netherlands proved.
One of soccer's worst tragedies happened on Feb. 1 in Port Said, when more than 70 Egyptian fans died following a riot at a league match between Al-Masry of Port Said and Al-Ahly of Cairo with many supporters, police and other officials knifed to death.
The riot was underpinned by extreme political tensions following the recent upheavals in the country and led to the Egyptian League being suspended.
More than 33,000 amateur games were also cancelled in the Netherlands this month following the death of a linesman who was beaten up and killed after giving a decision in a junior match.
Another bleak problem is the rise of overt racism, most notably in eastern Europe, where Serbia's already tarnished reputation was further besmirched by racial chants in an Under-21 match against England.
UEFA's subsequent punishment against Serbia - a 80,000 euros($106,400) fine - less than they fined Danish striker Niklas Bendtner for showing a logo on his underpants at Euro 2012 - was widely condemned as being too lenient and racism is one problem UEFA still has to resolve.
The year's other big tournaments ended in a win for Zambia in January's African Nations Cup and gold medals for Mexico, shock winners over Brazil, and the United States women's team at the London Olympics.
While Real Madrid recaptured the title in Spain, mega-rich Manchester City ended an even longer wait in England, winning a thrilling Premier League title race with a victory secured in the final seconds of the final match to become champions for the first time in 44 years. City's Abu Dhabi owners have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the club, a model being followed by the Qatari backers of Paris St Germain, with the French side now regarded as the wealthiest in the world despite losing the Ligue 1 title last term to modest Montpellier.
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