2010: The year Africa held its first World Cup

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 21:  In t...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
LONDON — The World Cup finally made it to Africa in 2010 and plans were made to send football's showpiece to even more new destinations.
After South Africa overcame dire predictions of security problems and half-empty stadiums to stage a World Cup that united the country in celebration, FIFA voted to give future tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
South Africa's first-round exit made it the least successful host team in World Cup history, but the rest of the country mostly coped admirably with its biggest global gathering since the end of a decades-long boycott by world sport.
Fans worldwide became intimately acquainted with the incessant buzz of the vuvuzela as South Africans celebrated the World Cup and the arrival of many of the superstars they had only ever seen before on television.
But on the field, the World Cup was far from a classic. Spain's 1-0 win over the Netherlands came in the dirtiest ever final, which was an appropriate end to a tournament that promised much but delivered little.
While Germany again thrilled neutrals to take third place for a second straight tournament, Brazil was dour. Italy and England were even worse, but France took the unofficial title of tournament laughing stock — so consumed by dissent that players refused to train before a 2-1 loss to South Africa that confirmed the team's humiliating first-round exit.
Diego Maradona's presence as coach inspired his beloved Argentina to some fitfully entertaining displays, with Lionel Messi doing everything except score, but Germany dismantled the South Americans 4-0 in the quarterfinals and Maradona was fired soon after.
The fervor of home fans was quelled when five of Africa's six entrants fell in the first round. Although Ghana then beat the United States 2-1 in a game watched by 19.4 million Americans — a U.S. record beaten when 24.3 million watched the final — the remaining enthusiasm turned to anger when a deliberate handball by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez denied their adopted team a winner in the last minute of the quarterfinals.
Suarez was suspended from Uruguay's first semifinal match since 1954, but FIFA refused calls for additional punishment for a cynical act that became one of the most memorable moments of the tournament.
Even Spain disappointed despite following West Germany and France to become only the third side to hold the World Cup and European Championship trophies at the same time.
This was far from the stylish Spain that dominated Euro 2008 and cruised through World Cup qualifying with 10 wins from 10 games.
The Spaniards lost their opening match to Switzerland in the tournament's biggest shock, before 1-0 wins in each of the four knockout rounds made them the lowest scoring world champions ever, with eight goals from seven matches.
A squad dominated by homegrown Barcelona stars waited patiently for its talent to yield a goal before trusting that its technical superiority would allow it to keep the ball and deny the opposition the chance to equalize.
It worked, even against a brutal display from the Netherlands in the final at Soccer City in Johannesburg. With the teams facing a penalty shootout, Andres Iniesta scored with four minutes of extra time left to clinch his country's first World Cup.
The Dutch were handed nine of the final's record 14 yellow cards and defender John Heitinga became only the fifth man to get a red card on football's biggest stage.
It was a huge anticlimax, especially after a clearly frail Nelson Mandela had turned up to wave to fans at the stadium in Soweto where 20 years earlier he had held his first mass rally following his release from jail.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque seemed to have tightened things up after Barcelona's shock defeat to Inter Milan in the semifinals of Europe's Champions League.
With Spain internationals Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Victor Valdes in its lineup, the defending champions dominated Inter with an astonishing 71 percent possession over two matches but left space on the counterattack to lose 3-2 on aggregate.
Inter's 3-1 win in the first leg owed much to the sort of precision and patience Spain would show at the World Cup, where Busquets and Xabi Alonso effectively mirrored Inter's defensive shield of Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso.
Inter and Germany were just about the only sides able to stop Messi during a year in which he made sure the repeated comparisons between him and Maradona — still Argentina's greatest ever player — ceased to become far-fetched.
Messi helped Barcelona retain the Spanish league and scored an incredible 58 club goals in 2010 to maintain his status as the world's best player, despite Cristiano Ronaldo's sparkling form for Real Madrid.
The dethroning of Barcelona — which by mid December of the following season was unbeaten in 22 matches and had scored 31 goals while conceding only one in the last seven of those — was simply the latest entry in Jose Mourinho's astounding career.
Mourinho led Inter to an unprecedented treble of Serie A title, Italian Cup and Champions League, with Bayern Munich beaten 2-0 in the final in Madrid.
Mourinho swiftly quit Inter — still with a record of not having lost a home league match with any team since February 2002 — and went to Real Madrid. After a strong start to the 2010-11 season, Madrid was rocked by November's 5-0 mauling at Barcelona but, with his track record, Mourinho could still end the season on a high.
Inter won December's Club World Cup to end 2010 with an Italian record five trophies in a calendar year. Inter beat TP Mazembe in the final after the African champion had shocked Copa Libertadores holder Internacional in the previous round, but that was a rare high point under Mourinho's successor Rafa Benitez.
Benitez's former club Liverpool was embroiled in a lengthy and convoluted dispute over its ownership that was only resolved when Britain's High Court forced American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. to sell up.
Liverpool remained in American hands as Boston Red Sox owners New England Sports Ventures bought the club, but the team was way behind England's elite on the field.
Officiating of the game continued to evolve as football's rule-making body agreed to reopen discussions on the use of goal-line technology after mistakes helped eliminate Mexico and England from the World Cup.
In Europe, UEFA expanded its experimental use of additional assistant referees into the Champions League.
But there could be more trouble ahead for FIFA after its decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and '22 edition to Qatar.
World football's ruling body said it was trying to spread the game into new territory by giving the tournament to Europe's largest country and then the Middle East, but the move was overshadowed by allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency in FIFA.
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