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Football Whispers

ESPN FC's Moments of the Year

It has been an interesting time in the football world during 2012. With a lot of negative headlines around over the past 12 months, the ESPN FC team have looked to lighten the mood and have picked out their favourite moments of the year.

• Jon Carter

Nowadays, it's rare for Arsenal to comfortably beat close rivals Tottenham - let alone hammer them twice in one year. In 2012, though, the Gunners won two of the most memorable North London derbies 5-2, in a topsy-turvy 12 months that had threatened to sway the dominance of the rivalry from red to white.

In both games, Arsenal came from behind. The first, in February, saw Tottenham throw away a two-goal lead to concede five at their rivals' home for the first time since 1934, and Bacary Sagna's powerful header put Arsene Wenger's men on their way to the comeback. Such a display of committment and passion to win the ball and direct it into the net is rare at the Emirates, where there isn't much aerial supremacy to speak of, and Sagna's effort raised the bar.

The other four goals (inspired by 'he who shall not be named') came at a canter, and it was all the more impressive given that Arsenal had been beaten 4-0 at AC Milan 11 days previously.

By the time the two sides met again in November, Arsenal were in the midst of another 'crisis'. Again, they went behind - and they were looking shaky until a moment of madness from one of their old boys.

This time, the Gunners had Emmanuel Adebayor to thank as he was sent off for a studs-up tackle on Santi Cazorla. Against ten men, the home side ran riot and all four of their main summer signings - Per Mertesacker, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Cazorla - got on the scoresheet to ensure that, even if it wasn't a glowing 2012, they could still claim the North London bragging rights.

• Tony Mabert

Tottenham travelled to Manchester United in September with an appalling record at Old Trafford. The last time they won a game in any competition there, current Spurs head coach Andre Villas-Boas was 12 years old.

As if to highlight how much of a rarity that 1989 win was, renowned goal-poacher Gary Lineker scored the game's only goal with an untypical effort from the edge of the box.

Villas-Boas had got off to an unconvincing start at Spurs, and the prospect of the annual embarrassment at the hands of United - in the evening's live televised fixture to boot - was not being savoured by many around White Hart Lane.

Even when Spurs went in at half-time 2-0 up, memories of many Tottenham capitulations to United remained fresh in the mind.

The nightmare looked as though it would be revisited during a madcap three-minute spell early in the second half when Nani and Shinji Kagawa scored either side of Clint Dempsey netting what proved to be the winner with the sort of tap-in that was once Lineker's stock in trade.

Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick both hit the post as Spurs clung on to their lead, and the final whistle sparked a delirious celebration from Villas-Boas which is sure to become one of the defining images of his Tottenham tenure.

• James Dall

There is a photo of PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in which it seems he is excited in the shorts department. Similar pangs might have been felt by onlookers in November when, wearing the yellow of Sweden, Ibrahimovic struck the goal of 2012.

Against England - and a ropey Joe Hart, who can at least claim an assist - Ibrahimovic had the audacity to score with an overhead kick from outside the penalty area, looping the ball over goalkeeper and defenders with all the arrogance of a cook who serves food he knows is going to knock your socks off.

He whipped off his shirt - but kept his shorts on - and was congratulated by his team-mates, who reacted to the goal with awe.

The strike was Ibrahimovic's fourth of a game that marked the opening of his nation's new stadium. All hail Zlatan. And to think we were so nearly denied this moment of brilliance by the hanging boot of Ryan Shawcross.

• Dale Johnson

After 13 years of constant disappointment and pain, success doesn't come easily to Sheffield Wednesday fans. The events of one day in April 2012 will never be forgotten by a couple of thousand hardy fans crammed into the away end at Brentford, and into the area's public houses after the match.

It wasn't just about the win over the Bees, when Miguel Llera's stooping heading provided a 2-1 scoreline that sent Wednesday above arch-rivals Sheffield United into second place in League One. Just as important were the events at United's Bramall Lane, which were broadcast live on television straight after the full-time whistle at Griffin Park.

The Blades fell two goals behind to Stevenage and, while they fought back to draw, a winner was beyond them. It meant, against all the odds after a run under Dave Jones which had seen the club pick up 29 points from a possible 33, Wednesday went into the last game of the season ahead of United and in pole position for promotion.

The final whistle in the United game brought scenes of elation, relief, astonishment, celebration and disbelief at what had been achieved that day. The locals in the Lord Nelson must have thought we'd all won the lottery. In some ways, we had.

• Mark Lomas

I feared for my life when taking an overnight taxi from Kiev to Kharkiv with seven Netherlands fans and an ex-Ukrainian Mafioso, sipped vodka with locals talking up Vitali Klitschko's political prowess, watched a biblical deluge in Donetsk and sang songs with Sweden supporters outside the Olympic Stadium.

Euro 2012, my first-ever experience of reporting on a major tournament, will live long in the memory. It was a wonderful festival and a real privilege to be able to watch Ukraine and its people thrive on the responsibility of hosting the finals.

One moment that particularly stands out happened before my first game - Netherlands vs Germany - when tens of thousands of Dutchmen and women marched from Kharkiv city centre to the Metallist Stadium in a vibrant sea of Oranje. It was football support at its finest - colourful, noisy and good-humoured - and, despite my obvious journalistic neutrality, I desperately wanted Netherlands to do well to reward that passion.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be as Bert van Marwijk's side crashed out, winless, but the Dutch fans maintained their volume, and their integrity, throughout their time in Ukraine.

• Robin Hackett

The finest moment of 2012, from a personal perspective, was Nottingham Forest's extraordinary 7-3 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road in March.

The season had been an abject disaster: the Steve McClaren experiment had failed dismally, leading to the departure of both the manager and chairman Nigel Doughty.

The hostility shown towards Doughty, one of football's more benevolent owners, appeared all the more unsavoury when he was discovered dead at his home at the start of February.

That had come shortly after a spell in which Forest had failed to score in nine of their 11 most recent games and appeared to be facing a losing battle to avoid the drop.

The Leeds match came after an injury-time defeat to arch-rivals Derby, played out in the most unpleasant of atmospheres, and there was little reason to expect success. I had been present for Forest's previous visit to Elland Road, when Leeds emerged with a 4-1 win, and the teams' encounter at the City Ground the previous November had resulted in a 4-0 victory for the Whites.

What unfolded was truly remarkable as Leeds conceded seven goals at home for the first time in their history. Forest had been 2-1 up at the break, and finally took control after five goals - two for the hosts, three for the visitors - in a bizarre opening 15 minutes to the second half, Garath McCleary proving the hero as he ended the game with four goals.

Forest continued to accumulate points in the weeks that followed and ultimately - courtesy of Portsmouth's penalty for re-entering administration - finished ten points clear of the drop zone.

• Michael Wade

As a game, it pretty much had the lot - a night of pure sporting theatre culminating in one of the great comebacks in football history.

Reading stormed into an unexpected 4-0 lead inside 37 minutes against a much-changed Arsenal side, and looked to have comfortably secured their place in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals before Theo Walcott's strike on the stroke of half-time made it 4-1 and gave Arsene Wenger's team the tiniest hint of hope that a comeback might be possible.

But what followed was totally unexpected - 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 5-5, 5-6, 5-7. Twelve goals in total, including a hat-trick for Theo Walcott, a rare double for Marouane Chamakh and an experience that was a first for many stunned onlookers on and off the pitch, including Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud, who threw their shirts to the Arsenal supporters at the end of 90 minutes only to have to retrieve them when informed that extra-time was to be played.

Afterwards, dejected Reading manager Brian McDermott was left to look back on an "extraordinary" game, describing it as "the worst defeat of my career." Wenger called his side's comeback a "miracle" and said: "It's my first 7-5. It was a tennis score."


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