- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

What a year it has been in soccer — the year of the wink, the dive and the head-butt.

Outgoing 2006 was the year Germany held the World Cup but saw the inspired Italians spoil the party and win their fourth title.

The New England Revolution blew their third MLS Cup final, losing once again 1-0, only this time to the Houston Dynamo.

The U.S. men’s team went from fifth in the world rankings to 31st.

Kristine Lilly was named the MVP of three national tournaments but was overlooked for the FIFA Women’s World Player award.

David Beckham scored from a brilliant free kick against Ecuador to put England into the World Cup quarterfinals. But his team exited another major tournament for the fifth time following a penalty shootout, this time against Portugal. Beckham then relinquished his captain’s duties in tears and later in the year was dropped from the roster.

It was the year coach Bruce Arena got fired by the U.S. national team following its early exit from the World Cup. Arena, who had coached the U.S. team for eight years, took the reigns for the New York Red Bulls, who haven’t won a title in the team’s 11-year history.

Freddy Adu had a tryout with Manchester United and found out that his name may be bigger than his game. Adu left the team with no contract and saw his three-year stint with D.C. United end with a trade to Real Salt Lake. And he wasn’t invited to the U.S. team’s training camp by interim coach Bob Bradley.

It was the year that Brazilian ace Ronaldinho led Spanish club Barcelona to win the European Champions League but couldn’t do the same with Brazil at the World Cup. With Ronaldinho looking tired in Germany, Brazil fell to the French, led by the Zinedine Zidane, in the quarterfinals.

Christian Gomez won the MLS MVP award after notching 14 goals and 11 assists for D.C. United. A year earlier, the Argentine midfielder had ended the 2005 season with a red card after spiting in the face of a Chicago Fire defender.

It was the year of the brilliant documentary “Once in A Lifetime: the Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.”

It was the year that Alex Ferguson celebrated 20 years as coach of Manchester United, while the average English Premier League coach survives 366 days.

Star-studded Real Madrid — a team featuring David Beckham, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Robinho, Guti and Luis Figo — still could find no success, ending another season without a championship

FIFA’s Swiss boss Sepp Blatter, failed to present the World Cup trophy to Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro. Rumor has it that Blatter was so upset over Zidane’s actions and the French loss that he refused to present the trophy to the Italians who were playing under the shadow a match-fixing scandal back home.

English ace Alan Shearer hung up his cleats after 379 club goals.

And 2006 was the year of the dive. The camera captured so many attempts by players at the World Cup to win calls with their theatrical antics. Brazil’s Lucio and France’s Thierry Henry were all culprits of diving to win calls, but the worst offender may have been Italy’s Fabio Grosso, who took a dive in the box in the dying seconds against Australia in the round of 16 to earn the penalty kick that Francesco Totti converted to doom the Socceroos.

It was the year of the wink, when Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo may have had an influence in getting England’s Wayne Rooney red-carded in the quarterfinals clash. Ronaldo notified his bench of his efforts with a wink as if to say “look what I did guys,” as Rooney marched off the field.

But most of all, 2006 was the year of the head-butt. On a warm summer night in Berlin, Zidane, playing in the last game of his career, put on a wonderful display for France, only to ruin it with a moment of madness. Talk about going out in style with half the planet watching. Zidane’s head-butt on Italian player Marco Materazzi was symbolic of a game, which can be the most beautiful to watch, yet at times can also produce the most disturbing images.

Let’s hope for a better 2007.

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