Best of 2012: World team of the year

Each year, the staff of takes time to reflect on the past twelve months. This is the first in a series of pieces which will continue all week and culminate in our naming of the American Player of the Year. From all of us, happy holidays and best wishes for 2013. – JAMIE TRECKER


Is there a better team in world football? Back to back European Champions, World Cup title-holders and favorites for a repeat in Brazil in 2014, this Spain side is the best national team since Pele’s ‘golden boys’ of Brazil.

Not many national teams can compete with or exceed the best in the club game, but this super-squad is a truly special bunch. Just look down the list: Xavi. Andres Iniesta. Juan Mata. Iker Casillas. Carles Puyol. Cesc Fabregas. Xabi Alonso – this is a team with such a wealth of talent that it is possible to argue that they boast the best players in the world at nearly every position. (The exceptions, of course would be Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, players who have been made even better by their stints in Spain.)

The remarkable thing about Spain is that they don’t seem to be slowing down. One would think that a team made up by more than half of Barcelona, a significant part of Real Madrid, and arguably the most important players on both Manchester City and Chelsea, would be run into the ground. Instead, Spain seem tireless, passing their way around opponents at will and into history. – JT



The German Bundesliga remains inexplicably out of vogue outside of its own borders – where it is the world’s best-attended soccer league – but that shouldn’t distract anybody from the continental performances Bayern Munich have turned in over the past 12 months.

One of the deepest and most entertaining teams on the planet had little trouble pushing into the Champions League final on its own turf in May – its semifinals with Real Madrid which went to penalties excepted – before losing to Chelsea on a late flukey goal and more penalty kicks. This year, Bayern cruised to the top of Group F without breaking a sweat.

Bayern have opened up a nine-point lead in the Bundesliga at press time and it is they – rather than Barcelona, Real Madrid or Chelsea – who have been the best team in the world’s best league this year. – Leander Schaerlaeckens


It feels odd to say this given how things have gone since, but Chelsea deserve a nod. Their bloody-mindedness in ignoring all expectations and reputations to beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the sense that as one they’d said, "Look, this is our last chance; let’s not muck this one up," was magnificent. – Jonathan Wilson

It was hard not to feel sorry for the residents of Munich last May, a town that was all prepared to celebrate a European Cup on home soil, only to have it snatched away. Remarkably, it was also hard not to feel a twinge of cheer for the Blues, who had done the unthinkable under Roberto Di Matteo. Thanks to the resilience and power of Didier Drogba and the charm of a manager Chelsea’s owner seemed to barely tolerate, Chelsea actually became lovable. – JT


Dortmund made it back-to-back Bundesliga titles, a feat they last achieved in 1996 and, just as in 1997, now look capable of winning the Champions League after topping the Group of Death and playing the best football in the competition so far. – Jorge Mondaca


Juventus’ invincibles have to get a sniff: they won their first title since the Calciopoli scandal and remained unbeaten for 49 games in the league — just as Arsenal did in 2004. – James Horncastle


Spain is the best team of this generation after its Euro 2012 triumph, without doubt. Mexico, however, might just place itself in contention to vie for that title when the Iberian magicians finally cede the throne. Luis Tena guided this budding group of hopefuls through the Olympic tournament and secured the title with a 2-1 victory over mighty Brazil. The transition from youth success to international dominance isn’t an easy one. A gold medal makes the first step in that long road a bit easier to take. – Kyle McCarthy