There were so many moments over the course of the English Premier League season where one was tempted to say, “There. That’s it. They’ve got it now. Done and dusted.”

There was Manchester City’s loss to Swansea in early March, and the defeat at Arsenal a few weeks later when Mario Balotelli was sent off and handed a three-match ban. For a time it looked as though Manchester United, who cruised to the top of the table in early spring, would be crowned champions with several games to spare.

But the Red Devils had their moments as well. The 1-0 loss to Wigan seemed to shift momentum back to their “noisy neighbours”; a 4-4 draw at home to Everton allowed City back in the race for good. Then there was the Manchester derby late last month that City deservedly won through a Vincent Kompany header.

All that said, the campaign didn’t make its truly decisive turn until second-half stoppage time in the season’s final round of matches. A nine-month schedule, packed with twists and turns and hints of crucial incidents, contested until, quite literally, its final seconds. Who could wish for more than that?

At the end of it all Manchester City were quite rightfully presented the Premier League trophy for the first time in 44 years. It was theirs to losing coming into the final day, and while they very nearly came up short their performance under the pressure was admirable. Panic did not set in; the correct substitutions were made at important times.

And, so true to their recent history, they seemed incapable of doing it the easy way. Yaya Toure’s loss to a hamstring injury set the tone on what was to be an odd day of football, but even after that set-back and the shipping of two weak goals they didn’t collapse under the weight of what they had set themselves up for all season.

United remembers the late heroics of Sheringham and Solskjaer in the 1999 Champions League final, and in a similar light City will look back on the strikes of Dzeko and Aguero that turned an improbable defeat into deserving victory.

Aguero’s goal, in the fourth minute past the 90, was the moment of the season.


Villarreal relegated on final day

Just nine months after playing Champions League football Villarreal have been relegated to the Segunda on a dramatic final day in La Liga.

Coming into Sunday’s matches the Yellow Submarine were in 16th place and would have been safe with either a win or wobbles from one of Real Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano. Zaragoza were involved in the wildest match of the day and beat eight-man Getafe 2-0 thanks to goals from Apono and Helder Postiga, and Vallecano’s Raul Tamudo scored in second-half stoppage time to give his side a vital win over Granada.

Villarreal, meanwhile, conceded to Atletico Madrid in the 87th minute at El Madrigal and, in an instant, dropped into the relegation places. Hampered by injuries this season (each of Marcos Senna Giuseppe Rossi, Nilmar, Cani, Christian Zapata and Marco Ruben missed significant time) Villarreal never really found their rhythm, and a run of one win from six matches to close out the schedule sealed their fate.


Italy boss Prandelli names preliminary squad for Euro 2012

Cesare Prandelli called up a group of 32 players, Sunday, in preparation for next month’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine. The Italy manager will have to trim nine players from the list by the May 28 deadline, but his final squad will likely contain elements of both the old and the new.

Of the old guard, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be key players for Italy at Euro 2012, and Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale is likely to make the final roster as well. Mario Balotelli, meanwhile, headlines a faction of young internationals that also includes Roma forward Fabio Borini, Siena forward Mattia Destro (on loan from Genoa), Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia, Torino defender Angelo Ogbonna and Pescara midfielder Marco Verratti.

Ogbonna and Verratti are the only players in the preliminary squad to be plying their trades in Serie B, while only six players in total come from outside Serie A. Juventus are the leading provider of players with seven.

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon, Morgan De Sanctis, Salvatore Sirigu, Emiliano Viviano

Defenders: Ignazio Abate, Danilo Astori, Federico Balzaretti, Andrea Barzagli, Salvatore Bocchetti, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito, Christian Maggio, Angelo Ogbonna, Andrea Ranocchia

Midfielders: Luca Cigarini, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Diamanti, Emanuele Giaccherini, Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo, Thiago Motta, Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Pirlo, Ezequiel Schelotto, Marco Verratti

Forwards: Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Antonio Cassano, Mattia Destro, Antonio Di Natale, Sebastian Giovinco

The Republic of Ireland are so far the only side to have named a final 23-man squad for Euro 2012. Poland, Greece, Russia, The Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Ukraine and France have named preliminary squads.

Czech Republic, Portugal and Sweden will name preliminary squads on Monday, and Spain will follow on Tuesday. Denmark and England will be the final nations to name an initial group of players when they make their announcements on Wednesday.

Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer