Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.
— Bill Shankly
It has been another busy year in the world of football and 2016 played host to some unforgettable moments. It was a year where the two footballing super-continents played out their international championships, the excitement of the summer olympics took centre stage once again and the national leagues across the globe provided the consistent backdrop.
Looking back on the footballing year that was, I thought I'd share my best moments of 2016 for a bit of fun and to highlight just what an exciting year it was for the world game. Some of my top picks are obvious, but I've also included some others that really stood out in my mind.
For those of you as enthralled in the beautiful game as I am and those simply interested to learn more, I hope you enjoy the read as we remember the year in football that was 2016.
Iceland inspire at the Euros
Every now and then a team comes along at a major tournament that inspires the billions of viewers across the globe. This can be a super power, but often also includes unlikely hero's from lesser known footballing countries. Think back to Cameroon at Italia '90, the FIFA World Cup Tournament held in Italy in 1990. Who could ever forget the Roger Milla dance as Cameron went on an inspirational run in the competition?
At the European Championships (Euro) 2016 in France, that team was Iceland. First simply qualifying and then progressing further in the tournament than anyone had expected, Iceland's astonishing run to the Quarter-Finals was unforgettable. Among a host of top nations in qualifying and in previous rounds, they knocked out a star-studded English side in the major upset of the Euros, finally losing to host France. But their achievements were nearly overshadowed by their incredible supporters. The Icelandic followers, a passionate concentration of their minuscule population of approx. 330,000, started the 'Icelandic Clap' which captivated the competitions global audience and media. Iceland were a true highlight of the competition.
CR7 inspires Portugal to Euros
Sticking to Euro 2016, the eventual winners Portugal recorded their first ever victory at a major tournament despite their illustrious footballing pedigree. Appearing at numerous FIFA World Cup and European Cup tournaments and producing a host of outstanding footballers throughout their rich footballing history, Portugal had been labelled serial underachievers. At the World Cup in 1966, Eusébio (the Black Pearl) was a superstar in world football, as Portugal looked the likely winners, but they were upset in the final by hosts England. They've had many other big names including Rui Costa, Deco and Luis Figo, but success had eluded them.
In 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo (now branded CR7) brought euphoria to the proud nation as he captained and led his country to their first ever major tournament success. Not necessarily playing the most attractive football, Portugal were highly effective in 2016. Inspired by the words, talent and leadership of CR7, the world's highest rated player and holder of the prestigious Ballon D'Ore finally delivered Portugal their first taste of international success and the celebrations in Lisbon were out of this world!
Chile stay hot to win Copa América
Across the other side of the globe, we were treated to another super-continent tournament as the nations of South America battled in out for the right to claimed champions of the Americas. This was a special edition of the tournament in celebration of 100 years of history, being played in between the usual four-year cycle.
Copa América Centenario 2016 was played in United States, the first time ever outside of South America. Chile won the tournament with an exciting and attacking brand of football, becoming only the fourth nation to win at least two consecutive Copa América titles. In doing so, they joined the region's elite Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, etching their current stars' names into Chilean football history including current superstars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.
Argentina, captained by arguably the world's best player Lionel Messi, meanwhile, lost their third consecutive final in a major tournament.
Leicester City FC win the English Premier League
In 2016 one of the most memorable footballing fairytales unravelled as Leicester City FC, a relative minnow in English Football, won the elusive English Premier League (EPL) title.
The EPL, boasting huge financial backing through outrageous television and sponsorship deals, is undoubtedly the most popular and competitive football league competition in the world. It is typically dominated by ultra-wealthy clubs, but in 2016 Leicester City FC proved that with the right philosophy and application, anything is possible.
Previously unknown players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy became household names across the globe, as their free-flowing yet disciplined counter-attacking football took the league and all rivals, by storm.
Their charismatic Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, was experienced but had previously had to settle for bridesmaid in leagues across Europe. He provided the perfect final scene to capture an unforgettable achievement as as he stood beside Andrea Bocelli singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the King Power Stadium. A dream had turned into a reality and what a ride it was for everyone to watch unfold. (Interested in the full story? Read my detailed article here)
Brazil finally win olympic gold at home
Following the pain of being humiliated by Germany on their own home soil at the FIFA World Cup 2014, the football-crazy nation of Brazil truly needed a shot in the arm. Widely regarded as the greatest football nation in the world and winners of the FIFA World Cup an unprecedented 5 times, Brazil expect to win every tournament they enter. Full stop.
Following their poor showing as hosts in 2014 and in a string of major tournaments, their dominance in the global game was being questioned. Led by attacking superstar Neymar, one of their nominated over-aged players in an strictly Under-20's event, Brazil cruised to the final of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, again on their own home turf. Having won nearly every major men's and women's football tournaments there is to win, Olympic gold had eluded them. In 2016, Brazil finally broke the curse, as their captain and saviour Neymar struck the winning penalty, handing them victory over Germany on penalties at Rio's Maracana stadium.
Brazil had finally claimed a first ever Olympic football gold medal and gained sweet revenge over Germany who caused them so much pain in the same stadium just two years earlier.
Chapecoense awarded Copa Sudamericana
2016 ended with a truly tragic footballing event, but the response was both emotional and inspiring. Little known Brazilian side Chapecoense (known as Chape) had embarked on a fairytale run to the final of Latin America's number two club tournament, the Copa Sudamericana.
En route to play the first of two final matches against Colombian club Atletico Nacional, nineteen of Chapecoense's players were killed in a tragic plane crash just outside Medellin, Colombia. The world was deeply saddened by the shock of the news, as the football community began mourning the loss of lives and supporting the many family, friends and fans left devastated.
In what proved to be a truly inspiring gesture from the opposing team (Atletico Nacional of Colombia), Chapecoense, was awarded the Copa Sudamericana championship by the governing body of South American football. The gesture was an inspiring end to a tragic story that provided hope and positivity to a devastated global footballing community.
2016 was a huge year in football as the world game continued to engage and unite people across the globe. We had some amazing highs, painful lows and dramatic stories. We also witnessed tragedy and despair that was eventually met with hope, compassion and a united sense of community.
In the end, as always, football was the global game...