Beijing: Football in the year just-ending has seen triumphs and setbacks for many national teams and clubs both on and off the pitch. Let’s take a look back at some of the defining moments of the beautiful game in 2017.
Real Madrid make history: On June 3, the eve of 2016-2017 European Champions League final, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid routed Juventus 4-1 to become the first team in the European-League era to retain the title.
Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory over South American champions Gremio in the Club World Cup final earned the Los Blancos their fifth trophy in the year, after the Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup.
Upcoming young talents take centrestage: Eighteen-year-old Kylian Mbappe, 22-year-old Thomas Lemar, 23-year-old Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko: these young talents led Monaco to a French league title-winning and Champions League semi-final season in 2017. The team finished last season by playing entertaining attacking football that produced a French League record 107 goals and 158 in all competitions.
The year of the giants: Cristiano Ronaldo is another player who has set an example this year. He is something of an unstoppable monster: a dangerous killer and a maven of the game.
The year 2017 was marked by glories for the Madeira-born striker – five titles with Real Madrid, including a historical back-to-back triumph in the Champions League. Despite once trailing 4-1 to his arch-rival Messi in Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo had levelled the score after winning the award again this month.
Ronaldo did go through some lows during the year when he only scored two goals in the group stage of last season’s Champions League. There were even rumblings that a set-back was unavoidable for the 32-year-old. But the Portuguese bounced back just in time to net 10 times in the knock-out stage, including back-to-back hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid and a brace in the 4-1 victory over Juventus in the final, which set him as the first man to score in three Champions League finals.
Brazilian star Neymar arrived in Paris in August with a record-breaking price tag of 222 million euros ($264 million/Rs 17 billion). He told the media that leaving Barcelona had been “one of the most difficult decisions I ever took” but he transferred to PSG to seek “new trophies and new challenges, not money”. The incredible commercial potential of the Brazilian national team captain must be one of the reasons that facilitated the deal.
FC Barcelona genius Lionel Messi may not have got many trophies this season but the Argentine maestro continued his goal-scoring spree. His highlight of the year was ensuring his country’s qualification to the World Cup.
Failures and setbacks: November 14, 2017 must be a dark memory for four-time World Cup winners Italy. A home 0-0 draw with Sweden at Milan in the 2018 World Cup qualification play-offs saw the Azzurri miss the World Cup qualification for the first time in six decades. This also applied to three-time finalists the Netherlands, as the Dutch had missed two tournaments in the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup after finishing third three years ago in Brazil.
The failure to reach the World Cup left the players a trail of broken hearts, but unfortunately for some veterans among them, there will be no chance to mend them.
Right after the qualifying disasters, 39-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon announced in tears his retirement from international football, along with him were his teammates, the 34-year-old De Rossi and 36-year-old Andrea Barzagli. The future of 33-year-old Giorgio Chiellini may also be over. And One month ago, the 33-year-old Arjen Robben had also called time on his international career when his national squad ranked third in the group stage and couldn’t even got a ticket into the play-offs.
Hard to say goodbye: Football is a game that is marked by a constant revolving door of players going on and off the pitch, which means sometimes, we have to bid our favourite players farewell.
AS Roma legend Francesco Totti, 40, started the new season at the auditorium for the first time in over two decades. He got a tearful and emotional farewell at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
Germany legend Philipp Lahm, 33, retired from professional football with his Bayern Munich teammate Xavi Alonso this summer. The two players won every major trophy in their careers and were key figures in two of the most incredible matches of this century.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka bid farewell to football successively in the second half of 2017. Many football fans’ best memory for the Italian-Brazilian pair stayed in the summer of 2007, when they led AC Milan to the club’s seventh Champions League triumph.
Their careers have come to end, but the moments they created for us will resonate for the rest of our lives.
Another sad farewell marked the football year in Britain. A young boy by the name of Bradley Lowery, a soccer mascot in the English Premier League, died aged only six in July. Lowery, a devout Sunderland fan, had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma that affects nerve tissue.