Leicester City's Wes Morgan (centre) celebrates with teammates after a win in the English Premier League.
Leicester City's Wes Morgan (centre) celebrates with teammates after a win in the English Premier League. TIM KEETON

Year in review: Leicester shows fairytales can come true

Foxes take chocolates

LEICESTER City was favourite for relegation after spending 140 days of the previous campaign at the bottom of the English Premier League ladder before winning seven of its last nine games under Nigel Pearson to escape the drop to the Championship.

The bookies gave Leicester no hope of winning the EPL title, making it 10,000-1 to achieve the feat.

But after Claudio Ranieri took over from the sacked Pearson, the unfashionable Midlands club began a remarkable journey that took the club to arguably one of the most unlikely sporting successes the world has seen.

Jamie Vardy's goals and a defence led superbly by long-time captain Wes Morgan helped Leicester claim the crown with three games remaining, sparking the biggest party the city has had, with more than 250,000 people taking to the streets to celebrate.

While celebrating the side's premiership, Ranieri revealed an unusual motivation for his team.

"We have a very good owner behind the manager, the team,” he said. "When I saw them, this is a very good dressing room, they work so hard. I tried to blend my Italian tactics, to be solid, strong. Then I say, 'Free pizza if you keep a clean sheet,' so they improve!”

He also paid tribute to the club's fans.

"The people are unbelievable, thank you to them because they have been behind us for the whole season,” Ranieri said.

"I think it was an amazing moment for me because I'm not the youngest. (It was) something special for everybody, especially for me. I won some cups. In England I lose in the final, in Spain, in Italy, but to lift the trophy here is fantastic.

"I thought sooner or later, I will win a league title. Of course at the beginning, never did I think that we would reach this place. But slowly, I thought why not? This is a crazy season and we had fantastic consistency.”

Iceland on fire

NO ONE gave Iceland a hope of winning one game at Euro 2016 in France. The Scandinavian country has a population of about 329,000 people and this was its first major international tournament.

But after drawing with Portugal and Hungary, the team defeated Austria to make the last 16.

In the knockout round once again the Icelanders were given little hope but they upset the odds in dramatic style, defeating England 2-1 in the last 16 before finally being eliminated by France 5-2 in the quarter-finals.

The team's fans, too, were memorable and their celebratory Viking clap became one of the highlights of the tournament.

The win over England became the most-tweeted-about event of the year in the UK.

Ronaldo's triumph

PORTUGAL only just scraped through the group stages of Euro 2016 as one of the best third-placed teams.

Three draws did not suggest the side would get much further in the competition and after a 1-0 win over Croatia in the last 16, the Portuguese were lucky to get past Poland in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Star man Cristiano Ronaldo had been improving throughout the tournament and his ninth goal in European Championship history (a tournament record) in the 2-0 semi-final win over Wales helped his team to the final against France.

The game did not amount to much and in this year of upsets, it was substitute Eder who broke French hearts in the final, scoring the only goal against the hosts as Portugal won its first world football tournament.

"No one believed in us,” said Ronaldo, who left the final early through injury. "I had already won everything with clubs. I lacked something with the national team. Portugal have deserved this after many years of sacrifice.

"It was not the final I wanted, but I am very happy. It is a trophy for all the Portuguese, for all immigrants, all the people who believed in us, so I am very happy and very proud.”

Adelaide United players celebrate winning the A-League grand final.
Adelaide United players celebrate winning the A-League grand final. JAMES ELSBY

Painting the town red

NO ONE was expecting much from Adelaide United, especially after the shock resignation of manager Josep Gombau in the pre-season to take up a youth coaching role in America.

Guillermo Amor took over but the club's former technical director could only watch on as the team failed to win in the first eight rounds, leaving the Reds bottom of the league with three points and only three goals scored.

Then came the transformation as Adelaide won 13 of its next 18 games to finish on top of the ladder and take the Premier's Plate before storming to the grand final.

On home soil at the Adelaide Oval in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 fans, the Reds defeated the Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1 to claim a first A-League championship in the club's history.

"This is a great feeling. The people are happy, the club is happy; this is a very good moment for football in this state,” Amor said after the win.

"The team is having a good time and it is very important to enjoy this moment.”

Neymar (centre) and his Brazil teammates with their Olympic gold medals.
Neymar (centre) and his Brazil teammates with their Olympic gold medals.

Brazil's breakthrough

NOTHING much had gone right in the build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. The same could have been said for the country's Olympic men's football team.

Neymar and his team were lambasted in the early stages of the tournament as the football-adoring nation looked to end its gold medal drought.

The side reached the final, however, and as befits a true superstar, Neymar delivered and became the redeemer in Rio.

He scored the first goal with a spectacular long-range free-kick before holding his nerve to score the winning penalty in the shootout to get the win.

Cahill comes home

SPECULATION was rife that Tim Cahill would be heading home to Australia and the A-League after he was released by Chinese club Hangzhou Greentown in July.

After a month of rumours, the Socceroos superstar signed for Melbourne City on August 11.

He signed a three-year contract with the plan to play the first two years and then take on a directing role for the third year.

A huge crowd saw him make his debut in the FFA Cup against the Brisbane Strikers and in typical Cahill style he lit up the competition with a wonder goal in his A-League debut in the Melbourne derby.

Just to add to his legend, Cahill scored a trademark header in the FFA Cup final in November to give City its first trophy since its inception.

United splashes cash

FRENCH midfielder Paul Pogba had left Manchester United for a nominal fee four years previously.

His return to the club from Juventus cost just a little bit more.

Pogba, after starring for France in Euro 2016, became the world's most expensive footballer, signing for $151million.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. ENNIO LEANZA

Blatter ban upheld

HE HAD fought all year but after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a six-year ban for former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Swiss businessman finally gave in to the inevitable in early December.

The 80-year-old was banned for eight years (later reduced to six) over ethics breaches during his 17-year reign as the boss of the world football authority in 2015.

He was found to have made a $2.2 million "disloyal payment” to ex-UEFA boss Michel Platini.

Blatter said of CAS's decision to uphold the six-year ban that "no other verdict could be expected”.

"I have to accept this decision,” he said.

"I have experienced much in my 41 years in FIFA. I mostly learned that you can win in sport, but you can also lose.”

Mixed year for Messi

LIONEL Messi stunned the world after he sensationally quit international football after Argentina's defeat in the Copa America final to Chile in June.

Messi was only 29 but not long after he missed in the penalty shootout defeat by Chile, as Argentina lost a fourth major final in nine years, he called it quits.

But less than two months later, the Barcelona star reversed his decision, saying: "A lot of things went through my mind on the night of the final and I gave serious thought to quitting, but my love for my country and this shirt is too great.”

State of mourning

FOOTBALL fans around the world were united in grief when a plane carrying Brazilian team Chapecoense crashed in Colombia.

The jet carrying the team, along with club officials and journalists, was on its way to Medellin for the final of the Copa Sudamericana against Colombian side Atletico Nacional when it crashed, killing 71 people, including 19 players.

In a moving gesture it was announced the Brazilian team had been crowned winners of the Copa Sudamericana by the South American Football Confederation.

Johan Cruyff was also farewelled in March after a long battle with cancer.

Considered to be one of the most influential figures in football history, Cruyff's style of play and his football philosophy influenced managers and players including Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and Eric Cantona.

As a player he was part of the Dutch side that introduced total football to the world.

He won three Ballon d'Or awards as the world's best player and three European Cups with Ajax, and had coaching success with Ajax and Barcelona.

"Johan Cruyff was a magnificent player, one of the greatest players the world has ever known,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.



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