2016 was a trying year worldwide. Between politics and social issues, we all needed some good soccer to pick us up again, and we got it.
We saw epic comebacks in 2nd legs and Cinderella teams prove they were for real. We got crying Messi and shirtless Ronaldo.
There were a lot of great matches, but here are the 10 best:
10. Man City 1-3 Leicester City, February 6
Leicester City’s Cinderella story was put to the test when they travelled to the Ethiad in a matchup between the top two teams in the Premier League table. Only three points separated the two teams, so a Man City win would put them in first ahead of Leicester on goal differential. Leicester City would start the match with a quick goal from Robert Huth in the third minute and they doubled their lead off of a counterattack goal from Mahrez. By the time Man City finally got on the score sheet in the 87th minute, it was already 3-0 Leicester and they had sent the message to the rest of the league that they were for real.
9. Argentina 0-0 Chile (2-4 PKs), June 26
Argentina began the Centenario with a 2-1 win against Chile to avenge their Copa America final loss a year ago. The two would meet again in the final with Argentinians looking to finish what they started and win thir first major tournament since 1993.
Argentina started on the front foot, but Higuain was unable to finish a breakaway to put his team ahead. Lionel Messi’s team still felt confident as the forward was able to draw a second yellow card on Diaz in the 28th minute to give El Albiceleste a man advantage. However, Marco Rojo would even that out with a straight red in the 42nd. Both goalkeepers would keep their teams in it with spectacular saves and the match would end scoreless, sending it to PKs for the second straight year. Argentina started strong with a Romero save on Arturo Vidal, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner skied his shot into the stands. Score would remain even until Biglia was denied by Claudio Bravo, giving Francisco Silva the chance to win the match. His PK went perfectly into the bottom left corner and Messi was once again denied the chance to win a major trophy for his country.
The loss hit Messi hard as he was seen crying afterwards and even announced his retirement that night. Thankfully he reconsidered and has returned to international soccer.
8. Brazil 5-1 Sweden, August 6
Similar to the men, the Brazilian women’s soccer team entered the Olympics wanting to make their country proud, but they also wanted to show them that women’s soccer was worth watching. They did just that. They opened the tournament by beating China 3-0, but their best showing was a 5-1 win against eventual silver medalists, Sweden. Marta scored a hat trick that sent Brazilian fans into a frenzy and had people scratching out the name on their Neymar jersey and writing Marta instead. They may not have won a medal, but they helped Brazilian women’s soccer take a huge step in the right direction.
7. England 1-2 Iceland, June 27
Euro underdog Iceland surprised everyone by advancing out of the group ahead of eventual champions Portugal, but few thought that they had a chance against England in the round of 16. The match couldn’t have started any better for England, who converted on a PK in the fourth minute, but Iceland responded quickly by scoring a goal of their own in the sixth minute off of a long throw in. The Cinderella team would get another one in the 18th minute thanks to some shaky goalkeeping by Joe Hart, and despite attempting 18 shots in the match, England went on to lose, 2-1. Even though Iceland would lose their next match to France, their defeat of England will go down as the best result in their country’s history and one of the most disappointing for England.
6. Real Madrid 1-1 Atletico Madrid (5-3 PKs), May 28
The Champions League final is the biggest match in club soccer every year, and this one didn’t disappoint. Real Madrid reached after defeating Man City in the semis while Atletico beat Bayern Munich on away goals to set up a rematch of the 2013/14 final. Ramos got a goal to open up the scoring while Griezmann’s PK attempt clanked off the crossbar to start the second half. Fortunately for them, their defense held strong against Real’s attack and second half sub Carrasco was able to tie the match.
There were no extra time goals this time, sending the match to PKs where both sides calmly finished their chances through the first three rounds. Ramos finished his attempt in the fourth round, but Juan Fran’s attempt was denied by the post setting up a potential match-winning shot for Ronaldo. The Portuguese put it away easily to win his third Champions League trophy and immediately ripped off his shirt in a perfectly Ronaldo celebration.
5. Brazil 1-1 Germany (5-4 PKs), August 20
Hosts Brazil entered the Olympics looking to get their first Olympic gold in soccer and get rid of the bad taste left in their mouths from the embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semifinals. They stumbled through their first two group league matches before finding their stride to reach the gold medal match against none other than Germany.
Neymar was able to make up for missing the World Cup semifinals by scoring in the first half and then scoring the match winning PK. He then fell to his knees and let his emotions get the best of him. If you’re a soccer fan and didn’t get emotional for him then you have no feelings.
4. Toronto 5-2 Montreal (7-5 agg.), November 30
After losing the first leg 3-2, Toronto returned home looking to beat their fellow Canadians and advance to their first ever MLS Cup. Montreal scored first to silent the crowd and go up 4-2 on aggregate, but Jozy Altidore’s header right before half put the hosts up 2-1 on the night and tied 4-4 on aggregate. If the result held they would advance on away goals, but the scoring wasn’t over. Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti scored at the start of the second half to take away Toronto’s away goal advantage. Toronto responded with a Nick Hagglund goal to send the match to extra time.
In extras, last season’s MVP Sebastian Giovinco began cramping and needed to be subbed off, but his replacement Benoit Cheyrou made an immediate impact by scoring the eventual match-winner. Tosain Ricketts’ goal 2 minutes later sealed the deal and started the party in Toronto.
3. Norwich 4-5 Liverpool, January 23rd
Easily the craziest match of the Premier League season, Liverpool opened the scoring with a Firmino finish that deflected off the goalkeeper and in. Norwich would respond with three goals from Mbokani, Naismith and Hoolahan to put the home side up 3-1 in the second half. Then Liverpool mounted its own comeback, scoring 3 straight goals from Henderson, Firmino and Milner to put the Reds up 4-3. The back and forth continued in stoppage time, with Norwich getting a goal in the 92nd minute that sent the home crowd into a complete frenzy.
But it was Liverpool who again got the last laugh with a 95th minute goal from Lallana. This match had nine goals, but the best moment might have been Klopp going absolutely nuts celebrating with his team and breaking his glasses. Seems like a small price to pay for the win.
2. Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund (5-4 agg.), April 14
Liverpool and Dortmund were tied 1-1 after the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, a matchup that pitted Klopp against his former team. Liverpool supporters surely felt confident going back home, but it quickly faded when Dortmund scored twice in the first 10 minutes to give them a 3-1 lead on aggregate. Origi was able to pull one back for Liverpool in the 48th minute, but Reus scored less than 10 minutes later to put give his team another 2 goal advantage. Liverpool got back in it with Coutinho and Sakho each getting a goal to make it 4-4 on aggregate, but Liverpool still needed one more to advance to the semifinals.
The stage was set for some late match heroics at Anfield and Lovren delivered in the first minute of stoppage time. The fans went crazy, Klopp went nuts and Liverpool went on to play in the Europa League final.
1. Bayern Munich 4-2 Juventus (6-4 agg.), March 16
Juventus and Bayern Munich faced off in the round of 16 in one of the most intriguing matchups of the tournament. Juventus had just come off of a Champions League final appearance, where they lost to Barcelona, and Bayern were three years removed from their last Champions League trophy and looking to get another. The first leg ended 2-2, setting up an exciting second leg in Munich.
Things were disastrous for the home side early on as Juventus scored the first two goals of the match, putting them ahead 4-2 on aggregate. Bayern were facing heavy pressure from Juventus, who looked poised for a third, but they finally got their goal in the 72nd minute off of a Lewandowski header.
Bayern still needed another to force extra time and they got it in stoppage time off of yet another header, this time from Müller. Müller was involved again in extra time, assisting on substitute Thiago’s goal that put Bayern ahead for good. Coman’s one-man counterattack goal two minutes later sealed the win for the home team and completed the unlikely comeback against one of the best defenses in Europe.