What shook the soccer world in 2018?
In just a few days, we’ll say goodbye to yet another year, a year that was particularly exciting for the beautiful game; hard not to be, considering this was the year the event that represents the pinnacle of our great sport was happening in Russia. It’s a beautiful tragedy that the FIFA World Cup only comes around every four years, making the wait unbearable, but making the sense of relief once it is here that much greater.
But 2018 cannot simply be limited to the FIFA World Cup; history was made, milestones were reached, and eras were ended. Although we look forward to what the New Year has to offer, Impact Media decided to take one last look at the biggest soccer happenings this past year.
France wins the World Cup
A World Cup year is always a good year. And if France was always a favourite heading into it, it was by no means an easy path to the final. But after losing out to Portugal in the European final just two years ago, you knew this young French team meant business heading into the tournament in Russia.
On a tough road to the final, they drew Argentina in the round of 16 - a team that struggled in the group stage, but that still had Lionel Messi and much more attacking flare within its ranks – and beat them 4-3. Against Uruguay and Belgium in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, Didier Deschamps’ men allowed no goals, managing 2-0 and 1-0 victories to access the final.
Despite a solid effort from the Croats, the French would win 4-2, lifting just their second World Cup trophy, exactly 20 years after the first.
Copa Libertadores drama
This year’s Copa Libertadores started off without an issue – teams took each other on, one would lose, the other would win and move on – you know, normal tournament stuff. The abnormal actually started in the final, when, against all odds, two teams from the same city qualified for the South American final.
These two teams also had a long history of hating each other – really, really hating each other – which set the scene for what was to come. First off, the first leg at La Bombonera. After thunderous rain, the first game would be delayed for 24 hours, and would finish in a 2-2 draw, perfectly setting up the second leg as away goals did not count.
But a day before that ultimate game, the Boca Juniors team bus was violently attacked in Buenos Aires, leaving players injured and in shock. See here:
The answer: the Santiago Bernaneu in Madrid. So, on December 9, 698 hours after the first leg and thousands of miles from Argentina, River Plate came away with a 3-1 victory in extra time, finally putting this odd final to rest.
Madrid makes it three in three
The end of an era at Real Madrid was at least marked by the club lifting the ultimate prize. Los Blancos managed to put their hands on yet another Champions League trophy in late May, beating Liverpool handily in the final. But it was the way it happened that was particularly heartbreaking for Loris Karius, the man between the posts on the loser’s side. Take a look:
Still, their third straight European win puts them in unchartered territory, becoming the first team in the modern version of the Champions League to win three straight titles.
We can’t imagine it gets better than three consecutive European titles for the Spanish giants – something head coach Zinedine Zidane and star player Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to agree with, both taking the exit door following their Champions League victory.
Ronaldo to Juventus
It was just a few seconds after the final whistle of the Champions League final that Ronaldo was already making comments about a possible departure from Madrid, slightly overshadowing the team’s victory. The best player in the world (depending on who you talk to), the most prolific goal scorer in club history, beloved by millions, was potentially leaving? Pandemonium in the Spanish capital.
Of course, the rumours began. For a month and a half, daily whisperings about the Portuguese forward were all over the media. Is he leaving or staying? Where will he go? Why would he leave? Finally, on July 10, Madrid tears finally fell. Cristiano Ronaldo was leaving. His nine years with Madrid were over. He was officially a Juventus player, for the prolific price of $117.34 million.
End of a Ballon d’Or era
It was bound to happen eventually. For years and years, soccer enthusiasts placed wagers on who would be the first to break the deadlock. Gareth Bale, Neymar Jr., or maybe Iniesta could have slipped in? After 10 years of domination from Lionel Messi and Cristiano in which they won five Ballon d’Ors apiece, it was Croatian midfielder Luka Modric who emerged victorious this time around.
Although he scored less goals than Messi and Ronaldo, he was essential in Madrid’s Champions League victory, and doubly essential in his country’s run to a first-ever World Cup final appearance – so much so that he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player despite losing the final. And let’s not forget THIS goal against Argentina in the group stage.