Around the world of soccer, 2016 has been the year of the Cinderella Story. From Portugal in the European Championships to Leicester City in the Premi
Around the world of soccer, 2016 has been the year of the Cinderella Story. From Portugal in the European Championships to Leicester City in the Premier League, the unexpected and seemingly impossible became the norm in the global footballing landscape. Fairytales like Wales and Iceland’s runs in the Euro’s coincided with Chile’s wild run to back-to-back Copa America titles. Leagues from Latin America to Europe and beyond gave us storylines that kept us coming back for more.
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The personalities of the beautiful game we love so much placed themselves in our collective mind, and refused to leave. Players, managers, and fans alike took center stage in spectacular, strange, and unique ways throughout 2016. Keep it tuned to Soccer Nation, as we count down the 16 biggest stories of the year that was.
We begin with a story that has no ranking, a tale that will stay with us for an eternity. It is a story of immense tragedy, but one that has brought the footballing world together in an inspirational and humbling fashion. It is a story that in meaning and magnitude exceeds all others from what has been an incredible year within the game we love. It is the tale of Chapecoense.
Chapecoense: 2016 Copa Sudamericana Champions
The Brazilian side known as Chapecoense was due to play the game of their lives. A team that just a few seasons prior had been mired in the pits of the fourth division of Brazilian soccer had made it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.
En route to the first leg of the final, scheduled to be an away match against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional in Medellin, the club’s plane ran out of fuel in what should have been a routine approach to the adjacent airport. The plane crashed and turned the entire world’s attention to the wreckage. A devastating tragedy that should’ve been avoided claimed the lives of 71 of the 77 people on board the plane. 19 of them were Chapecoense players, along with every member of the club’s coaching staff. I
An outpouring of support came from soccer fans around the world. While all gestures were greeted with ample gratitude and appreciation, none was more significant than that of the fans of Atletico Nacional.
At the time when the first leg final match would have taken place, Atletico Nacional fans packed their home stadium in Medellin, with thousands more spilling out onto the nearby streets. The Nacional fans wore “Forza Chape” shirts, held candles, and sang at full throat the songs that had become synonymous with the fairytale run of what should’ve been a worthy adversary in a highly anticipated final, the sounds of “vamo vamo Chape'” ringing for miles around.
It was all organized on the shortest of notice, and was seen by fans of Chapecoense as one of the most heartfelt acts of kindness and love imaginable in the face of unparalleled grief.
The mayor of the Brazilian city of Chapeco, Luciano Buligon, showed his gratitude to the Colombian fans with a gesture of his own. When the bodies of the dead were returned to their homeland, a wake was held in Chapecoense’s stadium. Buligon wore an Atletico Nacional shirt while giving what must have been the toughest speech of his life.
Tributes came from all over the world, with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Premier League clubs, and so many more showing solidarity with the victims and those most affected by the horrible tragedy.
Players of Brazilian origin and heritage, plying their trades all around the globe, offered what they could in their own words, many mourning over the deaths of men with which they had personal connections.
There will never be a consolation for the lives that were lost, but one thing that was gained in the wake of these tragic events was an unbreakable bond between two clubs and their supporters.
The fans of Atletico Nacional will forever be linked with Chapecoense, and it was the Medellin club that took it upon themselves to request to CONMEBOL that the 2016 Copa Sudamericana title be given to the Brazilian outfit. This was more than a symbolic gesture, as the prize money Chapecoense will receive will be a major boost in their almost unfathomable efforts to rebuild.
In addition, with Atletico Nacional being the reigning champion of the Copa Libertadores (South America’s equivalent of the Champions League), the two sides will be due to meet in 2017 in the annual home and away match-up of the two continental champions. It will be an emotional event to say the least, but perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the two legged tie will be the two teams taking to the pitch together, the way it was supposed to be.
Number 15 of 2016: The Return of the Old Firm Derby
After a four year absence from the football world, one of the game’s greatest rivalries returned to Scotland this September.
Celtic vs. Rangers is a match-up that transcends soccer, drawing political and religious lines through the city of Glasgow and often the British Isles as a whole.
With Rangers nearly going into extinction after some of the worst financial mismanagement in modern football history, the club made their long anticipated return to the top flight in 2016. September’s clash between Rangers and their rivals in the green and white hoops had fans around the world buzzing in anticipation.
It was sadly a harsh return for Rangers, getting thrashed to the tune of 5-1 by their bitter rivals at Celtic Park. It was a dream debut in the Old Firm Derby for Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers, who unfortunately did not have quite the same level of good fortune managing Celtic in the UEFA Champions League. (Celtic did manage to beat Rangers a second time this season, albeit 1-0 in the Scottish League Cup. The Hoops are also flying high atop the Scottish Premiership, with Rangers predictably right behind in second place.)
If you are a fan in the United States that didn’t catch the match in September and are still craving some Glaswegian mystique before the year ends, you are in luck. Fox Sports 1 will again be broadcasting the Old Firm Derby, the rematch between the two age old adversaries taking place on New Years Eve at 7 AM ET in the United States. Rangers will be out for revenge, and will have what is sure to be a spine tingling Ibrox atmosphere behind them.