The Best of 2016

By Uri Levy and Yossi Medina

2016. What year.

In few hours we’ll be in 2017, and this year would be already a history.

This year was packed with amazing stories, historical moments and emotional football events, which excited us, here in BabaGol. Therefore, we gathered the TOP BabaGol football moments for 2016. It isn’t a table that says what’s more important, these are simply the events and anecdotes that made our year.

Hang on. It will be alternative, edgy and refreshing and beware - there’s some crazy stuff in there.

Happy new year and keep on BabaGol!

(AFP©)

Un Doble Chileño: Chile wins Copa América Centenario

For the second year in a row the Chileans proved that they are the best national team in South America.The 7-0 victory over México at the Levi’ Stadium in the quarters, the penalty shootouts against Argentina and Messi, and the fact that it was a back-to-back title (first in 2015) – all made this triumph a notable one. Throughout 2016, Chile showed an excellent team spirit, an impressive talent and this title was a final mark for them being the best team in America. Chi Chi Chi.

(EPL©)

Algerian in England: Riyad Mahrez, Premier League’s Player of the Year

What more can we write about the skinny magician from Sarcelles? Not much to be honest, as we already gathered 12 reasons to fall in love with Riyad Mahrez back in April. But seriously – Mahrez was standing above ALL the super expensive-famous-overrated Premier League stars, and showed his genius touch and game vision week after week in 2016. His season with Leicester City was definitely one of 2016’s highlights. Tislam ya Riyad!  

Resurrection: Brazil’s Gold Medal in the Rio Olympics

After the humiliation Brazil suffered at the Mineirazo against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal, the Olympic football tournament became a MUST for Brazil and Neymar. Even though things went hard at the beginning, Brazil won the only national teams’ title they never had; Neymar scored the final penalty, and the nation gained its football revenge at the Germans. Parabens!

(Laurence Griffiths©)

Assad’s 4-3-3: Syria’s World Cup Qualifiers Campaign during the Civil War

Started in 2015 already, the Syrian run in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers is one of the most impressing and inspirational ones in world of sports. From a war torn land, while players and fans are divided politically and socially, Syria’s national team proved that, with President Assad’s help and investment, nothing stands against will and believe. Syria’s World Cup dream is alive. Sakhten.

(Jiji Press©)

#ForcaChape: The Tragedy of Chapecoense

One of the most shocking and sad football tragedies of all time took place in the end of 2016. Chapecoense, who was an anonymous Brazilian club on its way the Copa Sudamericana final, before their plane crashed into the mountains, and 76 of the passengers out of 81 who were on the flight- players, coaches, journalists, flight attendants – died. This disaster encouraged a series of hundreds of local, national and global gestures from football clubs, associations and personas. This event united the football world in a sense that we doubt if it has been done ever before. May they all rest in peace. Forca Chape.

Money Talks: Carlos Tevez Moves to China

When he is 32 years old, after he declared his love and loyalty to his boyhood club Boca Juniors, two days after he shined in the Superclásico against River Plate, Carlos Tevez has signed for Shanghai Shenuha from the Chinese Super League. By making this move Tevez will become the highest paid footballer of all time, earning reportedly 31.98 million GBP a season. Even though Chineses sources deny the sum, this deal closes an outstanding 2016 for the Chinese market, which saw the signings of European and South American mega stars that prefer Asia over Europe. The game is changing, and what’s going on in China is surely an economic proof for that. Tevez is only a significant mark in the process. Ni-Hao Carlitos.

(Twitter©)

Football is for Everyone: The Jordanian Players Headscarves

U-17 Women’s World Cup provided another moment of development for women’s football. Rand Albustanji and Tasneem Abu-Rob were complete anonymous players before the opening match of Jordan against Spain. Nevertheless, both had made history - being the first players to wear hijab in an official FIFA tournament. It is another major step in aa long process, where everyone will play football equally, no matter what is their religion or gender.

(AFP©)

A Long Way to Recognition: Kosovo World Cup Qualifiers Debut

It took 8 years between Kosovo declaration of independence, to the moment they became a full and official FIFA member. Few hours before their first match in the World Cup qualifiers, they still waited for the official documents to allow several players to play. It ended with sensational 1:1 draw with Finland. Even though they host their home matches in Albania, as no stadium in Kosovo meet the standards, Kosovo made a huge step towards international recognition through football.

(Atdhe Mullah©)

New Asian Power: North Korea Women's Double Crown

For years, European teams and United States held the dominance in Women’s football. This year, the Asian teams showed that new powers are emerging, with great success stories in the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cup. Above all, stood North Korea, who made history while winning both titles in the same year. After years of struggling behind, will North Korea become a serious power in the women’s game? Let’s wait for 2017.

(AFP©)

Cinderella vs History: The Copa Libertadores Final

Independiente del Valle, the Cinderella from Ecuador, excited millions of football fans during their journey to South America top clubs’ title final, but they weren’t alone. Club Atletico Nacional de Medellin won its first continental title since 1989, when the club and city were still under the custody of drug cartel Carlos Escobar. The Ecuadorians’ hopes and the Colombians’ joy have merged in to a fascinating Libertadores’ final. Latin American fútbol is the so emotional. Vamos.

The First Use of Video Assistant Referee

Viktor Kassai and Damir Skomina are the first referees to use video in a FIFA official tournament. During FIFA Club World Cup semi final match, Kassai and Skomina called a penalty kick to Kashima Antlers, based only on the video of the incident. The opponents, Atlético Nacional, could felt disappointed, but these are the new rules of the game. Yes, it made some justice for the Japanese side, but do the use of video is the improvement that was necessary for our game? It's not so sure.

(AP©)

Long Live the King: Thailand Recovery after King’s Death

Thai people's mourning after King Rama XI passed away was a dramatic occasion. All sports activities in Thailand were stopped and revoked, and so do the domestic football competitions. No one could’ve imagine what will happen to Thailand national team since then. A month after, Thailand made a huge upset, drawing against Australia in the World Cup qualifiers. Few weeks later, they won the AFF Championship after losing to Indonesia 1:2 at the first leg and defeating them 2:0 at the return leg. The scenes in Bangkok were of pure joy and pride.

Black Power: Imaye Taga’s Bravery

Imaye Taga, is an Israeli footballer of Ethiopian origin, who started a quiet but effective protest against his country’s authorities discrimination towards blacks. During a warmup for a league match he wore a t-shirt that calls for justice in the matter. In return, the FA fined him with 750 NIS. As a response, he paid it with 7500 coins of 0.10! Imaye pushed the protest forward, encouraged equality and anti-racism, while promoting a discussion in an important matter that was barely spoken before. Big up!

(walla.co.il©)

Sundowns’ Rise in Africa: Mamelodi wins CAF Champions League

The South African club shined in the double headed final of the African Champions League.

The Brazilians (Sundowns’ nickname) were eliminated early from the competition, but when Congolese Vita Club got expelled for fielding a suspended player, they rejoined the competition, and continued until the final. There, Egyptian Zamalek, who had a crazy semifinal themselves against Moroccan mega club Wydad, was waiting. Mamelodi won 3-1 on aggregates, gained its first ever continental title, and became the second South African team to be crowned as champions of Africa. Grab your vuvuzelas!

I Don't Want to Wait in Vains: Palmeiras Winning the Brazilian Title

Since 1994, Palmeiras have been waiting patiently to their next Brazilian title.
It was worth it. In 2016 Palmeiras had their best season in decades, including a long run of 15 undefeated league games all the way to win the championship.  A team combined from 42 years old Zé Roberto, Edu Dracena, alongside with youngsters such as Gabriel Jesus and Roger Guedes, carried all of Brazil in their passionate victories.

(O'Globo©)

The Fixed Title: Jeonbuk’s Referee Controversy

Few weeks after the K-League final whistle, the Korean FA punished Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors for bribing referees. Police investigation has found that Jeonbuk was involved in bribing at least 5 matches. The punishment was controversial - 9 points deduction, so the club lost its title, and got a fine of just 85,000 dollars. Surprisingly (or not), the AFC didn’t say word, while they usually declare they fight match fixing. The AFC ignorance had another impact few weeks later, while Jeonbuk won the AFC Champions League after defeating exciting Al Ain and Omar Abdulrahman. Kicking match-fixing out of football? Maybe in different cases.

The Leicester Phenomenon: Small Teams Break Through for Titles

A club that almost relegated in 2015, who had no legitimate stadium,  had an average of 50 fans per game (including player’s relatives), who had no budget for meals and got donations from the local butcher, who dried their laundry on a rope near the pitch, who their coach is an ex-painter and their leading striker is driving the bicycle to trainings, had won promotion and a year after - won the Uruguayan Clausura in 2016. This is the story of Plaza Colonia from Uruguay, who did a similar way to the English club. But in 2016 there were few more 'Leicesters' who came out of nowhere and won their local leagues - Esteghlal Khuzestan (Iran) and Rostov (Russia), who didn't win their league but had a terrific season in the Russian Premier League.

(FIFA©)

From Nowhere to Silverware: Papua New Guinea Upsetting Oceania

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the weakest team in Oceania. They haven’t won a match since 1980 in the OFC Nations Cup and no one believed that they could do anything this year in the tournament, even it was played on their home soil. Surprise, surprise - they did the unbelievably well, qualifying from the group stage and defeating Solomon Islands at the semifinals. The final was sensational too, as they managed to keep a clean sheet against New Zealand but eventually lost 2:4 in penalty shootouts. Huge success for the Papuan underdogs.

The Rush of the Cranes: Uganda Dreams on Africa Cup of Nations

After eliminating Togo from World Cup qualifiers at the end of 2015, Uganda had a bigger dream for 2016. Milutin Sredojević, the Serbian coach, led his boys to achievements that no one reached in Uganda for decades. With a bunch unknown players at his squad he managed to qualify for the Africa Cup of nations for the first time since 1978. Moreover, Uganda is in a heroic campaign in World Cup qualifiers, eyeing a ticket to Moscow, even though they play against Ghana and Egypt. Up the Cranes!

Uri Levy is the founder and editor-in-chief of  BabaGol, while Yossi Medina is a senior BabaGol

writer and researcher. As the two main figures behind Baba, they wish you all a happy new year.