The Best of 2017

By Uri Levy and Yossi Medina

Another great year of football has come to an end, and we are here to conclude it. We gathered fascinating stories, unforgettable moments and emotional football events, which excited us, here in BabaGol in 2017. It's not a ranking or a table, but simply a way to conclude this amazing and unique year of football. 

So just relax, take your seats back and enjoy the best moments we had during the past year. Happy new year and don't forget to keep football real also in 2018.

 Even the snow can't cool him off. Salah takes over (AP©)

Even the snow can't cool him off. Salah takes over (AP©)

Salah Takes Over England, and the World
"A pretty big deal". We told you all, right after he signed there - Mohamed Salah to Liverpool is a pretty big deal. Being honest, even Uri, an avid Salah fan, did not believed how BIG it will be. With 21 goals in 28 games before the new year, a World Cup spot with Egypt after 28 years and an endless row of individual titles and touching gestures to his home village in Egypt - it is now a worldwide known fact - Salah is huge. On, and off the field. 
With top flair, high abilities, clinical finishing and a mesmerizing cooperation with his teammates, he is without a doubt among the top ten footballers in the world up to date.
It's hard to imagine where Klopp and Liverpool were without Salah this season. It’s even harder to imagine 2017 without Salah. He is, without a doubt, BabaGol’s footballer of the Year for 2017.

Misr ya Misr: Egypt's comeback to the World Cup
As mentioned, Salah was a hero also for his national team. With three matches left, Egypt was equaled at the top of their qualifiers group with Uganda. The local fans in Alexandria supported them in September, when they defeated Uganda and got back to the first place. A month later, even when Egypt conceded a late equalizer against Congo, they all pushed the team until the historic penalty of Salah, a penalty that worth a ticket to the World Cup after 28 years of absence.

Arab Boom: The Year of Arab Football
The Arab Renaissance’ we called it here at BabaGol, and the world has listened.
Al-Jazira, Syria, Al-Hilal, the World Cup Qualifications. With so many good stories from the Middle East, 2017 will be remembered as the year that Arab nations had made their stamp on world football. At the top - a record number of four (!) national teams have made it through to Russia. Egypt is not alone. Morocco will return to the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, as well as Saudi Arabia & Tunisia, who are both coming back to the biggest stage in football after 12 years. Russia 2018 will be a very ‘Middle Eastern’ event with clashes between Egypt and the Saudis and the Maghrebiens and Iran (the best team in Asia) already in the group stage.
One cannot draw a clear line between all the latest Arab triumphs in football. Each country has its own story, mixed with current local & external politics, social discussions, varied heritages and of course - passionate fans, who are simply crazy about football. But these successes do highlight that Arab football is a hot, intriguing and fascinating scene, that rocked the world in the past year, and will keep rocking also in Russia.

 Four nations and one World Cup, an Arab renaissance (Gettyimages)

Four nations and one World Cup, an Arab renaissance (Gettyimages)

The Surprising Indomitable Lions: Cameroon winning Africa Cup of Nations
Even though three Arab teams qualified for the World Cup, the best team of continent was declared back in January. For the first time since 2002, Cameroon won the Africa Cup of Nations after an impressive run during the knockout stage, including defeating Senegal and Ghana and of course, Vincent Abubakar's decisive goal at the 88th minute of the final. Even the MVP of the tournament was a complete surprise, a young forward who played in Denmark, Christian Bassogog. Later on, he became even more famous when he chose an offer from China over European ones. Even though Cameroon won't be in Russia their achievement in 2017 Africa Cup of Nations was impressing. 

From the River to the Sea: Palestine surpassed Israel in FIFA Rankings
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict got a new point of view during 2017. A long run of 11 consecutive unbeaten games brought Palestine to the 82nd place in the world, higher above than the Israeli team, that fell down to the 98th place. On the last ranking they already climbed to 80, while Israel stayed still. It is the first time that Palestine is ranked higher the Israel, another moral win for the Palestinian FA and their chairman, Jibril Rajoub.

Make Brazil Great Again: Tite changed it all for the Seleção
In June 2016, Brazil national team has been in bad situation. They had only 9 points at the first six games of the World Cup qualifiers. Moreover, they has been eliminated at the Copa America Centenario group stage. The Brazilian FA decided to fire Dunga and hired Tite as their new manager. Tite, that spent most of his career in Brazil, made the national team unstoppable. They became the first team to qualify for the World Cup, finishing at the first place of the South American group, 10 points above the second place. Can he bring the Hexa, the sixth title, in 2018?

 Tite & Neymar, next stop: Russia (Reuters)

Tite & Neymar, next stop: Russia (Reuters)

New Regional Order in CONCACAF
The last matchday of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers made one of the major upsets of this campaign. The United States surprisingly lost at Trinidad and Tobago, while both Panama and Honduras won their decisive matches. At the end of a long night, Panama qualified for their debut World Cup, Honduras reached the playoffs and United States failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986, alarming that the 'Soccer Nation' is in need of a serious reality check.

The Regime, the People & the Team: The Syrian Ambivalent Fairytale
One of the most exciting, complex and rare football stories of the century. Not less.
A team from a war-torn country, that plays thousands miles away from home, with players who abandoned it as a protest against the president (and came back for the people) and only one target - reaching the World Cup in Russia. After years of a bloody and horrific civil war, the Syrian national team became a symbol for the Syrian people everywhere in the world, and not just a PR tool for Assad’s regime. Al Somah’s goals in Tehran and Sydney have made many to believe that the Syrians will go all the way with their World Cup goal, but eventually Tim Cahill notched a typical header in extra time, made it 2-1 for the Aussies, while Al Somah bombed the goal post in the 120th minute what broke the hearts of millions. Goosebumps!

 One of the most exciting, complex and fascinating football stories of the century. Syria  (AP Photos)

One of the most exciting, complex and fascinating football stories of the century. Syria  (AP Photos)

Hail President Weah!
George Weah was born to make history. As a footballer, he is the only African player to win the Ballon d'Or. After his retirement, he believed that he can lead Liberia to change and make his homeland even better. 12 years after his first elections campaign, George Weah tried once again.. He won the first round and in the second round it became official, Weah was elected as the President with more than 60% of the votes. Now it's the time to see whether the first footballer that turned into Head of State will bring the much needed hope and changes to his country.

Ramazan has made it: Dalkurd's promotion to the Swedish top flight
Ramazan Kizil's only dream was to establish a club for the Kurdish community in his city, Borlänge. 13 years later, Dalkurd became a strong power at the Swedish football and this year they promoted for the first time to the Allsvenskan, the Swedish top flight. Kizil's dream became a symbol for the Kurdish community across Sweden and the club get its support now also from Kurds who live at the Middle East and from refugees all over Europe. 

Beşiktaş, the new Turkish power
Since the dynasty of Galatasaray more than decade ago, Turkish teams have failed to make a sequence of European major achievements. In the recent years, Beşiktaş is rising. Except from winning the league for two consecutive seasons, something that they didn't managed to do since 1992, they also have great results in Europe. After reaching Europa League quarterfinals last year, they managed also to qualify for the Champions League round of 16, being the first Turkish team to finish the group stage with 14 points and 0 losses. That's massive. Together with the brand developing work the club is doing across the world, Beşiktaş, are on the right track. 

Chapecoense: From the Ashes to Copa Libertadores
No one believed that Chapecoense could recover from the airplane crash disaster last year. They decided to decline any idea that will give them an advantage during the season, including exempt the team from relegation. At the end of the season, not only they managed to avoid relegation few games before the end of the season, they also finished at the 8th place, clinching a spot for 2018 Copa Libertadores.

 Chapecoense, doing the impossible while remembering the past (Gettyimages)

Chapecoense, doing the impossible while remembering the past (Gettyimages)

Asian Diamonds: Urawa Red Diamonds winning the AFC Champions League
For over a decade, no Japanese club managed to win the AFC Champions League. It wasn't easy, but Urawa managed to make their home stadium and their fans to one of their strengths during the campaign. At the round of 16, they came back after losing 0:2 at the first leg and defeated Jeju United 3:0 in extra time. At the quarterfinals against Kawasaki Frontale, they have been in 1:4 down in aggregate score before scoring four goals in 50 minutes. After these two clashes, defeating Shanghai SIPG and their stars in semifinals and Al Hilal at the final is much easier task. The Japanese clubs are once again the best in Asia.

An Empire on the Road: Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya wins the AFC Cup, Again!
The Iraqi Air Force Club was featured here last year too, but Baba couldn’t stay indifferent towards the amazing achievement of the Falcons - a second consecutive win in the AFC Cup. This title joins the terrific run of the club, who won the Iraqi Cup in 2015, the AFC Cup in 2016 and the Iraqi League & AFC Cup in 2017. Al Quwa Al Jawiyah is slowly but carefully becoming a Western Asian powerhouse. The 2017/18 season opened bad for the club, but with names like Hammadi Ahmed and Hummam Tariq, we can only wait for the international matches ban over Iraq will be lifted, and we might see the team taking off even to higher heights.

Star of the North: Aizawl winning the I-League
2017 season of the I-League began with a complete mess. Three teams withdrew and the league started with just 9 teams. When the big money talks at the Indian Super League, Aizawl proved to the fans that sometimes you need nothing more than passion. The small team from North India made amazing season, finishing above Mohun Bagan by only one point. May we will see more from them at the AFC Cup next year?

 Aizawl, the pride of the North (Rajeev Bhatt)

Aizawl, the pride of the North (Rajeev Bhatt)

Dima Wydad: Wydad Casablanca winning CAF Champions League
The new champions of Africa are a main part in the Moroccan recent football success. The club have made a huge progress, took over the local scene from city rivals Raja Casablanca and gained achievements on the continental stage. Wydad have outplayed Egyptian giants Al-Ahly in the final and have won a first African Champions League title for the club since 1992.  El-Karti, El-Haddad, Ounajem and of course the young starlet Achraf Bencharki, are all familiar names in African football. #DimaWydad have took over the Internet after their Champions League victory, what was a great rehearsal for the Moroccan festive World Cup qualification match a week after. Together with president', Said Naciri decision to extend the relation between the club and the wider Moroccan identity, 2017 will be remembered in North Africa by the 'red hot' football & social expanding of Wydad, as a brand and culture. 

Libertadores turned Sudamericana
Imagine yourself an European Champions League final between Tottenham to Real Sociedad. Crazy huh? This is exactly what happened in the Copa Libertadores - South America's top club competition - this year. In what was an exciting outburst, after a heroic run, that included the elimination of fellow Argentinean mega sides, San Lorenzo & River Plate in the knockouts - Lanús got to the Libertadores´final. Veteran José Sand was the face of the magical journey of the club from Buenos Aires suburbs, but at the final, Brazilian Gremio was waiting. Gremio were stronger, with players like Luan and Arthur in terrific form, as well as an important moment in coach Renato Gaucho's career. Gremio won its first continental title since 1995, back when Mario Jardel was their first choice in attack.

 Gremio, running all the way to Copa Libertadores title (AFP)

Gremio, running all the way to Copa Libertadores title (AFP)

Sudamericana turned Libertadores
The real final of South America in 2017 was taking place in the secondary competition -  Copa Sudamericana - where two of the Western Hemisphere biggest clubs, or eveen the world's, Flamengo and Independiente. After losing 2-1 in Buenos Aires, Flamengo hosted the 2nd leg at the Maracana and the festive atmosphere was already felt. Very soon it was discovered that the Red Devils from Avellaneda are the team for the situation. With this triumph, Independiente got closer to Boca Juniors in the 'Rey de Copas' never ending argument. Rey de Copas is the club with the most international titles in South America. While Boca has 18, Independiente won its 17th titles, exactly like no other than - FC Barcelona. In addition, Los Rojos won it in the legendary and symbolic Maracana Stadium in Rio Janeiro. An Argentinean team that wins a continental title in Brazil and enter the world's best list -  no description needed. Una locura!

Football under a Heavy Inflation: Venezuela reaching the U-20 World Cup final
While their nation is struggling with financial crisis, a new generation of youngsters made Venezuela at the top of the world. Since their win against Germany at their opening match, it was clear that Venezuela are on their way to the glory. They have finished at the top of their group, later eliminated also Japan, USA and Uruguay and lost at the final to England in a narrow 0:1 defeat. Who knows, maybe these boys will lead Venezuela to their first ever World Cup in the future.