By Michael Place
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- The year 2017 was replete with emotion in South American football as titles were decided in dramatic circumstances, tragedies were overcome and World Cup fairytales came true. Xinhua looks at some of the highs and lows of a year to remember.
Former Corinthians coach Tite, whose given name is Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, took charge of Brazil in mid-2016 when the team was in disarray. The five-time World Cup champions had just been eliminated from the Copa America without reaching the knockout stage, prolonging a slump that began with a humiliating 7-1 World Cup semifinal defeat at home to Germany two years earlier. Under Tite's stewardship, Brazil went on to win nine consecutive World Cup qualifiers, reclaiming the world No.1 ranking for the first time in seven years and becoming the first team (other than hosts Russia) to qualify for football's showpiece tournament next June and July. Brazilians are again excited about their national team and, while the heartache of 2014 will never disappear, there is hope that Russia 2018 might at least bring redemption.
Few goals could match the emotion of the one scored by Henry Rojas that secured Millonarios their 15th Colombian first division title earlier this month. Millonarios and their Bogota rivals Santa Fe were tied 2-2 on aggregate in the 85th minute of the final's second leg when Rojas sent a thunderous first-time shot into the top corner from around 30 yards. The strike prompted an almost equally impressive 25-second goal shout from Caracol TV commentator Javier Fernandez.
In 1985, Ricardo Gareca scored the goal for Argentina that denied Peru a place at the 1986 World Cup. Thirty years later he was appointed coach of the Blanquirroja, tasked with ending the country's World Cup drought that dated back to 1982. He quickly went about turning South America's perennial underachievers into a formidable unit. Gareca steered Peru to third place at the 2015 Copa America and the quarterfinals of the same tournament in 2016.
However those achievements paled into insignificance compared to the events of the past 12 months. Having won just one of their first six World Cup qualifiers in South America's CONMEBOL group, Peru went on a roll - going unbeaten in their last six matches - to secure an intercontinental playoff berth against New Zealand. A goalless draw against the All-Whites in Wellington was followed by a 2-0 victory in Lima five days later as Peru's World Cup drought ended and Gareca completed his transformation from villain to national treasure.
Brazil's Gremio earned the mantle of continental champions when they defeated Argentine side Lanus 3-1 on aggregate in the Copa Libertadores final. It was the Porto Alegre club's third triumph in South America's premier club competition following their titles in 1983 and 1995. The result earned the team a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, where they lost the final to Real Madrid 1-0 earlier this month.
Paraguay's Sportivo Trinidense had the poorest record of any team in South America's 10 biggest domestic leagues that were completed in 2017, with just five wins from 44 matches. A mention must also go to Buenos Aires outfit Arsenal de Sarandi, who have so far registered just one win, two draws and nine losses in the current Argentine Primera Division season, which finishes in May.
Flamengo's gamble to sign Argentine midfielder Dario Conca on a year-long loan from Shanghai SIPG was nothing short of an abject failure. The 34-year-old played just three matches as he struggled to recover from a serious knee ligament injury. He returned to Shanghai earlier this month with his reputation in Brazil somewhat blemished, having previously shone during spells with Rio de Janeiro giants Fluminense and Vasco da Gama.
In our opinion, this was a tie between Gremio pair Luan and Arthur. Forward Luan, a member of the Brazil team that won last year's Olympic gold medal in Rio, was named Copa Libertadores player of the tournament with eight goals in 12 matches. Arthur, who has been linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid, was Gremio's midfield metronome with his calmness under pressure, wide passing range and defensive prowess.
It was a tempestuous year for Brazil's Chapecoense, who were forced to rebuild almost from scratch after losing 19 players and all of their coaching staff in a plane crash in November 2016. The club used four different head coaches in 2017 - Vagner Mancini, Vinicius Eutropio, Emerson Cris and, finally, Gilson Kleina - in an effort to avoid relegation to Brazil's Serie B. Under Kleina, Chapecoense were unbeaten in their final 10 league matches and secured a berth in next year's Copa Libertadores.