By sportswriter Xiao Yazhou
BEIJING, Dec. 27 (Xinhua) -- The last year of football has seen triumphs and setbacks for the world's teams both on and off the pitch. Let's take a look back at some of the defining moments of the beautiful game in 2017.
REAL MADRID MAKES HISTORY
On June. 3, the eve of 2016-2017 European Champions League final, Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid routed Juventus 4-1 to become the first team in the European-League era to defend the league trophy.
Real Madrid's 1 -0 victory over South American champions Gremio in the Club World Cup final earned the Los Blancos their fifth trophy in the year, after the Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup. The great success achieved by Zidane and his team has drawn comparisons to the great side, led by Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento, which won the first five editions of the European Cup - the predecessor of the Champions League - between 1955 and 1960.
What are the keys to Madrid's success? The most important factor is that the head coach Zidane managed to make the 20-plus players a real team, in which everyone felt happy and part of it. Just as the 45-year-old rookie coach has said again and again "the key is that everyone is important."
Also, we shouldn't forget that the Spanish giants had always fought until the end of each game, and it seemed that they were really good at coming back in the later part of the games, as the data showed that there were a total of eight times that Madrid killed the game or leveled the score after 80 minutes. This earned their 20 league points in last season' s La Liga. For such a stubborn team, they deserve to say proudly that "we are the champions."
UPCOMING YOUNG TALENTS TAKE CENTER STAGE
Eighteen-year-old Kylian Mbappe, 22-year-old Thomas Lemar, 23-year-old Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko: these young talents led Monaco to a French league title-winning and Champions League semifinal season in 2017. The team finished last season by playing entertaining attacking football that produced a French League record 107 goals and 158 in all competitions. They produced these victories by setting the pitch on fire, and that is the kind of play that makes a successful side, no matter where they are from.
Hardly anyone would have expected that Leonardo Jardim's side could snap Paris Saint-Germain's dominance in the French League before the season started, as the capital-based giants had just won their fourth-consecutive league title with a record 96 points, 31 more than the second-placed Lyon. But it only took five months to change people's perspectives as the inexperienced Monaco, whose regular starting 11 only average-aged 24.5, took the first spot after 20 rounds and eventually clinched their first French League title in 17 years with a demanding 12-game winning streak.
"Winning the title with a team that is not the favorite is a great trophy," Jardim said after his squad secured the league title with one game to play in May.
THE YEAR OF THE GIANTS
Cristiano Ronaldo is another player who has set an example this year. He is something of an unstoppable monster: a dangerous killer and a maven of the game.
The year of 2017 was marked by glories for the Madeira-born striker - five titles with the Los Blancos including a historical back-to-back triumph in the Champions League. Despite once trailing 4-1 to his arch-rival Messi in Ballon d'Or, Ronaldo had leveled the score after winning the award again this month. Considering that Ronaldo is two years older than Messi, from 4-1 to 5-5 is like one of the most inspirational football stories of our time.
Ronaldo did go through some lows during the year when he only scored two goals in the group stage of last season's Champions League. There were even rumblings that a set-back was unavoidable for the 32-year-old. But just as Zidane reminded us: "critics should be careful with Ronaldo." The Portuguese bounced back just in time to net ten times in the knock-out stage, including back-to-back hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid and a brace in the 4-1 victory over Juventus in the final, which set him as the first man to score in three Champions League finals.
Brazilian star Neymar arrived in Paris in August with a record price tag of 222 million euros. He told the media that leaving Barcelona had been "one of the most difficult decisions I ever took" but he transferred to PSG to seek "new trophies and new challenges, not money". He said that those who thought he moved for money "don't know anything about my personal life" and added that "I was never motivated by money."
However, the PSG club should have considered about the money issue. The incredible commercial potential of the Brazilian national team captain must be one of the reasons that facilitated the deal. The club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi insisted that this investment is "not expensive" because he believed that they can earn money with Neymar. "It was a project of two brands," Al-Khelaifi said.
No matter for football or business, or both of them, one thing for sure is that this blockbuster signing has made Neymar the most expensive player in history, even doubled the former record which set by French midfielder Paul Pogba when he moved to Manchester from Juventus with a transfer fee of 105 million euros. If the 25-year-old wants to get rid of the price tag and make people forget about the money spent on him, the only way is to bring a convincing performance to the Parc des Princes, just like what Ronaldo did after his move to the Bernabeu.
FAILURES AND SETBACKS
The day of November 14, 2017 must be a dark memory for four-time World Cup winner Italy. A home 0-0 draw with Sweden at Milan in the 2018 World Cup qualification play-offs saw the Azzurri miss the World Cup finals for the first time in six decades. The same applied to three-time finalists the Netherlands, as the Dutch had missed two tournaments in the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup after placing third three years ago in Brazil.
It is hard to imagine a World Cup without Italy and Netherlands, but it will happen in Russia next year.
The failure to reach the World Cup left the players a trail of broken hearts, but unfortunately for some veterans among them, there will be no chance to mend them.
Right after the qualifying disasters, the 39-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon announced in tears his retirement from international football, along with him were his teammates, the 34-year-old De Rossi and 33-year-old Giorgio Chiellini. One month ago, the 33-year-old Arjen Robben had also called time on his international career when his national squad ranked third in the group stage and couldn't even got a ticket into the play-offs.
HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
Football is a game that is marked by a constant revolving door of players going on and off the pitch, which means sometimes, we have to bid our favorite players farewell.
The one-club man Totti, 40, started the new season at the auditorium for the first time in over two decades. In his own words, "From the stands, watching the match is really tough." But for his fans, it must also be tough to see their idol sitting in the spectator seats.
Philipp Lahm, 33, retired from professional football with his Bayern Munich teammate Xavi Alonso this summer. The two players won every major trophy in their careers and were key figures in two of the most incredible matches of this century. Spanish midfielder Alonso scored Liverpool's crucial third goal in their unbelievable come-back win over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, while Lahm was the captain of Germany in their 7-1 rout over hosts Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka bid farewell to football successively in the second half of 2017. Many football fans' best memory for the pair stayed in the summer of 2007, when they led AC Milan to the club's seventh Champions League triumph.
Their careers have come to end, but the moments they created for us will resonate for the rest of our lives.
Another sad farewell marked the football year in Britain. A young boy by the name of Bradley Lowery, a soccer mascot in the Premier League who became a close friend with then-Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, died aged only six in July.
Lowery was a devout Sunderland fan who had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that affects nerve tissue called neuroblastoma. During his battle against the disease, he found a place in the hearts of the entire country' s football fans. Lowery had successfully fought the disease once, but after going into remission, it came back last year.
Lowery's funeral drew attention from football fans across the country and Defoe flew back from his new club Bournemouth's training camp in Spain to attend it. The 35-year-old described Lowery as his "best mate" and said "he will always be in my heart for the rest of life."
Lowery's short life was made sweeter by falling in love with football, and this is perhaps the most beautiful testament to the power of this game to make a real difference in people's lives that we saw this year.
Football is not only about matches or tournaments, it's also about human compassion, love for each other, and striving to be better. It teaches us to help those who are in need, at the same time encourages the people who are in need to fight till the end. This is why we will continue to love the game. Enditem