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Ronaldo’s Portugal seal 2016 as year of the underdog

Madrid (AFP) – Inspired by Leicester City’s incredible Premier League success, underdogs also shone on the international stage in 2016 as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal stunned hosts France to the European championships in a tournament also lit up by debutants Wales and Iceland.

Ronaldo capped his stellar career with a first international trophy as Portugal took advantage of the new 24-team format to emerge victorious despite winning just one match in 90 minutes.

A tournament dogged by fears over terrorism thankfully passed off peacefully, bar skirmishes that marked the opening weekend between England and Russian fans.

That was to be far from the only embarrassment in France for England.

Coach Roy Hodgson resigned immediately after a sensational 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the last 16 sent the Three Lions for another early major tournament exit.

The Nordic island with a population of just over 300,000 captivated on and off the field with tens of thousands of fans setting the trend in the stands too with their Viking thunder clap chant.

Iceland’s dreams were finally ended in ruthless fashion by France, who also saw off old enemies Germany.

Wales reached the semi-finals on their first tournament appearance since 1958. Their run was finally halted as Ronaldo came out on top in battle of Real Madrid superstars with Gareth Bale.

Ronaldo left the field in tears after just 25 minutes of the final after suffering knee ligament damage.

Yet, even without the four-time World Player of the Year, Portugal upstaged the hosts when Eder proved the unlikely hero with the only goal in extra time.

England’s annus horribilis continued as Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce lasted just one game and 67 days in charge before being ousted over controversial comments made to undercover reporters in September.

Gareth Southgate became the third England boss in six months when he was confirmed in the role after a four-game trial period.

– Messi misses out –

In contrast to Ronaldo’s moment in the sun there was more heartbreak for Lionel Messi’s Argentina as they lost a major final for the third consecutive year in the Copa America Centenario on penalties to Chile.

So devastated was Messi at missing a spot-kick in the shootout that the temporarily announced his decision to retire from international football.

The Barcelona star quickly changed his mind, but Argentina still face a battle to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year as they lie fifth in South American qualifying.

Brazil were eliminated at the group stages in the Copa America, but inspired by Neymar were rejuvenated by sealing a first football Olympic gold on home soil.

On the European scene at club level it was another year dominated by Spanish clubs.

Real Madrid edged out neighbours Atletico Madrid in the second all-Spanish capital Champions League final in three seasons on penalties as Ronaldo hit the winning spot-kick in Milan.

Ronaldo’s dream year was rounded off by winning a fourth Ballon d’Or.

In the Club World Cup final in December another underdog – Japan’s Kashima Antlers – gave European champions Real Madrid a fright before a Ronaldo hat-trick saw them come from behind to win 4-2 in extra-time in Yokohama.

Sevilla claimed a third successive Europa League to temporarily halt the Jurgen Klopp revolution at Liverpool.

However, Barcelona remained on top domestically in Spain with a second consecutive La Liga and Copa del Rey double.

Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain continue to dominate in Germany and France respectively with fourth consecutive titles, whilst Juventus made it five-in-a-row in Italy’s Serie A.

Celtic also won their fifth straight title in Scotland, but that still wasn’t enough to save Ronny Deila’s job as the Norwegian coach was replaced by Brendan Rodgers.

Atletico Nacional became the first Colombian winners of the Copa Libertadores for 12 years.

They also reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana where they were due to play the unheralded Chapecuoense of Brazil.

Sadly, the final was never played as 71 people were killed when a plane carrying Chapeocuense players and staff to the first leg in Medellin crashed.

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