Getty Images

Most memorable soccer moments of 2018

Leave a comment

The 2018 soccer calendar year featured an unforgettable World Cup, another memorable Champions League run, and countless international and club moments that won titles and dazzled fans. Here is the best of the best from 2018:

14. Andros Townsend leads Crystal Palace over Manchester City

The significance of Manchester City’s dominance will be discussed at length in just a bit, but it’s hard to contextualize the first half of the 2018/19 Premier League season without mentioning Crystal Palace topping Manchester City 3-2 thanks in large part to THAT goal by Andros Townsend. Unquestionably the goal of the season so far, the victory for Palace not only gave them breathing room in the relegation battle, but also set the stage for Liverpool to take a commanding lead into the holiday season. It was a unforgettably powerful strike, and one Crystal Palace fans will remember for a long time, as will neutrals (and Liverpool fans!) as well.

13. Tata Martino rides off into the sunset with Atlanta United

In just the club’s second year of existence, they secured a Major League Soccer title, allowing manager Gerardo Martino to depart a champion, an inevitability he had announced a few weeks prior to the big game. A 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in the final secured Atlanta United’s place in MLS lore, and Josef Martinez picked up the league’s goalscoring record to boot (pun intended). It was a season of not just shattered records but shattered norms for Atlanta United as they set the new gold standard for the league in such a short amount of time.

12. World Cup performance leads Luka Modric to Ballon d’Or

Croatia was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining stories of the 2018 World Cup, and at the heart of their stunning run to the final was Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder set the stage for his eventual Ballon d’Or win by slicing and dicing his way through the World Cup knockout stage until the tank ran out against France in the big finale. Modric’s award win marked the first non-Messi/Ronaldo victory since Kaka way back in 2007.

11. Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid for Juventus

While it didn’t quite reach the levels of Neymar’s mega-deal with PSG, Cristiano Ronaldo captivated the world by ending a wildly successful nine-year stint at Real Madrid and moving to Turin. Juventus captured the 33-year-old Portuguese forward for a cool $133 million, but the deal is likely worth far more than that to the Italian giants who can now deploy one of the world’s most visible athletes. Ronaldo has made 23 appearances for Juventus to this date, scoring 13 goals and assisting seven others. He is set for his first true cup final with his new club as they take on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final on January 16, while the Italians drew Atletico Madrid – a familiar rival for Ronaldo – in the Champions League knockout stage.

10. Marcos Rojo goal saves Argentina at the death

The 2018 World Cup group stage was a wild ride, and one of the biggest moments of the entire event came in the 86th minute of the final round when an unlikely hero saved yet another international giant from group stage embarrassment. Germany had already been knocked out of the event in the early stages, and Argentina was fighting for its life. Marcos Rojo was on hand to volley home against Nigeria to ensure they would find the knockout round.

9. Roma comes back from 3 goals down vs. Barcelona in CL quarters

Trailing 4-1 after a first leg in Barcelona that featured two own-goals and a number of defensive mistakes by the Italians, Roma collected itself to produce one of the most stunning comebacks in Champions League history. Edin Dzeko scored just six minutes in to set the stage, Daniello de Rossi bagged a penalty after halftime, and Kostas Manolas produced the eventual winner off a corner eight minutes from the final whistle. A clean sheet sealed the improbable victory, and Dzeko’s 80th minute consolation in the first leg proved critical as well.

8. Arsene Wenger‘s wins 5-0 in final match at Arsenal

In April, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger announced he would be stepping down from his position, ending a legendary 20-year tenure with the Gunners that enshrined the Frenchman as one of the greatest ever Premier League managers. Still, the final few years were rocky and it seemed time for a change. The Gunners gave him the perfect send-off, winning 5-0 over Burnley at home thanks to a pair from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang plus goals from Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, and Alex Iwobi. It was the perfect encapsulation of Wenger’s tenure in charge, as a French international and an academy product both ended up on the scoresheet.

7. Denis Cheryshev takes World Cup by storm

Heading into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the home team was one of the consensus underdogs of the event. Russia had proved unable to find the back of the net over the past two years, and they would be lucky to make the knockout stage despite drawing a favorable group. In stepped Real Madrid reject Denis Cheryshev who set the World Cup alight with four goals in the tournament, propelling Russia to the quarterfinals where they fell on penalties to eventual finalists Croatia. His first game was the most memorable, coming off the bench as an injury substitute to score a brace over Saudi Arabia. He then grabbed another in the following match to earn a victory over Egypt, and scored the opener in the 2-2 draw with Croatia that would end in spot-kicks.

Cheryshev has since come back down to earth, with just a single goal for Valencia this season in 15 appearances across all competitions, but his performances in front of the home fans in this summer’s event was unforgettable.

6. Manchester United sacks Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Manchester United boss was a rocky one, and it all came to a head the final few months of 2018 before he was finally let go in mid-December. Mourinho was a popular figure among fans, but also found himself criticized constantly for style of play and player deployment. While he won the 2016/17 Europa League and the League Cup that year as well, his time in charge of the Red Devils was uncharacteristically devoid of major trophies, and likely contributed to his downfall at the club. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer placed in charge, the club won 5-1 in the first match following the change, marking the first time United had scored five goals in a match since Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, a cruel indictment of the Mourinho tenure.

5. Mohamed Salah breaks single-season PL goalscoring record

The 2017/18 Premier League season was ultimately about Manchester City’s domination from front to back, but it would be impossible to give a synopsis of the campaign without mentioning the goalscoring blitzkrieg dished out by Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian was next to unstoppable in his first full season as a Red, and he set the Premier League record for goals in a season on the final day as Liverpool stomped Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0. Salah scored 15 of his 38 Premier League goals in 2018, plus he grabbed five more in Champions League knockout play. Salah’s form has continued into 2018, and while he’s not on the record pace he was last season, it promises to be yet another fruitful one for the Liverpool winger.

4. Manchester City becomes first PL team to 100 points

Ultimately, the 2017/18 Premier League campaign was dominated from start to finish by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, becoming the first Premier League team to record a triple-digit point tally. City took hold of the table’s top spot in late September and never relinquished, securing the league title a good two months before the end of the season. Still, there was more to achieve, and Gabriel Jesus‘s winning goal against Southampton on the final day brought City exactly to the 100-point tally. The Citizens have proved fallible this campaign, but last year saw nobody come remotely close.

3. Copa Libertadores final 2nd leg suspended

The events surrounding the 2nd leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores captivated the world, and it all started with a moment that changed South American club soccer, likely for the foreseeable future. Boca Juniors and River Plate – two fierce Argentinian rivals – were set to meet for the second leg at El Monumental after a 2-2 first-leg draw. As the Boca team bus made its way to the venue, River fans pelted it with rocks and other projectiles, eventually causing the postponement of the fixture. A long, almost ridiculous saga ensued that ultimately led to the scheduling of the game in Madrid. River Plate would win the event in a thrilling 3-1 second-leg, but the story that led up to the game will be remembered by many.

2. Kylian Mbappe leads France to World Cup victory

Emerging as not just one of the best young players in the world, but a premier talent despite his age, Kylian Mbappe was sparkling as France chugged its way through the 2018 World Cup. Despite many criticizing Didier Deschamps throughout the tournament for France’s sup-par eye test, the team continued to grind out victories and never wavered, and Mbappe led the way with four goals in the event, including France’s fourth and final goal in the final against Croatia. While it looked like the team never truly played its best, France was no doubt the most talented team in the tournament and that shone through. Nobody will forget Benjamin Pavard’s stunning goal against Argentina that won him the Goal of the Tournament, but Mbappe is the most memorable player on a team bursting with world class talent.

1. Real Madrid tops Liverpool in Champions League final

Salah’s injury. Karius’s mistakes. Bale’s bike. This game had everything, and it was a joy to watch (for neutrals, at least). With Sergio Ramos cementing himself as one of the villains of the game, Liverpool missed Salah after his exit before the half-hour mark. Karim Benzema was on hand to put Madrid ahead – thanks in part to one of two massive mistakes by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius – but Sadio Mane brought LIverpool right back level four minutes later. While many remember Karius’s blunders and the subsequent reports of having suffered a concussion minutes earlier, Gareth Bale‘s unbelievable winning goal makes this game truly memorable. He bagged a brace to put the game away late, and Real Madrid won its third Champions League title in three years, allowing manager Zinedine Zidane to ride off into the sunset.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET