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2016 a year of football milestones

On the field of play, 2016 was a year of milestones.

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2016 a year of football milestones

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On the field of play, 2016 was a year of milestones.

In Europe’s top club competition, the Champions League, Real Madrid once again put space between themselves and the rest of the continent’s elite.

The Spaniards beat fellow La Liga side and city rivals Atletico Madrid to lift the coveted trophy for a record 11th time – four more than any other team (AC Milan have seven).

It capped off a fairytale first season at the helm for Zinedine Zidane.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning penalty to deliver the title to his side.

It would be the start of a trophy-filled year for the 31-year old.

Six weeks later Ronaldo would be celebrating another title.

This time with his national teammates after Portugal won the European Championship for the nation’s very first major trophy.

Star man Ronaldo was stretchered off after just 25 minutes of the final but Portugal held strong to beat tournament hosts France 1-0 in extra time.

Portugal had finally reached the pinnacle of European football although they, and most of the other teams, failed to light up the stage with quality play.

Ronaldo’s trophy cabinet was added to in mid-December when he was named winner of the Ballon d’Or for a fourth time, beating perennial rival Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.

Player of Euro 2016

France forward Griezmann suffered heartbreak with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in May and again on July 12 in the final of Euro 2016.

But the 25-year old striker earned a consolation prize for his Euro efforts by being named Player of the Tournament.

Griezmann finished the European Championship on home soil as top scorer with six goals and two assists.

He started all but one France’s seven matches and his Golden Boot-winning tally included braces against Republic of Ireland and Germany in the knockout phase.

The rise of the debutants

Whilst many European heavyweight nations flattered to deceive in France there were some surprise performances at Euro 2016 from a couple of the tournament debutants.

Wales captured the hearts and minds of football fans around the continent.

It was a vintage campaign for the Dragons, who made a run to the semi-finals in their first ever appearance in the tournament.

It was a run that saw Chris Coleman’s men thrash Russia 3-0 in the group stage, beat Northern Ireland in the round of 16, Belgium in the quarters but end in the last four against eventual winners Portugal.

Iceland were another of the first timers to make an impression on the footballing battle fields of France.

The team returned home to a heroes welcome after reaching the quarter-finals.

Their run at the event saw them draw with Portugal and Hungary and beat Austria in the group stage from which they qualified in second place.

They then caused one of the major upsets of the tournament by stunning England in the round of 16.

Their visit to France ended in the last eight where they were thumped by the hosts.

Like Wales, Iceland’s exploits captivated football fans, while the intimidating Viking Clap from their own supporters has become one of the most iconic images of the event.

End of an era confirmed

Heading to Euro 2016 as defending two time champions Spain were once again tagged as one of the pre-tournament favourites, but their era of European domination ended in the round of 16.

The end of their era had already begun though when they were humiliated at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But it was confirmed in France with a poor string of performances that culminated in a 2-0 defeat by Italy in the first knockout round.

For the first time in eight years, Spain no longer have a title to defend.

The ugly side of the beautiful game

The Beautiful game rears its ugly head from time to time and unfortunately Euro 2016 was one of those times.

Violence marred the early stages of the competition.

French riot police were called into action on several occasions, notably when English and Russian fans clashed both in Marseille and Lille.

Due to the extent of the violence the Russian team were given a suspended disqualification and the country’s national federation was fined €150,000.

Fifty Russian fans were eventually deported.

Nice, Paris, St Etienne and Lyon also bore the brunt of some unruly behaviour by supporters.

Change in the corridors of power

At the beginning of 2016 football’s corridors of power witnessed some much-needed changes.

Following a scandal-hit year for football’s world governing body, FIFA elected a new president in February – former UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.

Infantino was charged with cleaning up FIFA’s battered reputation left by his disgraced predecessor Sepp Blatter.

The Swiss-Italian’s appointment marked a fresh start for the organisation.

Infantino only entered the FIFA presidential race when his then UEFA boss Michel Platini was suspended then banned for six years for accepting a ‘‘disloyal payment’‘ from Blatter in 2011.

In May, Platini had his ban reduced to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but his days involved with football were already numbered.

As were Blatter’s.

In December the 80-year-old Swiss failed in a challenge over his six-year ban – a ruling he described as ‘incomprehensible’.

Incomprehensible or not, with Blatter and Platini now out of the football picture a new era at the top of the sport has begun.

As Infantino settled into to his new job, his old one at the helm of European football’s governing body needed to be filled.

That was done in September.

Head of the Slovenian Football Association Aleksander Ceferin came out of nowhere to win the backing of 42 of the 55 Uefa voting members and win the election.

Following a turbulent and chaotic 2015 for football, the appointments of Infantino and Ceferin in 2016 marks a new and hopefully brighter chapter in football.