It is now an established tradition that the footballing year kicks off in January with the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala.
Almost 12 months ago, the cream of world football gathered at Zurich’s Kongresshaus to find out who had been chosen as the standout player of 2014. Finally, when all was said and done and the votes counted, Germany’s Nadine Kessler and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo stood proudly atop the main stage as the Women and Men’s World Player of the Year respectively. There were also triumphs for the coaches of Germany’s men and women’s teams, Joachim Low and Ralf Kellerman, as well as Colombia’s James Rodriguez, who received the FIFA Puskás Award for the goal of the year.
Shortly after last year’s ceremony on 12 January and before club action resumed in earnest in many countries, two new continental champions were crowned. Australia lifted the AFC Asian Cup to secure their qualification for the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, while Côte d’Ivoire ended 23 years of hurt by winning a second CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
As of May this year, the international focus was back on the various FIFA World Cups. ‘This is the one’ was the official slogan of the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, and for Serbia the prophecy rang true, as the Balkan side won their first-ever international trophy since independence. Veljko Paunovic’s team had to negotiate extra time in three of their four knockout games and a penalty shoot-out in the other, showing tremendous team spirit and a will to win that typified the mantra of ‘One team, one heart’.
While Serbia’s youngsters were savouring the sweet taste of victory in the South Pacific, the biggest tournament of the year was about to reach its zenith some 13,000 km away in Canada. After a pulsating month of competition, USA took on defending champions Japan in the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Final and emerged 5-2 winners, captain Carli Lloyd stealing the show with a hat-trick inside the opening 16 minutes. Her contribution over the four exciting weeks, which included a memorable goal from the halfway line against Japan, may just win her the World Player of the Year award in a few weeks’ time.
Recognition for the team’s effort, meanwhile, poured in from far and wide. A beaming USA President Barack Obama invited the squad to the White House, declaring how Jill Ellis’ charges had “shown all American children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass… that you’re the best”, while superstars from the world of sport shared their congratulations on Twitter. “#Magisterial” was how NBA player Kobe Bryant described the USA’s win, while golfer Tiger Woods wrote: “Love watching history being made. There is nothing like it. Go USA!” and singer Beyonce posted a selfie in her USA shirt on Instagram.
From New Zealand via Canada, the next stop was Chile, venue for the Copa America. A total of 16 countries competed for the prize, but it was the hosts that came out on top and who, alongside Germany, Russia and Australia, became the fourth team to book their place at the Confederations Cup in 2017. Mexico, winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, will be joining Chile after they overcame 2013 Gold Cup champions USA in a CONCACAF Cup play-off in October.
Chile’s part in the year’s international football was not yet at an end, however. A few months after their Copa triumph, the South Americans hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October and November. To the slogan of ‘A party on our pitch’, La Rojita’s young guns showcased the talent the country possesses in its youth ranks, and although they were knocked out in the Round of 16, they should be a force at this level in the near future. Nigeria would go on to defeat Mali in the final and, with five wins, consolidate their position as the record champions at U-17 level.
Off the pitch, Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz Alshehri tasted glory as the winner of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2015 in Munich, receiving a cheque and the prestigious trophy from none other than Austrian international and Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. The Vienna-born utility man is a passionate console player himself and revealed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com his pleasure at being present at the event in May. “I really enjoyed being here,” he said. “The event and the skills of the players have been totally amazing."
Yet it is not just the Ballon d’Or Gala in January that marks the end of one year in football and the beginning of another. The FIFA Club World Cup has also become something of a final flourish, and the most recent tournament in Japan was no different. In a celebrated final between the South American champions River Plate and UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona, the latter came through to win a fifth trophy of the year thanks to superstars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Uruguay international Suarez was the pick of the bunch, scoring five goals in two games to inspire his side to victory and pick up the adidas Golden Ball as player of the tournament.
“The Intercontinental Cup is now the Club World Cup and it’s something that’s excited me since I was a boy, when I used to wake up at six in the morning to watch these games,” said the 28-year-old exclusively to FIFA.com in the moments after the final. “It’s one of the dreams I had yet to fulfil.”
So after all that, what awaits us in the New Year? The Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro, the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016, the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 and much, much more. Before all that, however, the football year of 2016 will begin in its customary fashion: with the traditional FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich on 11 January.