As 2019 comes to a close we take a look at some of the highlights from both club and international soccer during an action-packed year.
The global game produced plenty of memorable moments in 2019, and the beauty is every soccer fan will have their own memories to take from the previous 12 months.
From incident to entertainment, champions to underachievers, there were storylines and tales to tell across the world of soccer.
Here’s a look at just a handful of the highlights from around of world of both club and international soccer during an action-packed 2019.
Liverpool rule the world
After a Boxing Day thrashing of second-place Leicester City, Liverpool enter their final match of the year having lost only once in the Premier League in 2019.
That solitary defeat came in January in the middle of last season, a season in which they pushed Manchester City all the way in the Premier League title race but missed out by one point. It was significant that the one loss came against the eventual champions at the Etihad Stadium.
Since then Liverpool have gone on to lift the Champions League, the European Super Cup, and most recently the Club World Cup.
Those trophies, their form over the past 12 months, their style of play under Jurgen Klopp, and the fact they boasted six players in the Ballon d’Or top 20, and three in the top five, reinforces Liverpool’s position as the best club side in the world.
USWNT triumph in France
This felt like a momentous World Cup for many reasons, so it was fitting that the standard-bearers for the women’s game at international level walked away with the trophy for the second consecutive tournament.
Led by head coach Jill Ellis, who was also at the helm for the 2015 triumph in Canada, and by player/ambassador Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. women’s national team defeated England in the semis and the Netherlands in the final.
Midfielder Julie Ertz deservedly claimed the US Soccer women’s Player of the Year award, and Rapinoe was recognized as the best player in the world.
The 2019 World Cup certainly provided at least a temporary boost for women’s soccer across the globe. It highlighted to a global audience the game’s struggles in certain countries and was also a celebration of the game.
Given the quality on show in the tournament and the coverage it was given, it could well go on to provide a permanent boost to the women’s game across the world.
Lima Libertadores Final
There was lots of attention around the 2018 Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate, eventually won by the latter.
Trouble in Buenos Aires for the final, which pit two of soccer’s biggest rivals against each other over two legs, saw the second leg moved to Europe, and to Madrid, attracting more attention from the global media as a result.
That didn’t quite follow through to the 2019 South American showpiece, but this year’s event was a big game in its own right.
River Plate returned to defend their crown against a side already widely considered the best in South America in 2019, Flamengo.
This being the Libertadores, the final was not without its hitches, and the game was moved from Santiago, Chile, to the Peruvian capital Lima due to social and political unrest in the original host city.
Having taken an early lead, River and their highly respected manager Marcelo Gallardo looked to have retained the trophy, but a brace from Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa in the final two minutes of the game completed a dramatic turnaround for Flamengo, who lifted the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 1981.
The year of Flamengo
The Copa Libertadores winners deserve additional special mention, not just for their domestic and continental feats, but also for their showing against Liverpool on the international stage. It was a truly special year for Mengão.
They breezed to the Brazilian title, finishing 16 points ahead of second-place Santos, scoring 86 goals in 38 games.
With Portuguese head coach Jorge Jesus at the helm, they were more convincing in the Libertadores than they had been for some time, and were able to complete that sensational comeback victory in the final.
Gabigol, Bruno Henrique, Everton Ribeiro, and Giorgian De Arrascaeta formed one of the most feared attacks in South America, with Bruno Henrique in particular also troubling opposition on the international stage at the Club World Cup.
In the Club World Cup final, an eagerly anticipated repeat of the 1981 Intercontinental Cup clash, Flamengo went toe-to-toe with Klopp’s Liverpool. The South American champions took the game to extra time before eventually succumbing to a strike from one of Liverpool’s own Brazilian stars, Roberto Firmino.
Carlos Vela entertains America
Few players in world soccer could match Carlos Vela’s attacking output in 2019.
After showing signs of things to come in Los Angeles FC’s first season in Major League Soccer, finishing top scorer with 14 goals in 2018, he stepped things up in 2019 by scoring 36 goals in 33 games and also racking up 11 assists.
He was easily the best player in the league and duly claimed the MVP award to go with a Golden Boot for finishing the campaign as top goalscorer, breaking the record for most regular season goals in the process.
Vela helped LAFC secure the Supporters’ Shield with a record number of points (72), a joint-record number of goals (85), and record goal difference (48).
Though the 2018 expansion side was unable to make this regular season dominance count in the MLS Cup playoffs, which were won by Seattle Sounders FC, LAFC was the standout team in 2019 with Vela one of the most impressive strikers in the world game.
From Brazil to China; from Elkeson to Ai Kesen
A unique 2019 story you may have missed saw one of the most prolific Brazilian forwards in recent years became the first player with no Chinese ancestry to represent the China national team.
English midfielder Nico Yennaris became the first foreign-born player to represent the country thanks to Chinese ancestry on his mother’s side, while Norwegian-born John Hou Sæter, who moved to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan in 2019, is eligible for the same reasons.
But it was Elkeson who attracted attention due to his lack of ancestry, and becomes the latest in a long line of Brazilians to represent a country other than that of his birth.
Elkeson’s story with China began much earlier in the decade.
In 2013, when Roberto Firmino was still working on making a name for himself in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim, and Gabriel Jesus had only just signed his first youth contract with Palmeiras, Elkeson was one of the most prolific Brazilian center forwards in the world.
That year, having just joined Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande from Botafogo, Elkeson was lighting up the league with his goalscoring exploits and managed 24 goals in 28 games in his first season, before going on to score 28 in 28 in 2014 — a record which was only broken this year by Israeli forward Eran Zahavi who netted 29.
Elkeson has walked away with numerous individual awards since arriving in China and has recently rejoined Guangzhou Evergrande after a successful spell with Shanghai SIPG.
In a post-Ronaldo, pre-Frimino world, Brazil struggled to find a reliable No. 9 but ignored Elkeson. Brazil’s loss was China’s gain, and he already has three goals in four appearances for his adopted country.
He is now known by his Chinese name, Ai Kesen, and has fully embraced his adopted nation, on and off the soccer field.