With the conclusion of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 2016 continues to be a historic year for the world of sports. The LaSallian takes a look back at the other major sporting events that were played out in the past eight months.
The 2016 NBA Finals was considered by most to be a dream match-up in the making. A rematch of last season’s finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, both teams entered the Finals on contrasting paths.
For the Warriors, they were arguably the heavy favorites to win back-to-back titles after sporting the best regular-season record in NBA history with a remarkable 73-9 slate. Stephen Curry was lauded the MVP award for the second consecutive season, becoming the first unanimous MVP in the league’s history after garnering all first-place votes from the voting panel. But amidst their historic run, the Warriors struggled in the playoffs and were on the brink of elimination when they faced a tough Oklahoma City Thunder team in the Western Conference Finals, needing an improbable comeback to win Game 7 and a seat in the Finals.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were on the heels of a strong postseason campaign behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. After finishing the regular season with a 57-25 win-loss record, the Cavaliers swept their first two playoff series and handily beat the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals, 4-2.
When the finals began, Golden State seemed to be on pace to win a second consecutive title as they took a commanding 2-0 series lead behind strong performances from Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Curry.
Through four games, the Cavaliers found themselves down 3-1, and with no team having ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in a finals series, they would need to pull off a comeback for the ages. With their backs against the wall, Cleveland relied on the heroics of James and Irving to force a winner-take-all Game 7.
The Cavaliers refused to be another statistic, as they came away with a series-clinching 93-89 win, ending the city’s 52-year championship drought in major American sports. James was named the Finals MVP after leading all players in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, becoming the only player in NBA history to do so in the Finals.
In celebration of the 100th year of the Copa América, the CONCACAF and the CONMEBOL, the football confederations of North and South American nations, respectively, held a special 16 team tournament—the first time the Copa was held outside of South America. The United States hosted 32 matches, with a staggering 91 goals scored in the oldest intercontinental football competition in the world.
Spectators were mostly thinking that countries like Brazil and Uruguay, two of the most decorated nations in the last century, would at least advance to the quarterfinals. However, thanks to a controversial handball goal, Peru won its first match against Brazil since 1985, securing them a ticket to the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Uruguay had a surprising first-round exit, as they suffered a 1-0 loss to Venezuela, their first loss against the La Vinotinto in nine Copa América meetings.
Carlos Bacca’s 31st minute goal landed Colombia a third-place finish in the tournament, beating the host team, the United States, once again in this year’s series. Colombia had a number of opportunities after that, but they failed to add to their lead later on in the second half. In the final minutes of the match, things got heated as red cards were presented to both teams, with Michael Orozco for the U.S. and Santiago Arias for Colombia among those sent off.
In the finals, World No. 5 Chile successfully defended their 2015 Copa América title from Argentina, who despite being the top-ranked team in the world are still in the hunt for their first national title since 1993. Although the tournament was held in the United States, the outcome was the same as it was last year, as Chile won a close match against Lionel Messi and his team.
A finale would not be complete without numerous fouls called and in that match, 35 fouls were called, with eight yellow cards and two reds handed out to both teams. The first red was awarded to Marcelo Diaz of Chile in the 28th minute after colliding with Messi, and the second during the 43rd minute to Argentina’s Marcos Rojo after tackling Arturo Vidal. The match finished with both teams having 10 players on the field. Goalless throughout the 90 minutes and the extra 30, the Copa América champions were determined in a gruesome penalty shootout that ended with the score of 4-2 in favor of Chile.
UEFA EURO 2016
The triumph of the underdogs is what the UEFA Euro 2016 was all about. With the new and expanded format, four of the six teams who finished third in the group stage will still have a chance to qualify for the knockout rounds. This paved way for countries like Wales and Iceland to advance further than they ever had in any major European competition. Around two billion people witnessed 108 goals in 51 tournament matches in the tournament, with Portugal having a victorious run to their first championship.
Team favorites like Germany, the FIFA World Cup 2014 titleholder, played solid defense almost throughout the whole tournament until Manuel Neuer conceded two goals from Antoine Greizmann in the semifinals against the host country France, giving them the coveted spot in the finals against Portugal. UEFA Euro 2012 winner Spain was booted out of the competition early by Croatia and Italy, with the Gli Azzurri having been eliminated by the Republic of Ireland.
Fans of Iceland and Wales would savor the memory of their team’s performance in this series. Reaching their first semi-final in a major tournament, Wales had a great run that included overthrowing the highly rated team from Belgium. Meanwhile, Iceland, the smallest nation in the tournament, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of European football by defeating England in round of 16 with a score of 2-1.
Even without their star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was substituted due to a knee injury in the 25th minute of the finals, Portugal showed why football is really a team sport. With their admirable defense and counter attacks, Portugal shocked the host country as forward Eder netted the winning goal in extra time. Having only met four times in any major series, this is the first time Portugal has won over France.
The Open Championship
In golf, Henrik Stenson edged out Phil Mickelson in the 140th Open Championship to claim his first major championship at 40 years old. His victory was further highlighted as he set the lowest score in any major championship, ending the tournament with a superb 20 under par.
It seemed as though Mickelson would run away with the championship, as he started the first day with a blistering eight under par 63, matching the course record at Royal Troon in the process. By the end of the round, Michelson held a three-shot lead over Martin Kaymer and Patrick Reed.
On the second day of the tournament, Mickelson held his ground atop the leaderboard, finishing the round 10 under par. Meanwhile, after carding a 68 on the previous day, Stenson figured in the race as he shot a 65 to move him to second.
The third round turned out to be a duel between the Swede and the American, as Stenson and Mickelson were in their element, while the rest of the field were at least five shots behind. By the end of the day, Stenson overtook Mickelson as he finished with a strong 65, and the one-shot lead.
The final round continued the showdown between Stenson and Mickelson, with both golfers going toe-to-toe thanks to their excellent play. It was regarded as one of the greatest final-round duels in a major championship in recent memory, with both playing at a tremendously high level throughout the final day. The round was highlighted by Stenson’s incredible 51-foot putt from off the green on the 15th. Stenson finished with an aggregate score of 264 (68-65-68-63), while Mickelson wound up three strokes behind with 267 (63-69-70-65).
The 130th Wimbledon Championships may have had a slight changing of the guard, but the top seeds continued to reign supreme in the Association of Professional Tennis (ATP). For the women’s side, World No. 1 Serena Williams continued her dominance in the grass courts, capturing her seventh Wimbledon title and 22nd Grand Slam singles event overall after defeating Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3.
After losing her previous Grand Slam finals matches earlier in the year, Williams tied Steffi Graf for the most major singles titles in the Open Era, further cementing her hold as one of the all-time greatest athletes the sport has ever seen.
In the Men’s division, Andy Murray captured his second Wimbledon title, soundly beating Milos Raonic in the final in straight sets, 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-2). The World No. 2 was dominant throughout the tournament, having only dropped four sets heading into the championship round.
Murray, who won his third Grand Slam title, took advantage of defending champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s shocking third-round exit against 29th-seed Sam Querrey. It was already a feat in itself that Raonic got that far after beating Roger Federer in the semi-final, 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 4-6 7-5 6-3, becoming the first male Canadian athlete to reach a Grand Slam final.