Luis Suarez has announced he will not be joining River Plate after they were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores.

Veteran striker Suarez, who is a free agent after leaving Atletico Madrid, had been linked with River and has now confirmed there was genuine interest.

The former Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona man was open to the move, too, motivated by the opportunity to fight for a Libertadores title.

But River were eliminated from South America's elite club competition on Wednesday following a goalless draw at home to Velez Sarsfield in the last 16, losing 1-0 on aggregate.

Suarez will not therefore be heading to the Buenos Aires giants, who are losing Julian Alvarez to Manchester City, he told Ovacion.

"I was very excited about the possibility of going to River to fight for the Copa Libertadores," he said.

"It was a dream that I had to win a cup in South America. As River was knocked out, that possibility falls away."

Suarez has spent 16 years in Europe, signing for Groningen in 2006 after leaving Nacional in his native Uruguay.

And the 35-year-old said he was disappointed not to have heard from his former club, explaining: "If I came to think and get excited about the possibility of River, the same would happen with that of Nacional, which was my home.

"I am surprised that the leaders of Nacional did not even call me to find out my situation."

Instead, it seems, Suarez will stay in Europe. Ovacion reported he was weighing up three offers having been tempted by River.

"A month and a half ago, I declared that I was not going to leave Europe," he said. "But River insisted and insisted so much that I came to consider it, and there was a possibility.

"As much as one says something, when the time comes, you will consider it. You are excited that they love you so much.

"The player needs love. River was giving it to me, and Nacional could have tried that."

Boca Juniors confirmed Sebastian Battaglia's dismissal as the club's head coach after the dramatic elimination at home to Corinthians in the Copa Libertadores.

Sitting 11th after the opening month of this season's Primera Division and snatching a 0-0 draw in the first leg, Boca were lifeless for large parts of the second leg at home to Corinthians, before their 6-5 loss on penalties on Tuesday.

Dario Benedetto notably missed two penalties, with one in regular time and another in the shoot-out, to effectively mark the end of Battaglia's tenure.

The 41-year-old, who coached Boca's reserve team and was installed as a caretaker following Miguel Angel Russo's dismissal last August, leaves after winning the Copa Argentina and Copa de la Liga Profesional.

Also spending 13 years with the club as a player, the club insisted he will still be welcome at La Bombonera.

"Club Atletico Boca Juniors announces that Sebastian Battaglia is no longer the coach of the first football team and thanks him for his contribution throughout this cycle," the club said in a statement.

"Battaglia, after passing through the Reserve, took over as coach of the first team and won two titles, for which the entire club will be eternally grateful for his work.

"Sebastian, Boca will always be your home. Many successes in your career."

 

Palmeiras secured their progression to the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores on Wednesday, trouncing Cerro Porteno 5-0 in Sao Paulo.

Coming into the second leg with a 3-0 lead on aggregate, the Verdao eventually extended it to 8-0 over two legs with four goals in the final 20 minutes on Wednesday, following Braian Samudio's own goal in the first half.

Francisco Arce's side did little to put the two-time reigning Libertadores champions on the back foot, failing to generate a shot in open play in the penalty area over the 90 minutes despite the majority of possession.

Launches up the pitch from Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton resulted in late goals, with Rony scoring in the 73rd minutes and then assisting for Breno Lopes with a deft back-heel two minutes later. 

Palmeiras captain Gustavo Gomez scored what would be a cherished goal against his boyhood club Libertad's rivals to make it 4-0 in the 78th minute, before Breno returned the favour for Rony to round out the scoring in the 83rd.

Abel Ferreira's side will now meet Atletico Mineiro in the quarter-finals, after they progressed past Emelec on Tuesday.

Second-half barrage sees Flamengo through 

Flamengo set up a high-profile quarter-final with Corinthians in the late game on Wednesday, smashing Deportes Tolima 7-1 in Rio de Janeiro in their second-leg clash.

Dorival Junior's side confirmed an 8-1 win on aggregate over two legs, scoring five goals in the second half at the Maracana.

Pedro bagged a poker on the night, putting the two-time Libertadores winners up 1-0 in only the fifth minute, before helping put the aggregate result beyond doubt in the second half with another three goals.

Velez knock out River in huge upset 

Even after Corinthians eliminated Boca Juniors at La Bombonera on Tuesday, Velez Sarsfield claimed the last-16's biggest scalp, progressing past River Plate with a 0-0 draw on Wednesday in Buenos Aires.

Julio Vaccari's side absorbed pressure and looked relatively comfortable at the Monumental, against a River side that grew increasingly short of ideas.

Despite 71.1 per cent of possession in the second half, in what will likely be Julian Alvarez's last game for the club before completing his move to Manchester City, River Plate did not generate a shot in the penalty area from open play in the final 30 minutes.

Corinthians progressed to the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores on Tuesday without the injured Willian, going through 6-5 on penalties after two goalless legs.

After Boca scraped a draw in the first leg in Sao Paulo, they were given a chance to take the early lead from the spot, after a VAR intervention penalised Raul Gustavo's errant elbow.

Despite sending Cassio the wrong way, Dario Benedetto smacked his effort against the frame of the goal, critically maintaining parity in the tie.

The 32-year-old had the best chance of the second half for Boca as well, but his chip in transition floated just over when put through by Sebastian Villa.

In the shoot-out, back-to-back penalty saves from Agustin Rossi were not able to save Benedetto, who skied his second penalty before Gil eventually put the Timao through.

Hulk sends CAM through

Atletico Mineiro left it late but secured their progression to the quarter-finals, defeating Emelec 1-0 in Belo Horizonte to go through 2-1 on aggregate.

Antonio Mohamed's side struggled for significant portions of the first leg but dominated possession and territory in the return, with 21 shots to six on the night 

Hulk's 79th-minute penalty ultimately proved the difference, calmly slotting past Pedro Ortiz.

Romulo salvages draw and progression for Athletico-PR

Athletico Paranaense snatched a late 1-1 draw in Asuncion, advancing to the quarter-finals by winning 3-2 on aggregate.

The Paraguayan champions forced themselves level on aggregate through veteran Roque Santa Cruz in the fourth minute of first-half injury time, scoring via a wonderful solo dribble and finish.  

When the tie looked set for penalties, Romulo dramatically secured passage for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side, picking up the rebound from his own header to score in the 90th minute.

Boca Juniors claimed an important result in their first-leg tie against Corinthians in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores, holding on for a 0-0 draw in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.

Corinthians dominated proceedings at home but were not able to capitalise, with Roger Guedes also failing to convert from the penalty spot with the interval approaching.

It would have been a deserved lead for the Timao after a positive opening 45 minutes, but Guedes was brilliantly denied in the 43rd minute by Agustin Rossi, who guessed correctly and quickly reacted to save.

The home side's best chance in open play fell to Giuliano after a mazy dribble into the penalty area from Willian in the 46th minute, but Marcos Rojo scrambled to quell the danger.

With Exequiel Zeballos and Dario Benedetto struggling to have a tangible impact, coming back to Buenos Aires for the second leg with parity intact is a positive for Boca, after also failing to defeat Corinthians in their two Group E games.

Ortiz denies CAM smash and grab

Emelec will have to progress past Atletico Mineiro in Belo Horizonte after only managing a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg.

As expected under Antonio Mohamed, CAM primarily looked to absorb pressure, and they scored against the run of play in the 16th minute. A spectacular first touch from Hulk to bring Everson's hoof under control put Ademir through, and he calmly converted past Pedro Ortiz.

Emelec captain Sebastian Rodriguez deservedly got his side back on level terms in the 58th minute, but CAM had a penalty of their own with two minutes of regular time remaining. Ortiz stood up this time, though, denying Hulk what would have been the winner.

Athletico-PR take first leg

Two first-half goals from Athletico Paranaense allowed them to secure a 2-1 win at home to Libertad in Curitiba.

After confirming Fernandinho's signing from Manchester City, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side were characteristically solid defensively, but only after they hit the lead a second time.

Vitor Roque put the hosts ahead in only the sixth minute but the Paraguayan champions equalised through Hector Villalba in the 20th minute. Athletico PR restored the lead 12 minutes later, with Nicolas Hernandez scoring the eventual winner.

Fernandinho has rejoined former club Athletico Paranaense after announcing his departure from Manchester City.

The 37-year-old stated his intention to return to Brazil in April before completing his ninth campaign at the Etihad Stadium, and leaves at the end of his contract having made a total of 383 appearances for City.

Fernandinho took over as City captain after David Silva's 2020 departure and featured in five Premier League title wins, the last four of them under Pep Guardiola's management.

But the holding midfielder, who has won 53 caps for Brazil, was reduced to a supporting role during the 2021-22 season, starting just 17 games in all competitions as Rodri enjoyed a terrific campaign at the base of Guardiola's midfield.

On Monday, Athletico Paranaense tweeted an image of Fernandinho with club president Mario Celso Petraglia, alongside the caption: "Welcome back, Fernandinho!"

Fernandinho spent three seasons with the Curitiba-based club before joining Shakhtar Donetsk in 2005, where he won six Ukrainian top-flight titles.

Athletico Paranaense are coached by former World Cup-winning Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari, who joined the side in May.

Julian Alvarez bagged an extraordinary six goals as River Plate finished off the Copa Libertadores group stage with a win, smashing Alianza Lima 8-1 on Wednesday.

The Manchester City-bound 22-year-old had effectively secured the win for River in their final game in Group F, scoring a brace in the opening 20 minutes, before sealing a first-half hat-trick four minutes from the interval.

His third was the pick of the bunch, too, retreating between the lines to receive the ball before driving low and hard into the bottom corner from just outside the penalty area.

Following Santiago Simon's goal in the 53rd minute, Enzo Gomez arguably topped them all for degree of difficulty, sending the ball into the top corner in the 79th minute before Alvarez rounded out the scoring four minutes later.

Los Millonarios ended the group stage undefeated, claiming 16 points from a possible 18 with the win.

Fortaleza snatch second from Colo Colo

In the other Group F game, Fortaleza took the three points and second spot from Santiago, defeating Colo Colo 4-3.

With both teams even on seven points coming into the final matchday, Los Albos needed the win but started the match in an inadequate fashion, conceding in only the second minute to Silvio Romero.

A Moises double before Yago Pikachu's goal in the 61st minute put Fortaleza in control, despite a brace of own-goals from Brayan Ceballos.

Cerro Porteno scrape through

Olimpia were unable to leapfrog Cerro Porteno in Group G despite claiming a 1-0 win in Asuncion, putting the latter through to the last 16 on goal difference.

El Decano needed to win by two goals or more in this Libertadores edition of the Paraguayan Clasico, trailing the Clausura champions by three points and with an inferior goal difference of one.

Despite an early goal from Fernando Cardozo in the 10th minute, they were unable to break the Azulgrana down and will have to continue in the Copa Sudamericana, finishing third.

River Plate boss Marcelo Gallardo hailed his team's performance as they secured their path to the Copa Libertadores knockout stage, thrashing Colo Colo 4-0 on Thursday.

Agustin Palavecino's goal just before the interval gave Los Millonarios critical momentum for the second half, with goals from Nicolas de la Cruz, David Martinez and Ezequiel Barco eventually putting them six points clear atop Group F with a game left.

Following the weekend's shock elimination to Tigre in the Copa de la Liga Profesional, Gallardo's side ultimately dominated the Chilean league leaders, recording 28 shots to six for a cumulative xG total of 3.39 to 0.87.

The 46-year-old coach believes it was a necessary response from his team on top of what was at stake in the group.

"We played a very good match," Gallardo said. "I think the first half was quite even. Colo Colo are a tough team.

"In the second half we adjusted some things, we were more precise and vertical. The result could have been even better.

"We had to vindicate ourselves after last week's setback and the team did very well, they recovered against a strong rival. There was a great collective response, we achieved the qualification [to the last 16] and we surpassed Colo Colo by far.

"We were in a key game, with our people, to vindicate ourselves with what was the setback last week. I think we did well, the team recovered against a very good opponent."

In Thursday's other results in the Copa Libertadores, Deportivo Cali leapfrogged Corinthians and Boca Juniors to move to top spot in Group E, securing a 3-0 win over Always Ready, while a Hulk brace helped Atletico Mineiro defeat Independiente del Valle 3-1.

A 10-man Corinthians moved a step closer to securing their place in the Copa Libertadores knockout stage, playing out a 1-1 draw with Boca Juniors on Tuesday.

The draw at the Bombonera means the Timao maintained their one-point lead over Boca in Group E on eight points. Deportivo Cali and Always Ready sit on five and four points respectively, with their game on Thursday awaiting.

Corinthians were looking to absorb from the opening minute and scored with their only shot for the match, with Du Queiroz's attempt following a corner trickling past Agustin Rossi in the 16th minute.

Dario Benedetto scored the equaliser on his birthday three minutes from the interval, but Boca largely could not break Corinthians down, even after the latter went down to ten men.

A lengthy melee and stoppage following Victor Cantillo's straight red also saw Corinthians coach Vitor Pereira given his marching orders, but his side emerged with an important point.

Flamengo coast through to last 16

Flamengo booked their spot in the knockout stage, securing a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Universidad Catolica.

The Rubro-Negro hit the lead in only the seventh minute, with Willian Arao heading home Giorgian de Arrascaeta's corner. Everton Ribeiro doubled the margin six minutes from the interval.

Pedro rounded out the scoring with a fine solo finish in the final minute of regular time, securing the fourth win from five games and a five-point margin atop Group H.

Estudiantes also secure progress

Estudiantes also confirmed passage to the last 16 earlier on Tuesday, claiming a 1-0 win away to second-placed RB Bragantino.

Gustavo del Prete's wonderfully improvised finish in the 77th minute ultimately proved the difference between the two sides in what was otherwise a tightly contested game of little clear chances.

While Estudiantes moved to 13 points from five games, Bragantino's second spot remains within touching distance of Nacional and Velez Sarsfield, who play on Wednesday.

Colo Colo were unable to make up ground on River Plate in the Copa Libertadores, playing out a 1-1 draw away to Alianza Lima on Thursday.

The Chilean side translated their early dominance into a goal in the 22nd minute albeit from a dead ball, when Leonardo Gil's corner was flicked on by Maximiliano Falcon, with an unmarked Lucero tapping in at the back post.

The visitors had a chance to double the margin only five minutes later when Pablo Miguez was called for a hand ball in the penalty area, but Lucero hooked his attempt and failed to hit the target.

Alianza made them pay straight out of the interval, equalising in the 46th minute. After some aerial tennis, Hernan Barcos deftly brought the ball down and played through Wilmer Aguirre, who fired past Brayan Cortes.

In what was ultimately a tight second half, Falcon had an opportunity to retake the lead for Colo Colo deep into stoppage time from another corner, but his unmarked header went agonisingly wide.

Although the draw leaves Los Albos only three points behind River Plate in Group C with seven points from four games, Fortaleza sit three points behind in third and can still relegate them to the Copa Sudamericana spot.

River Plate drop points in Brazil

The Colo Colo draw came after River Plate's shock 1-1 stalemate with Fortaleza at the Estadio Castelao.

After conceding only one goal over their opening three victories in Group C, Los Millonarios were down 1-0 in only the fourth minute, with Lucas Crispim setting up Silvio Romero.

Enzo Fernandez equalised 13 minutes later from the penalty spot after Tomas Pochettino was brought down, but despite good chances in the second half, River failed to capitalise and make it four victories from four.

Bragantino deny Velez a first Group C win

Velez Sarsfield's hopes of progressing to the knockout stage were dealt a blow after their 1-1 draw with RB Bragantino.

Veteran Lucas Pratto put El Fortin ahead in the 14th minute with a neat finish from an acute angle, and looked as though they were going to hold out for their first group-stage win in Sao Paulo.

With the goal, Pratto now has the highest active number of goals in the competition, scoring 28 times.

Jose Hurtado equalised for Bragantino in the 84th minute with his first-time volley, keeping them in second with five points and putting Estudiantes in box seat to progress from Group C.

River Plate left it late to claim their third successive win in this season's Copa Libertadores group stage, defeating Colo Colo 2-1 in Santiago.

Matias Suarez and Esequiel Barco scored in the final 10 minutes for the four-time Libertadores winners in an overall cagey 90 minutes at the Monumental David Arellano.

Los Albos had an apparent penalty waved away in first-half injury time, when Paulo Diaz brought down Juan Lucero as he was cutting back onto his right foot to shoot.

Diaz would be prominent again with Matias Suarez breaking the deadlock for River in the 83rd minute, though. The Chile international and former Colo Colo player quickly won back possession before playing through Marcelo Herrera, whose cross was not dealt with, and Suarez was on hand to punish.

Returning from injury, Esequiel Barco played a full match and doubled the margin in the 88th minute, rifling home from just outside the penalty area, before Lucero scored a consolation in the second minute of injury time.

Palmeiras make it three from three

Palmeiras took control of Group A and secured their third win of this season's group stage, with the 2021 Libertadores winners defeating Emelec 3-1 in Guayaquil.

The Verdao have not struggled for goals despite a middling start to the Serie A season, and they opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 19th minute. 

Following Mayke's cross-field pass, Rony headed in Wesley's first-time delivery back across the penalty area, with the ball not touching the ground in that sequence.

Gabriel Veron made it 2-0 six minutes later, cutting through the Emelec defence in transition, before calmly slotting home past Pedro Ortiz. Joao Rojas scored for the hosts in the 61st, but Breno Lopes eventually restored the two-goal margin.

Pikachu gets two assists as Fortaleza relieve pressure

In the other Group F result, Fortaleza claimed their first-ever win in the Libertadores, defeating Alianza Lima 2-1 at home on Wednesday.

After two respective defeats to begin their Serie A and Libertadores campaigns, Silvio Romero put Fortaleza ahead five minutes after the restart.

Alianza claimed an equaliser in the 70th minute with Pablo Lavandeira getting on the end of Yordi Vilchez's cross, but Yago Pikachu got his second assist of the night, setting Hercules up for the winner nine minutes later.

Corinthians momentarily moved to top spot of Group E in the Copa Libertadores, defeating Boca Juniors 2-0 on Tuesday.

Maycon scored a double for Corinthians, who moved to six points from three games following their opening group game defeat away to Always Ready.

On loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, the 24-year-old opened the scoring in only the fifth minute, getting on the end of Fagner's cross to head home past Javier Garcia.

Despite playing at home, the Timao were more than comfortable absorbing Boca possession, with only 33.8 per cent of the ball for the second half.

They eventually doubled the margin on the counter in the 78th minute, with Willian breaking clear and playing in Roger Guedes, whose attempt on goal was parried into Maycon's path for the rebound and finish.

Boselli brilliance puts Estudiantes in box seat

Estudiantes took a commanding lead in Group C on Tuesday, claiming a 2-0 win at home to RB Bragantino.

Augustin Rogel broke the deadlock for Estudiantes in the 54th minute, heading in from close range before Mauro Boselli's spectacular lob over Cleiton in the Bragantino goal only three minutes later.

Los Pincharratas moved to seven points after three games, ahead of Bragantino, who are joined on four points by Nacional following their 2-1 win away to a 10-man Velez Sarsfield.

Shares spoiled in Group D

Independiente del Valle and Atletico Mineiro played out a 1-1 draw in Quito, to share top spot in Group D after three games.

Hulk opened the scoring in only the seventh minute with recent Selecao callup Guilherme Arana providing the assist.

The Negriazules kept applying pressure and eventually got a deserved equaliser via Junior Sornoza five minutes after the restart.

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Palmeiras head coach Abel Ferreira admits he is considering his future in the role despite lifting the Copa Libertadores with Saturday's 2-1 final victory over Flamengo.

The 42-year-old Portuguese cited the hectic schedule for Palmeiras, juggling competing in Brazil's top flight along with continental competitions.

Palmeiras have played eight times this month and will back up from Saturday's final with a Brasileiro Serie A fixture against Cuiaba on Tuesday.

Ferreira, who became the first European head coach to win the Copa Libertadores twice, said the schedule was "insane" and "inhuman".

"The calendar is insane, it is inhuman," Ferreira said at the post-game news conference. "For me, I have to do a lot of thinking. The club has already demonstrated its will, I am very grateful to the club.

I can't manage with this rhythm of game, rest, game. This is not for me. I am not able to do it. I can't be at my maximum capacity, not at my maximum strength, not at my maximum energy.

"I always need to rely on the players. It's inhuman what they do here. If they want to grow, they gave to give up the round trips in cups.

"We have to have space to be able to rest and play well. I will stop, reflect and do what is best for Palmeiras."

Ferreira took over as Palmeiras boss in October 2020, having previously led PAOK and Sporting Braga.

Palmeiras successfully defended their Copa Libertadores crown as they battled to a 2-1 extra-time win over Flamengo.

The Brazilian sides were both bidding for their third Libertadores title in Montevideo on Saturday, and it was Palmeiras who came out on top to become the first side to win the tournament in successive seasons since Boca Juniors did so in 2000 and 2001.

Palmeiras made a flying start, with Raphael Veiga scoring the earliest goal in a Libertadores final since 2008, but at the stadium where they won their maiden title in 1981, Flamengo's second-half dominance was rewarded when Gabriel Barbosa restored parity.

Having scored early in regulation time, Palmeiras repeated the feat in the additional period – substitute Deyverson proving their hero.

Veiga's fifth-minute opener was wonderfully worked, with Mayke getting to the byline and cutting it back for the onrushing midfielder to finish first time.

Aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, 2019 champions Flamengo would then have equalised if not for the reactions of Weverton, who denied Giorgian de Arrascaeta from point-blank range.

After squandering a golden chance to head in from close range, Gabi, Flamengo's hero in 2019, atoned for his miss with a drilled strike in the 72nd minute, catching Weverton out at his near post with unerring accuracy, becoming the first player to score 11 goals in a Libertadores campaign.

Yet a lapse in concentration from Andreas Pereira cost Flamengo five minutes into extra time. Having replaced Veiga, Deyverson pounced on the Manchester United loanee's loose touch and squeezed a finish past Diego Alves to etch Palmeiras' name on the trophy.

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