2016 in Sports: the Year of the Underdog

A fan watches on as Indonesia takes out the match. (Antara Photo/Widodo S Jusuf)

By : Amal Ganesha | on 12:15 PM December 26, 2016
Category : Sports, Football, Badminton, Featured, Motorsport

Jakarta. While 2016 was the Chinese lunar year of the monkey, it really belonged to the dogs — the underdogs. With many outcomes shocking pundits and delighting audiences the year was full of surprises.

Leicester City winning the Premier League

Claudio Ranieri won his first Premier League title with a club which came up from the second division in 2014 and finished 14th in 2015. The Italian was appointed in the summer of 2015 and immediately set about making changes.

Striker Jamie Vardy scored 13 goals from August to November in 2015, breaking the previous record of Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy while the Blues topped the table in December after struggling to avoid the relegation zone.

Vardy collaborated with Algerian Riyad Mahrez and Frenchman N'Golo Kante in the midfield which was well-constructed and successfully composed the right balance. Ranieri found that sometimes you had to lose possession to win with some of the league's big names beaten. Liverpool and Manchester City knew that Ranieri is a good tactician after both were defeated 0-2 and 1-3 respectively in February.

The iconic fairy tale became reality in May when Leicester held Manchester United in a tie while closest contender Tottenham Hotspur failed to secure a win against Chelsea. Leicester had a 5,000/1 chance set by bookmakers to win the Premier League, deemed less likely than music producer Simon Cowell becoming British Prime Minister.

Portugal's triumph in Euro 2016

Having had an unconvincing performance in the group stage with an unattractive display on the pitch with many noting a reliance on star player Cristiano Ronaldo out front, Portugal eventually took home the tournament in July winning 1-0 with an extra-time goal scored by Eder against host France.

Portugal had played with a focus on defense during the group stage, with no one predicting they'd take out the overall competition with not one win in the early rounds scoring 1-1 against Iceland, 0-0 against Austria and 3-3 with Hungary.

Ricardo Quaresma helped his country beat Croatia in the 16th round with an extra-time goal netted in the 117th minute.

The Portuguese star took to the penalty shootout to see off other competition underdog Poland in the quarter-finals and defeated Wales in semi-finals by 2-0 — arguably their most convincing win of the tournament.

The country finally won its first major trophy after a resistant challenge to competition favorites France and saw its star Cristiano finish his footballing career with a Euro 2016 medallion.

Portugal's Eder celebrates with the trophy after winning Euro 2016. (Reuters Photo/Kai Pfaffenbach) Portugal's Eder celebrates with the trophy after winning Euro 2016. (Reuters Photo/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Liliyana digging for gold paid-off

Indonesia's Liliyana Natsir had never won gold before the 2016 Rio Olympics, despite taking away silver in previous spells in Beijing 2008 and losing a bronze-medal match in London 2012. Many believe after being paired by partner Tontowi Ahmad in 2011, Liliyana could shine brighter.

Liliyana-Tontowi won the top spot in the oldest tournament, the All England Open, for consecutive years in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Seeing the improvement they had made since then, Liliyana was confident in winning the gold before departing to Rio de Janeiro in August, as she noted it would be her final dig before retiring from Olympic competition.

Liliayana, 31-year-old, had yet to face tough competition from top-seeded Chinese pair Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei in the semi-final. Despite winning by straight sets 21-16 and 21-15, Liliyana and Tontowi implied the game against Zhang Nan was the actual final.

Third-seeded Liliyana and Tontowi eventually presented the only gold medal for their country on Aug. 17, right in time for Independence Day. Liliyana's digging for gold came to an end after conquering Malaysian pair Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying 21-14 and 21-12 in the final, making her the second Indonesian woman to win Olympic gold after Susi Susanti.

Indonesia's gold medallists Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir stand on the center of the podium as the Indonesian national anthem is played. (Reuters Photo/Marcelo del Pozo) Indonesia's gold medallists Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir stand on the center of the podium as the Indonesian national anthem is played. (Reuters Photo/Marcelo del Pozo)

Indonesia also won gold in badminton mixed doubles for the first time in the Olympics, while Tontowi will begin the search for a new partner for Tokyo 2020.

Rosberg win and Rio Haryanto's boom in Formula One

New comer and young prospect Rio Haryanto received full-attention after becoming the first Indonesian driver to enter the Formula One (F1), being contracted by British team Manor Racing in early March but was discharged due to commercial reasons in August. While German underdog Nico Rosberg eventually won the championship in a dramatic scene.

Rio has been long considered as talented single-seater kart racer. Before joining the F1, Rio had frequently tested Manor's car in 2010. He had won the podium multiple times in F1's lower tier, such as in GP2 series in Bahrain, England and Australia. Rio finished the 2015 GP2 season in fourth place with 138 points.

Rio's forms in 2015 and his presence in Indonesian media had convinced Manor owner Stephen Fitzpatrick to recruit the 23-year-old as permanent driver. "Rio's huge following in Indonesia is great for the team and for F1. They are keen to see him on the grid and we're confident that we'll see him enjoying some exciting battles in the year ahead," he said.

Rio Haryanto in his F1 car in Melbourne, on Saturday (19/03). (Antara Photo/Brandon Malone) Rio Haryanto in his F1 car in Melbourne, on Saturday (19/03). (Antara Photo/Brandon Malone)

After racing in 12 series, Manor had to terminate Rio's tenure in F1 because he was unable to pay the full sponsorship fund. In July, Rio had a payable balance of $7.74 million which couldn't be met by his management. Despite having been supported by state-owned enterprise Pertamina for an initial funding of $5.2 million, Rio was replaced by 19-year-old French driver Esteban Ocon in August. Rio's highest milestone in F1 was the 15th finish in Monaco. He also hinted that he has been contacted by other teams to compete for F1's next season.

Meanwhile, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg flipped the top dog — and teammate — Lewis Hamilton with a dramatic win in the last race.

Rosberg enjoyed his mostly successful spell with Mercedes, winning 23 Grand Prix and claiming 30 pole positions. During his best times with Mercedes, he had a tricky competition with Hamilton, finishing second in the F1 in 2014 and 2015, and always behind Hamilton.

In November, he finally became a F1 world champion after an intense clash with Hamilton, which was undecided until the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Rosberg had his best year yet, topping the opening four races and nine in total on his way to be crowned as champion. Yet after 12 years racing in the F1, the 31-year-old decided to retire just five days after his victory. "I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right," Rosberg, who's also the son of former champion Keke Rosberg, told Reuters.

Nico Rosberg stunned Formula One early in December with the shock announcement that he was retiring only days after achieving a lifetime ambition by winning his first world championship with Mercedes. (Reuters Photo/Ahmed Jadallah) Nico Rosberg stunned Formula One early in December with the shock announcement that he was retiring only days after achieving a lifetime ambition by winning his first world championship with Mercedes. (Reuters Photo/Ahmed Jadallah)

"On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time," he added.

Sepp Blatter replaced after 18 years reigning at FIFA

Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA's new president in February for a term lasting until 2019, replacing the banned head, Joseph S. Blatter.

Infantino, the former UEFA general secretary, received 115 votes in the second round of voting, more than the required majority of 104 votes from the 207 members.

The Italian beat his closest rival Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain who had 88 votes.

Infantino, a former lawyer, promised better governance at the world's most popular sport governing body.

"We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA, and everyone in the world will be proud of us," Infantino said at the FIFA extraordinary congress in Zurich.

"I am not a candidate of Europe I am a candidate of football and football is universal."

While Infantino has been working tirelessly for the federation, Blatter is yet to be cleared in corruption cases in which is alleged to have been involved in for years.

FIFA suspension lift and the newly formed PSSI

Indonesian Football Association, or PSSI, finally got its new formation in November after almost two years of exhausting conflict with the government which had caused idleness in Indonesian football. The world's governing body FIFA finally lifted the suspension in May.

Army General Edy Rahmayadi was chosen as the new chairman with a majority support against his senior in the Military Corps TNI, ret. Gen. Moeldoko, at the association's congress in North Jakarta on Nov. 10. Edy then brought refreshment to the federation by replacing its secretary general with grassroots football figure Ade Wellington, while two deputies and long-timers Iwan Budianto and Djoko Driyono were elected as vice chairman.

PSSI still has many issues to deal with in the new year, such as Persebaya 1927 license dispute with Police affiliated club Bhayangkara FC, frequent football fans' violent conducts, unstructured competition ladder and other issues with professionalism.

Hundreds of Bonek gather outside the PSSI Congress in Ancol, North Jakarta, on Thursday (10/11). (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha) Hundreds of Bonek gather outside the PSSI Congress in Ancol, North Jakarta, on Thursday (10/11). (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)

Indonesia's badminton federation shift

Like the PSSI, Indonesian Badminton Federation, or PBSI, also has shifted its structure with the election of new chairman Wiranto on Oct. 31.

Wiranto, also the country's Chief Security Minister, beat incumbent Gita Wirjawan in the association's general meeting with majority voters believing that the former military chief possesses wider attention to regional federations, after nothing youth development has been stagnant in the countryside.

However Gita, who presented an Olympic gold medal and two Asian Games gold medals during his four years tenure, warmly accepted his defeat in the chairmanship post.

Indonesia reaches AFF Cup final despite uncertainties

The Indonesian football national team surprisingly finished as runner-up in the 2016 AFF Cup final despite various obstacles hampering the team. Thailand won the AFF Cup for the fifth time after shutting down Indonesia 2-0 in Bangkok on Dec. 17.

With the PSSI-government dispute creating uncertainties in Indonesian football over the past two years, the national team had only three months to prepare following coach Alfred Riedl's appointment in June. The Austrian began scouting activities by calling up players in July.

Riedl's men hammered Malaysia 3-0 in a friendly game in September with striker Boaz Salossa showing an impressive performance scoring two goals and creating an assist. The match was the first international competitive game for Indonesia after the FIFA ban was lifted.

The national team opened the AFF Cup with a 4-2 defeat by the would-be champions Thailand in the group stage. Yet, the team passed through to the semi-finals after a draw with the Philippines afterwards and a deciding 2-1 win against Singapore, thanks to Stefano Lilipaly's late goal.

Facing Vietnam in the first leg  of the semis, Indonesia had President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo watching from the stands at Pakansari Stadium in Bogor, West Java. Riedl and his men won 2-1, thanks to Boaz and defender Hansamu Yama. The second leg game in Hanoi was magical, despite being attacked vigorously all the time by the hosts, Indonesia held Vietnam 2-2 until 120 minutes with an extra-time goal from Manahati Lestusen.

President Joko Widodo gives salutes to players after Indonesia's win over Vietnam. (Antara Photo/Widodo S. Jusuf) President Joko Widodo gives salutes to players after Indonesia's win over Vietnam. (Antara Photo/Widodo S. Jusuf)

Unfortunately, Indonesia once again met an anticlimax with its fifth AFF Cup final appearance ending up again as runner-up. Thailand lost by 1-2 in the first leg final at Pakansari, but the War Elephants made a convincing come back at home with two goals coming from striker Sirod Chatthong. The final aggregate 3-2 was enough to see the Thais take the jubilee.

"We are happy we made the final, we did not really believe we could make the final," Riedl said afterwards.

Thailand saw its player Chanathip Songkrasin claimed the 2016 AFF Cup Most Valuable Player and Teerasil Dangda topped goalscorer chart with six goals.

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