The return to football
Following the cancellation or postponement of all FIFA tournaments in 2020, many made a comeback in 2021, albeit in a different world of new regulations and protocols across the game. However, a spirit of teamwork, cooperation and collaboration prevailed and 2021 was the year when the beautiful game as we know it returned.
The delayed Olympic Football Tournaments took place in Tokyo, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup was held in Russia, Lithuania hosted the FIFA Futsal World Cup and the rescheduled FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 was delivered.
With exactly one year to go until the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the next hosts of the biggest single-sport event on the planet welcomed 15 other nations to its shores to compete for the FIFA Arab Cup – inaugurating two more Qatar 2022 stadiums in the process.
Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020
After being delayed by a year, the Games were finally able to take place in July and August 2021, albeit behind closed doors as hosts Japan continued to battle against COVID-19. Although the circumstances and surroundings could not have been more different to those in Rio de Janeiro five years earlier, the outcome was the same, with 2016 winners Brazil claiming gold once again.
A Seleção survived two gruelling extra-time encounters, first coming through a penalty shoot-out against a gritty Mexico side in the semi-final, before going the distance again against Spain in the gold medal match. Mexico, winners in 2012, claimed the bronze medal with victory over hosts Japan.
Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020
The best female players in the world also took to the stage in Tokyo for their delayed tournament – and it proved to be well worth the wait. Canada upset the Olympic “old guard” of the USA and Sweden to become only the fourth country to win Olympic gold. Despite winning just one of their three group-stage games, Bev Priestman’s side turned on the style when it mattered most – holding their nerve twice to defeat Brazil and Sweden on penalties in the quarter-final and final respectively, either side of a 1-0 victory against pre-tournament favourites USA in the semi-final.
“I just can’t believe it’s happened. I’m completely overwhelmed. I really never thought it would happen for me.”
FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™
The first FIFA tournament to be staged in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ended once again with European champions. Bayern Munich claimed their sixth trophy in a year, a feat only achieved once before, by Barcelona in the 2008/09 season. This was also Bayern’s second FIFA Club World Cupᵀᴹ triumph following their maiden title in 2013.
The Germans proved their supremacy in their opening game against Egypt’s Al Ahly, progressing to the final with a brace from Lewandowski, voted the tournament’s best player. The European champions showed quality and physical strength against their African counterparts, who played admirably, especially in the second half, but were powerless to prevent Bayern closing in on their sixth title of the year. Tigres proved worthy opponents in the final but once again the Bavarians triumphed.
FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Russia 2021™
In August, echoing the Russian triumphs of 2011 and 2013, the Russian Football Union (RFU) lifted the prized trophy after defeating Japan 5-2 in the final in Moscow. It was very much a team effort by the winners of the showpiece match, who led from start to finish. In the race for third place, Switzerland and Senegal played out a classic, with the Europeans edging out their African counterparts 9-7.
With a total of 302 goals, the tournament become the highest-scoring FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup ever, surpassing the 286 recorded in Brazil in 2006 and at Paraguay 2019. On average, an impressive 9.43 goals were scored per match.
FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™
Portugal were crowned futsal world champions in October after beating Argentina 2-1 in the final. Pany was the hero on the day, scoring both goals in a closely-contested encounter in front of a packed arena in Kaunas. Pany, who was the only player to have scored in six matches and who found the back of the net at least once in every round of the knockout stages, said: “People didn’t believe in us. They thought we won the EURO by chance. I’m sure we didn’t and we won this competition because we deserved it, because we were the best team. It’s an amazing day for Portugal.”
Following their narrow defeat to eventual runners-up Argentina, five-time champions Brazil had to settle for a chase to third place. They picked themselves up though, overcoming Kazakhstan 4-2 to claim bronze.
“People didn’t believe in us. They thought we won the EURO by chance. I’m sure we didn’t and we won this competition because we deserved it, because we were the best team. It’s an amazing day for Portugal.”
FIFA Arab Cup 2021™
After 19 days of action and 32 exciting matches, the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 came to a close on 18 December – one year to the day before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 final is due to take place – with Algeria defeating Tunisia 2-0 after extra time at Al Bayt Stadium. Both sides enjoyed outstanding tournaments, with Morocco and Egypt also impressing. The Atlas Lions were knocked out in the last eight by Algeria, while the Pharaohs fell to Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles in the semi-finals.
Another team to catch the eye were hosts Qatar, who bowed out of the tournament with victory over Egypt in the match for third place. The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations champions, Algeria added the Arab Cup to their growing trophy collection, with Madjid Bougherra taking charge of the team for the competition.