Eight Big Winners in 2015: Club and Country

Four of FIFA's six confederations, including our own Concacaf, crowned national team champions. Midway through the year came the seventh Women's World Cup. And a rather well-known team won the Club World Cup earlier this month. Those champs, and a pair Western Hemisphere victors, comprise our Eight Big Winners of 2015.

Socceroos take Asia Cup.
Australia, which left the Oceania confederation in 2007, hosted and won its first Asia Cup in January. The Socceroos downed South Korea, 2-1, in overtime in the final. Tim Cahill, coming off his last MLS season with the New York Red Bulls, scored both goals in a 2-0 quarterfinal win over China, including this sweet bicycle kick:

Elephants rule Africa
Ivory Coast won its second Africa Cup of Nations -- the Elephants won their first in 1992 -- thanks to an 11-round shootout win after a scoreless tie with Ghana in the final in Equatorial Guinea in February. Ivory Coast had lost the 2002 and 2006 finals on penalty kicks. This time goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, starting the final only because an injury to Sylvain Gbohouo, made two shootout saves and scored the Ivory Coast’s clinching spot kick himself.

Las Aguilas claim Concacaf crown
Club America became club champion of the Concacaf region for the seventh time when it won the 2014-15 Concacaf Champions League. In the two-leg final in April, MLS’s Montreal Impact managed to tie Club America, 1-1, at Azteca Stadium but Las Aguilas won, 4-2, in Canada for a 5-3 aggregate victory. Argentine Dario Benedetto and Oribe Peralta combined for all five of Club America’s goals. The Club America victory marked the 10th straight time a Mexican club has won the regional club crown. Arizona product Ventura Alvarado started on the Club America backline in the second leg and became the second American after Jose Torres with Pachuca in 2010.

La Roja lifts the Copa America
Chile was one of the best teams at the 2014 World Cup, falling unluckily to host Brazil in the round of 16 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. One year later, Chile hosted the Copa America and won the South American championship for the first time after four runner-up finishes. A 1-0 quarterfinal win over Uruguay and a 2-1 semifinal win over Peru put the Chileans in the final against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. After 120 minutes of scoreless play, Chile won the penalty kick tiebreaker, 4-1.

USA recaptures Women’s World Cup
The U.S. women, although Olympic gold medal winners in 2004, 2008 and 2012, had not won the Women’s World Cup since it hosted in 1999. In Canada last summer, Coach Jill Ellis’ team improved steadily as the tournament progressed and won the title in spectacular fashion. With a Carli Lloyd hat trick, the Americans beat Japan, 5-2, in the final that drew a soccer record U.S. television audience of 26.7 million on Fox and Telemundo.

El Tri Triumphs Twice
Mexico beat Jamaica, 3-1, in July to win Gold Cup, marking the 10th time El Tri has won a Concacaf crown. The win earned Mexico a playoff with the USA for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. The first-ever Concacaf Cup drew a crowd of 93,723 to the Rose Bowl to witness one of the most exciting clashes of the archrivals. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored his first goal against the USA, while Oribe Peralta and Paul Aguilar responded to the USA’s equalizers for a 3-2 overtime victory.

Los Millonarios complete revival with Libertadores win
River Plate, which was relegated to the second division for the first time in 2011, put an exclamation mark on its resurrection by winning 2015 Copa Libertadores. Mexico’s Tigres held River Plate to a 0-0 tie in Nuevo Leon but in Buenos Aires River Plate prevailed, 3-0, on goals by Lucas Alario, Carlos Sanchez and Ramiro Funes Mori, who played youth soccer in Texas from age 10 to 17. It was River Plate’s third Copa Libertadores title.

Fantastic trio leads Blaugrana to Quintet
Barcelona, led by the South American trio of Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil) and Luis Suarez (Uruguay) -- who scored a combined 122 goals in 2014-15 season -- won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League – and followed up with UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup crowns. Barcelona beat Juventus, 3-1, in the Champions League final in May. It won its seventh La Liga title in 10 years by finishing two points ahead of Real Madrid and its record 27th Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. In August, Barca beat Europa League winner Sevilla, 5-4, to win UEFA Super Cup. And in December, it beat River Plate in the Club World Cup.

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