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Ronaldo's goals & Zidane's soul - 2016 belongs to World Champions Real Madrid


The year started amid uncertainty for Real Madrid. With poor performances and also results, plus an unhappy dressing room, Rafa Benitez lasted only one match in 2016 before he was relieved of his duties. But what has happened since is nothing short of sensational.

When Zinedine Zidane took the reins in January, many said he was not ready. After all, he had coached only Madrid's youth team, Castilla. Defeat to Atletico in the derby at the Santiago Bernabeu was an early setback, but it turned out to be one of only two losses for the Frenchman in 2016.

Ronaldo hat-trick seals CWC for Real Madrid

Zidane's side went to Camp Nou and won the Clasico in March, pushing Barcelona all the way to the wire in La Liga and missing out on the title by a single point. Madrid then edged out Atletico on penalties to win the Champions League in Milan.

Up until then, there had been doubts over the Frenchman's future. But president Florentino Perez had seen his decision to remove Rafa and bring in Zidane vindicated. And there was more to come as Madrid added the UEFA Super Cup in August, with Sergio Ramos' late leveller forcing extra-time against Sevilla, before Dani Caravjal's strike won the trophy.

This third final seemed as if it would be a more straightforward affair. Madrid were big favourites to beat Japanese side Kashima Anflers and when Karim Benzema gave Los Blancos the lead early on, there appeared little danger for Zidane's men.

However, some poor defending allowed the locals back in it and perhaps their home advantage was telling. After all, there was no jetlag for the Japanese side, while Madrid's players were probably still feeling the effects of the long journey and adapting to the time difference. In any case, Real were playing poorly and, at 2-1 down, were in danger of a defeat that would have brought ridicule and derision.

Ronaldo wins 2016 Ballon d'Or

But Real Madrid don't play finals, they win them. And just like in Lisbon in 2014, Milan in May and Trondheim in August, Los Blancos needed extra-time to see this one out after Cristiano Ronaldo equalised from the penalty spot on the hour.

Ronaldo, who had missed a good chance in normal time to make it 3-2, added two more goals in extra-time with typically clinical finishes to steal the headlines, the limelight and the protagonism in a match in which he had really not been anywhere near his best.

Gallery: Real Madrid's record-breaking run

However, he ended up with the Golden Ball - his second in a week after claiming the Ballon d'Or on Monday - and Madrid go home with the title, their third in an incredible year.

With three trophies, just two defeats (against Atletico and away to Wolfsburg, which was overturned anyway in the Champions League) and a 37-match unbeaten run, Madrid will finish 2016 on top of La Liga and with plenty of optimism ahead of the winter break.

Yes, they can play much better than this, particularly in defence, while Sergio Ramos was fortunate to escape a red card and Kashima's attackers were afforded far too much space throughout. But Ronaldo's goals and Zidane's aura have made 2016 a year to remember for Madrid - and there is reason to believe that 2017 can be just as good or perhaps even better.