The football world has managed to fit a lot in during 2021, with high-stakes league and continental games accompanied by some big international tournaments over the summer.
With the sight of packed Premier League stadiums becoming the norm during the 2021-22 season, it’s easy to forget the reduced capacity or empty grounds which greeted many of us in the first half of the year.
The football gods served up a thrilling Euro 2020, as well as a momentous Copa America as Argentina and Lionel Messi ended their long drought, while we were also handed the rare spectacle of goalkeepers taking penalties in the final of the Europa League.
With so much going on from January to December, we’ve been spoiled for choice when it comes to picking out 10 of the best games of the year, but here – in no particular order – are 10 of our favourites.
Which was your favourite game of 2021? Let us know in the comments section
France 3-3 Switzerland – European Championships, June 28
The European Championships started with some good individual moments, not least Patrik Schick’s halfway-line goal against Scotland, but we had to wait unti the knockout stages for the tournament’s best games.
France hadn’t been entirely convincing in their group, drawing with both Hungary and Portugal, but a meeting with Switzerland didn’t look like the toughest on paper.
After an early scare through Haris Seferovic, France hit back with three second-half goals, the third an absolute beauty from Paul Pogba.
Karim Benzema had turned the game around with a quickfire double, looking like cementing his own personal comeback story, but Switzerland decided they wouldn’t let that happen.
Late goals from Seferovic and Mario Gavranovic sent the game to extra-time, where Kylian Mbappe missed a golden chance to win it for Les Bleus, and it was the PSG striker who saw his decisive penalty saved by Yann Sommer to send Vladimir Petkovic’s team through.
Cue the familiar fallout – this time, with players’ parents getting involved – after another opportunity missed by Didier Deschamps’ team.
Pool via REUTERS)
Barcelona 1-4 Paris Saint-Germain – Champions League, February 16
Things had looked much better for Mbappe a few months earlier, when PSG delivered one of those performances that felt like a real changing of the guard.
Barcelona had put the previous season’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich behind them, picking up 15 points from their Champions League group, but defeat against Juventus at Camp Nou meant they faced a tougher last 16 tie.
Not to worry, though. They still had Leo Messi, and his early penalty gave Barca the lead and made things look like business as usual.
For five minutes.
That’s how long it took for Mbappe to draw the visitors level, and by the end of the game he had his first Champions League knockout hat-trick, with Moise Kean chipping in with one himself.
This was a team showing they were ready to play with the big boys on their own patch, Messi or no Messi. Six months later, the Argentine had joined them.
Brentford 3-3 Liverpool – Premier League, September 25
Brentford have had to wait a long time to get a crack at the Premier League, and they’ve made their presence felt.
Liverpool have got their mojo back this season after their struggles last term, with 29 goals and no defeats in their first 10 league games, so it was always going to take something special to keep them in check.
Brentford, as it turns out, had that something special.
The Bees took the lead through Ethan Pinnock, a man who was still playing non-league football at the age of 24, and kept their nerves to twice hit back when Liverpool got their noses in front.
It was a thrill-a-minute game, with both sides peppering the opposition goal with shots, and either team could have scored more.
When the final whistle blew, you didn’t want it to end.
Valencia 3-3 Atletico Madrid – La Liga, November 7
Atletico Madrid survived a late-season dip to win La Liga last season, but their have been some bumps in the road in their title defence.
Diego Simeone’s side were pegged back late on by Levante in October, in a game which saw their manager sent off, but things got even more dramatic the following month.
To concede once in stoppage time is unfortunate. To do it twice, to turn a 3-1 lead into a draw, is careless.
Atleti had led 1-0 at half-time, and there were times when you’d have looked at that and assumed they closed things out for the following 45 minutes, but instead they were maid to pay as Hugo Duro struck for Los Che in the 92nd and 96th minutes.
On top of all that, Simeone can’t even say he wasn’t warned. Valencia had trailed 2-0 going into stoppage time in their previous home game against Mallorca. You can probably figure out what happened there.
Bayern Munich 5-2 Mainz – Bundesliga, January 3
Bayern weren’t always at their best last season as they made hard work of the Bundesliga title race, and the game against Mainz in January represented one of their scares.
Mainz had won just once all season when they travelled to the Allianz Arena just after the winter break, but went in 2-0 up at half-time against a shell-shocked Bayern.
Whether it was a “lads, it’s Tottenham”-style team-talk from Hansi Flick or a simple case of Bayern remembering the quality they had, something clicked after the break.
The champions were level within 10 minutes of the restart and ahead within 25. And then Robert Lewandowski decided to get in on the act. That’s how you come from behind.
Man Utd 3-3 Everton – Premier League, February 6
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United’s defensive struggles didn’t cause as much lasting damage last season as they did at the start of this, but there were exceptions.
Not that United need much reminding of the damage Everton can do after the infamous – and intensely dramatic – 4-4 draw back in 2012.
This game involved a two-goal United lead as well, though Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez brought it back to 2-2 early in the second half.
Scott McTominay thought he’d given United victory, only for a late, late, late equaliser from Dominic Calvert-Lewin that really tested the idea that empty stadiums couldn’t produce grandstand finishes.
Peru 3-3 Paraguay – Copa America, July 2
Sometimes you don’t need the highest quality of goal to produce a cracker of a game, and Peru and Paraguary demonstrated this.
The Copa America quarter-final was the definition of scrappy, but you couldn’t look away after the situation changed more times than you could count.
Six goals, including a last-minute equaliser from a player scoring his first ever international goal, and one red card a piece. Exactly the sort of thing tournament football is made for.
Oh, and did we mention the penalty shoot-out, and Pedro Gallese’s huge save to help send Peru through? Well, we have now.
Croatia 3-5 Spain – European Championships, June 28
Here’s that other Euro 2020 match we promised you, and it’s hard to believe it took place on the exact same day as France v Switzerland.
For a while, it looked like the story would be Unai Simon’s howler to concede a long-range own goal from Pedri’s backpass, but three Spain goals meant the game looked all but over going into the final 10 minutes.
Pool via REUTERS)
2021 has been a big year for Mislav Orsic, who scored a hat-trick in March to knock Tottenham out of the Europa League, and one of the goals of the following season’s tournament to give Dinamo Zagreb a win at West Ham.
In between those moments, he came off the bench to give Croatia hope against Spain, before Mario Pasalic popped up with an equaliser right at the death.
It wasn’t enough in the end, though. Alvaro Morata produced a wonderful goal under pressure to put Spain back ahead, before Mikel Oyarzabal made it safe. There was not to be another two-goal comeback and Spain were through.
West Ham 3-3 Arsenal – Premier League, March 21
Between mid-October and mid-March, West Ham scored three goals in a Premier League game in just three occasions. Then they did it three times in a row.
The Hammers blew Arsenal away in the opening 32 minutes, scoring three goals and looking like they could score more. They did just that, but their players started putting the ball into their own net.
Arsenal got themselves back into the game through two of the more common kinds of own goal: the big deflection (Tomas Soucek) and leathering one past your own keeper (Craig Dawson).
Alexandre Lacazette equalised for Arsenal, after which point both sides looked like they might grab another. Defensive solidity? Never heard of it.
You’d like to think West Ham learned their lesson from the game, and they did… sort of.
Another 3-0 lead at Wolves in the following game became a 3-2 win, and the same thing happened against Leicester one week after that. Turns out all they needed to do was score their third goal a little later.
Bristol Rovers 4-3 Oxford United – FA Cup, November 16
When you lead a game by three goals to one, you might expect to win. When you lead 3-1 during extra time, you really only have yourselves to blame if it doesn’t happen.
With 10 minutes left against Oxford in their FA Cup first round replay, Bristol Rovers still needed two goals to force penalties. They decided it would be easier to just score three, with Sion Spence the last-gasp hero.
We should have known things would be tight, after a 2-2 draw at the Kassam Stadium and a 1-1 after 90 minutes at the Memorial Stadium, but there’s nothing like a late turnaround in the cup.
Especially when the winner has more than a shade of Troy Deeney’s famous goal for Watford against Leicester City about it.
Have we missed your favourite game? Let us know in the comments