Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Marseille Vs Liverpool

When the draw for this season’s Champions League group phase took place, I was on an adventure holiday, somewhere in wilderness that is Canada’s Yukon Territory. In a province that is home to more bears than people (a claim my visit served to substantiate), communication with the outside world, particularly that separated by oceanic waters, is often problematic. Consequently, I had to wait until the road I was travelling on brought me to Fairbanks, and the relative centre of civilisation that is Alaska, before I could get an internet connection and discover who Liverpool had been drawn against.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

By that time however, most flights connecting anywhere near Liverpool with anywhere near any of the clubs we had been drawn against, on any date near the respective match days, were either full or stupidly overpriced. To further complicate matters, there was no way of getting in touch with any of the old folks back home, to inquire of itineraries selected by my fellow Liverpool fans. With time at a premium, I made the decision on that ridiculously bright Alaskan night, to book a flight and a hired car, and travel alone to this season’s first competitive European away fixture.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

This year’s continental campaign was to begin at Marseille, a team Liverpool are starting to get to know well. This would be my third trip to watch the Reds play at the Stad Velodrome in six seasons. I opted to fly to Barcelona on the morning of the game, and after a quick scan at the other passengers, it appeared I was the only Liverpool fan on board. So I buried my head in Jamie Carragher’s autobiography, and hardly looked up from take off to landing.

I was half was through the third chapter when we landed, and was in the middle of a story about Jan Molby running rings around Everton centre halves, when I looked to my left and realised I had been sitting next to the great Dane himself. I was almost disappointed, as I had missed the opportunity to quiz the best passer of a ball I have ever seen about his career. I’m sure Jan was quite relieved. He signed my book and posed for a photograph, after which I inquired as to whether he needed a lift to Marseille. But of course, he was being met and was to be escorted on the 300-mile trip up the Mediterranean coast. It would have been a little far fetched to do a European away trip with one of your boyhood heroes anyway. For now at least, it appeared I was destined for solitude.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

I arrived in the French port six hours later, by which time I should have been painfully aware that after a energy-sapping night watching Liverpool beat Marseille once again, I was faced with the same journey home, followed immediately by a full day at the office back in Liverpool. But as my old mate little Danny always said, ‘sleeping’s cheating’. It had been six months since my last European adventure, and the pain of losing to Chelsea in last season’s Champions League semi-final was now consigned to history. Buoyed by our victory over Man United over the weekend, I was looking forward to seeing another Liverpool triumph. The remaining details of the itinerary were from that moment discarded, particularly after I had met up with the few reds who had bothered to make the rip.

The match in Marseille proved remarkably similar to our outing the previous weekend, particularly the opening exchanges. We faced a bright and adventurous Marseille team, who looked destined to threaten the Liverpool defence. That threat was realised on twenty-three minutes, when Cana put the home side ahead and sent the home fans into fits of hysteria. The French side remain one of the best supported in world football, and they must have thought their chances of securing a second victory over Liverpool in two seasons was on the cards.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

Thankfully, Liverpool’s increasingly resilient side had other plans. Captain marvel Steven Gerrard in particular, was in no mood to open the European campaign with a defeat. He scored twice in quick succession to give Liverpool an ultimately decisive lead. His first was a brilliantly taken goal three minutes after the opening strike. His second came from the penalty spot five minutes later, and sent a message to Europe that Liverpool will no longer be reduced to salvaging qualification in the latter phases of the group stage.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

It might be early days, but Rafa Benitez’s side look set to have qualification for the Super Sixteen round of the competition sewn up before travelling to Eindhoven for our final group game. PSV are unlikely to halt Liverpool’s progress in either meeting between the two clubs. New boys Atletico Madrid, who won 4-0 in Holland on match day one, are likely to represent our most serious threat to winning the group. Our next away fixture in the competition is against the Spanish club in five weeks time, a meeting that could decide the order of the top two in Group D. After that, all roads lead to Rome.

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