Tuesday, December 20, 2005

World Club Championship – Part 5: Show me the way to go home

The Final: Liverpool V Sau Paulo – Yokohama

Tragedy has struck – we’re not talking disaster in epic proportions of course, I’m not commenting on a terrorist strike or a tsunami; but merely a catastrophe within the context of world football. The heartbreaking tale I’m referring to is Liverpool’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring the World Club Championship to Merseyside for the first time. Last night the global crown eluded us once again as the Kings of Europe were subjected to a painful one-nil defeat at the hands of South Americans Champions, Sao Paulo. Victory for the Brazilians on a freezing night in Yokohama means that despite having won our own continental crown on five occasions, we’re still yet to lift the world title: a tragedy indeed.

Liverpool conceded the decisive goal on 27 minutes, when Mineiro coolly slotted home, following a well-executed move. It was the first time the watertight defence had been breached since Boa Morte’s strike in a league meeting with Fulham back in October. The proud record of eleven consecutive clean sheets is now confined to memory however, and more importantly, so is our dream for world domination …well, for a year at least. As with ‘that final’ in Istanbul, which saw Liverpool qualify for this inter-continental competition, the first half display was well below par. On this occasion however, it proved our undoing rather than our inspiration.

The Japanese Workforce

The Japanese Workforce

Sao Paulo on the other hand illustrated to the footballing world exactly why they are champions of South America, playing some breathtaking football in the opening period. With Costa Rican outfit Deportivo Saprissa having won the play-off for third place in the warm up game before the final, in front of a largely disinterested crowd, it is the Americas who have best acquitted themselves in this year’s tournament in Japan. Europe has failed to produce a King of Kings once again.

Liverpool were poor at best in the first half, with the Brazilians deserving of the advantage they took into the interval. In the second period however, Sao Paulo were virtually non existent, forced to desperately defend their slender lead. Liverpool spent the entire second half orchestrating wave after wave of attacks, bombarding the Sao Paulo goal from the first whistle until the last. As Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said after the game: “The first thing I can say is congratulations to my players as we deserved to win. We had 21 shots and 17 corners and hit the bar twice and scored three disallowed goals. We couldn't have done anymore to win.”

You can quote all the statistics in the world though, but the only one that matters is the final score line. One last glimpse at the scoreboard as the referee blew his whistle for a final time confirmed for me and the other 66,000 present that the game finished without us having equalised. Some of the decisions made by the officials may have been harsh, dubious, ridiculous, even scandalous …but the simply fact is that with refereeing judgments you’re as likely to be a beneficiary as a victim. We didn’t score so we deserved what we got: nothing.

Liverpool's failure to cancel out the Brazilian’s first half strike outlined our main areas of weakness in terms of personnel, emphasising in the cruelest of contexts, that despite being European Champions we still remain three or four short players of being a truly formidable side. With the transfer window just
around the corner, I can only hope this painful reminder will do more to convince the Liverpool management that further recruitment is required. Without it, it could be a while before I’m
back in Japan to see us do the job properly.

Making Friends with the Locals
Making Friends with the Locals

The Brazilians came in their droves to see their side secure a famous victory over the mighty Liverpool. I’d love to reflect warmly on them, and praise them for their gracious acceptance of the triumph, but sadly they were not the carnivalesque party-loving South Americans that the media love to portray them as. The vast majority instead seemed to represent more of the Barra Bravas school of football fandom. They set the tone for the evening; it was just a shame the Liverpool team couldn’t muster up a goal to put them in their place.

The song, “where’s your European Cups?” was one of many chants to have been lost on the boys from Brazil. Now Liverpool face a return to reality and the bread and butter of the English League Championship, with Newcastle and a certain Michael Owen to visit Anfield on Boxing Day. This is a club and indeed a player to whom the song in question will prove to be far more stinging. I for one can’t wait.

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