Juventus Vanquished In Turin 末 Hail the Rafalution

Posted by Paul Tomkins on April 13, 2005, 10:57:30 PM

How do I write a match report with trembling fingers, having had those very digits either over my eyes, in my mouth (in order to bite the nails), or firmly crossed for the duration of the match? Or, at one brief stage, using those fingers to cover a mouth desperate, through nerves, to eruct the entire birthday cake I had earlier consumed, plus ten shards of fingernail. Many happy returns indeed.

   Watching a game like this is akin (I'm guessing) to Chinese water torture. You don't enjoy such matches, you endure them. Fans can only watch four or five of these types of matches a seasons 末 any more would be as beneficial for your health as smoking 200 cigarettes a day (while stood on a petrol station forecourt with trousers doused in gasoline).

   Over the two legs, the best team won. I could tell that much through the lattice of fingers, even if I initially typed ocer thh twi ligs tha nest ream eon. (So in the circumstances I can rest assured that you will excuse any solecisms tonight). And we made Juventus look ordinary in both matches 末 we didn't allow them to play, apart from when we tired in the first leg and their fresh legs, having just had a weekend off, made us pay. Even then, they could only score with the softest of goals. Thank God Scott Carson is smiling his goofy smile tonight.

   The Brazilian Emerson (who I was lucky enough to play as part of the Roma side defeated 2-0 by the Reds, in Rome in 2001) said that not only were Juve unlucky to lose the first leg, but that "Liverpool do not have a fantastic squad." He also said there's no way Liverpool could keep a clean sheet in Turin.

   To quote Homer Simpson: "D'oh!"

   Fabio Capello, his manager back in 2001 and 2002, when the Reds dumped his side out of Europe in consecutive seasons, was more respectful, but must equally hate the site of Liverpool, as his side is once again eliminated by men from Merseyside. His pocket genius, Pavel Nedved, felt the winner of this game would win the tournament. How we all hope he was right.

   I may be wrong 末 and Post-Match Hysteria is now a recognised medical condition 末 but I could have sworn Xabi Alonso (a Liverpool legend in the making, make no doubt) not only played his first match in nearly four months, but excelled, and that Djibril Ciss, who would not be seen again until August, came on as a sub (the best sight of the season), as the Reds ran out deserved 2-1 aggregate winners. In the second half Liverpool were the better side, and people, for all the patchy league form, must starting taking Rafa Benitez seriously. Imagine what he can do with a fully fit squad 末 he has still not had the luxury of picking his strongest team 末 and when the players are moulded yet further by his guiding hand, as well as adding in a few new signings here and there?

   But the best thing about the whole situation is this: unlike the previous meetings with Chelsea, Rafa's boys can approach the semi-finals as the rank outsiders. After all, Liverpool didn't spend 」278m to get there. Chelsea spent that money in the desperate desire to match some of Liverpool's illustrious history, and are under enormous pressure to win it.

   Liverpool have been favourites to go out at every stage of the competition, it has seemed, having been outsiders at one stage to even qualify last season. At this stage Liverpool want to win it, of course, but it's a bonus to have even made it this far. Chelsea, given their league success, and the money spent, simply have to win it.

   This is precisely the situation that allowed Chelsea 末 who always, but always, failed to beat Arsenal (and had done so already three times last season) 末 to upset the apple cart, and dump the Gunners out over two legs in last year's quarter-finals. Chelsea may think they have the Indian sign over us, but whereas the pressure was on us to win at Cardiff (as everyone said it was our only hope of silverware), the pressure will be 100% on Chelsea this time. Every last ounce of it. And maybe the luck will finally be with us: the two penalties we were denied at Anfield, and the one at Cardiff; the freakish own goal nine minutes from the end of the Carling Cup; and beaten by yet another Chelsea deflected goal on News Year's Day. And how much does Alonso owe Frank "another deflected goal" Lampard a few tears of his own?

   The Reds will have no players suspended, and 末 touch wood 末 will have Steven Gerrard back (assuming he gets selected!), not to mention the imperious Xabi Alonso a few weeks fitter, and Ciss, who was asked to play from pure memory, perhaps approaching match fitness. For the first time this season we should be facing Chelsea with our best side, but also with added confidence from having overcome the mighty Juventus, as well as Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco: three recent finalists. Plus Deportivo La Coruna, recent semi-finalists on more than one occasion.

   It's hard to pick heroes on a night like this. Alonso just about edged it as the star man, with his superb passing and 'unflusterable' composure (as well as shadowing Nedved), but no one let the team down 末 not even Milan Baros, who didn't have one of his better nights, but ran and ran, then ran some more. Traore made the fans more nervous than he has all season, but he still won innumerable headers, and played his part. Even Le Tallec, who wasn't even supposed to be back at the club until the summer (how happy is he now?) and Smicer made their marks. Igor continues to look perfectly in place at the highest level, and at the back, the reborn Steve Finnan confirmed his status as the best right back in the country, bar none.

   The other two who deserve to be singled out are of course Sami Hyypia 末 playing as well as ever 末 and Jamie Carragher: limiting Juventus to just one chance each half.

   It was a great performance from a defensive point of view, with the Reds keeping things tight, and Benitez clearly winning the tactical battle with his mentor. (Pupil becomes teacher). Riise played deeper to allow Traore to tuck inside, as a quasi-centre-back. The major surprise was that as the game opened up in the second half, the Reds had the best chance, and a series of half (and quarter) chances, while Juve's best moment was yet another Canniarvaro header.

   It ranks as one of the truly great nights in Liverpool's history, because this time 末 unlike in the past 末 the Reds were never expected to get anywhere close to the semis. It has also come in the face of some terrible injuries, disrupting Rafa's plans at every turn, so that he has used the whole squad 末 every last bit of it 末 to take the team this far.

   Every single player must have got Champions League minutes under his belt. No wonder the reserves are having an average season 末 most of the players have been busy getting the team to the final of the Carling Cup, and playing their part in the amazing run to face Chelsea again, this time in Europe. The big players have stood up and been counted, but the list of heroes includes Welsh, Potter, Warnock, Le Tallec, Sinama-Pongolle, Mellor and Carson. 'One man team' my arse.

   The confidence the team takes from this result will immeasurable, but there will be some weary legs against Spurs, who have had the week off. Alonso will surely struggle to rouse his body once the muscles inevitably turn to concrete tomorrow. But our home form remains excellent, in all competitions. Either the Champions League will distract and disrupt our chase for fourth, or it will galvanise the club.

   Everything is starting to come together 末 in Europe at least 末 so perfectly. The returning players will only add to the sense of belief. From a personal point of view, it occurred to me earlier that precisely half my lifetime ago, on this very day in 1988, Liverpool produced what was believed to be the club's finest ever performance, in destroying title-challengers Nottingham Forest 5-0 at Anfield.

   Sometimes the best presents are wrapped in Red.

ゥ Paul Tomkins
Just a quick notice to announce that for a limited time people can pre-order "Golden Past, Red Future" at 」8.99 throughout April, 」1 cheaper than it will when it hits the shops. Simply go to www.paultomkins.com for details on how to order.

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