Bravo Scousers!Wednesday saw the highlight of the European club soccer season: the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan. Milan are legendary for negative soccer and their impenetrable defense (though flair and defensive fragility seems to be their watchword this year). The overachieving Liverpool side reached the final on discipline and defensive solidity. Suffice it to say, I didn't expect much from the match. A 0-0 or 1-0 result wouldn't have surprised me. Instead, fans were treated to a truly classic match.
In the first half, Milan tore through Liverpool like Brazil playing a team of scared 12 year olds. The Italians scored in the first minute of the game and then added two more right before the break. At halftime, I was betting on a 5-0 final score.
Everyone assumed the game was over. In the previous 49 European Cup finals, only one team had come back to win after trailing by ONE goal. Liverpool was devoid of ideas, looking out of their league and down by three goals at halftime to a world class opponent. So naturally, they engineered one of the greatest comebacks in soccer history.
When the teams came out for the second half, it was Liverpool who were going through Milan like a hot knife through butter. It was as though the teams had switched bodies in the dressing room. Liverpool's captain scored what many figured was merely a consolation goal. Then one of the Reds' forwards hit a blast that the Milan keeper should've stopped, but didn't. Then Liverpool drew a penalty which they missed but scored on the rebound. From 0-3 down against a top class opponent to equality in only six minutes. It was mind-boggling.
Most the second half and extra time was dull, as Liverpool were content with the amazing fightback and Milan in shock after their collapse. Late in extra time, Reds' keeper Jerzy Dudek made a breathtaking double save on Milan's Andrei Shevchenko, the European player of the year. In the penalty shootout tiebreaker, Dudek made two saves while his Milan counterpart only stopped one. Liverpool lifted the European Cup for the fifth time, in the most inconceivable of circumstances.
What intrigues me as a coach is this irony. I suspect that a key to Liverpool's comeback was MILAN's third goal, right before halftime. I do not think the comeback occurs if Milan's up 2-0 going into the break. At 3-0, Liverpool's sense of desperation is far more acute than at 2-0. Also, at 3-0, Milan enters the 2nd half with a complacency that ultimately proves fatal; I don't think that casualness occurs if they're only up by two goals.
Anyways, well done Liverpool. I'm not normally a supporter of theirs, but I was yesterday; I loathe Milan. For all their erratic form in England's domestic league, I don't think anyone could call Liverpool undeserving Champions League winners (especially since the 'Champions League' now constitutes false advertising but that's another essay). In successive rounds, they beat Juventus, Chelsea and Milan, three of the continent's top clubs. They did so by allowing only 4 goals in 5 games against those European giants.
Now all they need is a chance to defend their title next year, as common fairness would dictate.