Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reds Triump In Spain

Riise & Bellamy Puts Dispute Behind To Score

UEFA Champions League
Last 16: First Leg

Barcelona 1 - 2 LIVERPOOL


BAR - Deco (14 min);
LIV - Bellamy (43 min), Riise (74 min);

Match Highlights:

Countless of teams were slaughtered over at the Nou Camp in recent times but Liverpool did the near impossible by coming from behind to beat the overwhelming favorites, Barcelona over at their own backyard. The Reds inflicted Barcelona with their first defeat in 21 home games and now, the only British team to defeat them twice at the Nou Camp.

Touted to be the 'tie of the round', the two former champions of the European Cup slogged it out for a full 90 minutes which saw a poor Liverpool side defeat Barcelona, who have been out of form and looked like a shadow of their former selves.

The Barcelona we saw last night was mind-boggling poor and some shocking defending gave Liverpool the chance to take the advantage in the two legged clash. Now with the 2-1 aggregate, Rafa and his men will surely feel they have every right to believe that they can kick the Catalan giants out of the competition.

After Sunday's defeat to Valencia, Barcelona made changes to their side. They welcomed back Thiago Motta in the defensive midfield position and switched Rafael Marquez back to partner Carles Puyol in defence. Argentinian Javier Saviola replaced Eidur Gudjohnson in the starting line up to add the extra pace up front.

The man that Barcelona marked as the dangerman, Peter Crouch, was surprisingly left on the bench as Rafa preferred Kuyt and Bellamy up front. Both added mobility upfront while Gerrard was moved away from his preferred central midfield role to play on the right.

This move was a bold one as we all know he mentioned in the autobiography that playing on the right flank is like a 'grave yard shift'. Perhaps Rafa wanted him to neutralise the threat coming from Ronaldinho and Zambrotta on the left. But the skipper was partly at fault for Barcelona's first goal.

Zambrotta looked to have been stopped in his tracks by Gerrard but somehow, he missed the interception and the Italian left back was able to float in an inch perfect cross for the shortest man on the pitch, Deco, to head home from 6 yards out. Alvaro Arbeloa, making his debut at the left back slot, moved inwards to the centre far too quickly and leaving Riise exposed at the back post.

The goal came after Barcelona finally decided to step up a gear and you could see they managed to unsettle the Reds defence, marshalled by Jamie Carragher. Deco nearly added a second minutes later after he was clean through on goal. But his shot was saved by Pepe Reina.

Meanwhile, the difference between the side was fairly obvious as Liverpool struggled to keep hold of the ball and letting the Spanish side roam around freely. There was no support up front for Kuyt and Bellamy as they huffed and puffed their way through.

But how the face of the game change after a lapse of concentration on Barcelona's part allowed Liverpool back into the game with a soft goal. A quick free kick taken by Gerrard was spread out to the right to Steve Finnan. His fantastic cross was well met by Bellamy and Barcelona goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, made a mess of it. He managed to saved it but he was unaware that he carried the ball over the line.Despite pushing the ball mindlessly out of the goal, Kuyt was still there to finish it. The goal was later awarded to Bellamy.

Bellamy, silencing his critics with a cheeky goal celebration, imitating a golfer playing golf. He was previously accused to hitting team mate, John Arne Riise's leg with a golf club. This goal was the turning point of the game as Liverpool going into the half time break on a high.

Barcelona seemed shell-shocked as they conceded a very unnecessary goal at the most inappropriate time.

Liverpool came out for the second half more organised and played with more sense of purpose. They kept themselves compact and difficult to breakdown while Barcelona pushed more people forward in search of a killer goal.

But as the clock ticks away, the more comfortable Liverpool got and the home side were frustrated to no end. Their fans were eerily quiet while Frank Rijkaard signaled his intention to finish the tie off by making two tactical movement that unsettled the home side rather than adding firepower upfront.

Xavi was taken off for Giuly while Iniesta replaced the more defensive minded Motta. It was a classic show of the more the cook spoils the soup as Barca was unable to organise any sort of good attacking move that will penetrate through that thick red (or green) line.

While they went forward, their rear guard went to sleep and Liverpool pounced.

Gerrard played a brilliant ball to Kuyt, who was left unmarked by Barca captain, Puyol. His first touch let him down and Valdes was able to half clear the ball. But the rebound fell kindly to Bellamy, who putted the ball nicely in the path of Riise. The Norweigian who is famous for his left foot, stroke the ball into the top of the net with his right.

Now, both the players who have been under intense media scrutiny were the masterminds of Liverpool's success in Barcelona.

Argentinian superstar, Lionel Messi almost grabbed the equaliser after weaving through the Liverpool defence but his shot was brilliantly blocked by debutant, Alvaro Arbeloa. In the late game, they put further pressure on the Reds while goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, flapped twice during set plays and nearly cost Liverpool dear.

But the Reds held on to a famous victory in Spain as they surely feel they have ever right to believe that they have a chance to be in the draw for the last 8 or perhaps even winning the prestigious European Cup for the 6th time.