Support. Determination, Belief.
Last night will yet again be in the long list of 'Great European Nights' as the Anfield faithful sang their hearts out, driving the home team to successfully repel the force and might of Barcelona.
'Football philistines' they called themselves, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the new owners of Liverpool, were in for something last night. When the Kopites broke out in yet another rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', you could see the awestruck face of the two American tycoons.
They might have went round the world watching different sports but no doubt, it will be the once in a lifetime experience for the duo. Never will they see such a huge crowd of passionate fans which exhibit such support and belief in their team. Even the hardest of hearts will be moved by the tenacity
Even the Barcelona fans joined in the song and started taking photos of the Kop End. The rare sight of a cult following at the Merseyside, something which is seldom seen in modern day football.
But other than the 12th men, it was the other 11 on the field that got the team this far. When the names were drawn from the pot, Barcelona and Liverpool, you could tell that many wouldn't fancy us against the reigning champions of Europe. But 3 months on, who could've thought of it.
The way in which Liverpool made the best club side in the world looked rather ordinary was perhaps down to Rafa's understanding of Barcelona, his tactical nous and ability to motivate the players for such a huge encounter.
Throughout the 180 minutes of football, you could tell who deservedly went through. It was Liverpool who kept things under control throughout the 2 legs and never did the Reds give in to the seduction of Ronaldinho & Co. They were closely watched by the patrolling midfielders and were stopped in their tracks by Carragher and his rear guards.
Beautiful football aside, they were not allowed to play in their usual flowing and flamboyant mode. They were devoid of spaces to move and routes for their passes were blocked. Supply lines cut, there was nothing the people from the front line could do.
Rijkaard will certainly look back at the first leg in which he went a step too far and underestimated Liverpool. He isolated his defenders and even when he knew a draw would be a good enough result for them, he decides to finish Liverpool off.
But how wrong was he to undermine Rafa's tactical brilliance. They're punished in the first leg and everybody will look back and say, Barcelona threw it away.
Even though those predictable tabloid newspaper tried to overturn the Liverpool vessel, through adversities, there were heroes. The two men in the headlines for the wrong reason, Bellamy and Riise, were to create such an impact in this last 16 clash. Although both were not on the score sheet last night, they did just enough to help Liverpool steer clear.
Riise's attacking instinct was never in doubt. He was often deployed as a left back in Premiership games but once Rafa gave him the permission to roam, he did it in style. He was a thorn in Barcelona's defence and could've scored more than one if lady luck was on his side.
Actually, lady luck haven't been smiling on Merseyside for the past 4 days as Liverpool succumbed to 2 very unfortunate defeats. But whatever, who needs her help when the 11 men on the pitch and the 12th off it were able to pull through.
The team showed great character and team work, running their heart out for each other. It was particularly pleasing to see players tracking back after losing possession and not stand around looking for others to blame. Gerrard running at full speed almost all the time and Sissoko getting stuck in at every possible moment although the Malian face consequences with a ban for the next quarter finals match.
Enough plaudits have been given to the rearguards and I don't think we could use words to thank the lot of them.
Most importantly, it was the air of belief in Anfield last night that enabled them to have that extra spring in their step. It was electrifying and all credit to the Anfield crowd, it was another fantastic experience despite sitting at home, watching by myself. As they sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone', I know I don't.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Support. Determination, Belief.