Milan Finished Off Reds In Clinical Style
UEFA Champions League
AC Milan (ITA) 2 - 1 LIVERPOOL (Eng)
Milan - Inzaghi (45min, 82min);
LIV - Kuyt (89min);
As a Liverpool fan, I'm here to congratulate AC Milan in their triumph at Athens. I won't be bitter because I'm not feeling it at all and I must say well done and we've lost to a worthy opponent. I also mirror the views of both Benitez and Gerrard as both were magnanimous in defeat.
We lost to a better team and this time round, no turnarounds and no twist in the tale. It was settled within the 90 with Milan being in their clinical best. Through it all, class prevails and the experience of the players got them to the finish line.
Maybe the football gods decides to return some favour to this Milan side that was battered in Istanbul 2 years ago and now, it's honours even. There will finally be a full stop in all the revenge talks prior to the game and with Milan going on to lift their 7th European title, I for one thinks that there are a lot of positives that could be drawn from this game.
And like our spiritual song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone', suggests that as we walk through a storm, hold your head up high. I believe that even though they walked off the pitch as the losers, they certainly did enough to hold their heads up high through it all.
And although it seemed to be bitterly disappointing to lose at the final hurdle, I think we should be proud of the 11 players on the pitch as they gave their all and played well. But football, sometimes, defy logic, like it did 2 years ago.
Liverpool played well, stifled Milan yet was caught out by two mistakes which probably costs us the game. It was a difference in class and as well as experience yet both teams looked pretty equaled and it wasn't as one sided as it did 2 years ago.
Liverpool started off reasonable well with the fans in fine voice once again. Jermaine Pennant, the player who's making his Champions League final debut, was first to test AC Milan goalkeeper, Dida, from a tight angle. But the Brazilian keeper got down well.
Then the Reds started to dominate not in terms of possession but the control of the pitch as they defended high up top and was able to disrupt Milan from playing their free-flowing football.
Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano were both tenacious in their tackles and was matched up with Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini. Gerrard, being in that unfamiliar foward role, looked enthusiastic and fired up for the game as both him and Dirk Kuyt were constantly harassing the Milan defence.
Both teams then fired warning shots at each end as Riise fired a shot just over the bar while Brazilian maestro, Kaka, was able to work Pepe Reina from distance despite being closed down by Mascherano.
But as time wore on, Liverpool seemed to have gain the upper hand and the match was well in control by Rafa's men. They set up the game's tempo just right for their style of play while Milan were caught out a couple of times by that.
Sloppiness was something that struck me about Milan during the match as their passing were woeful at times while the defence had a torrid time clearing their lines as Liverpool forced them to a couple of errors.
But having shots after shots at goal with no result isn't the best confidence booster for a team that looked inferior on paper. Milan kept their cool as they soaked up pressure from Liverpool and unleashed their power at the right place, right time.
With the pre-match talk mostly on Kaka, Milan was able to bring on a special weapon in some sort to break down the stingy Liverpool defence, in an unorthodox way. The talk was about whether to start Pippo Inzaghi or Alberto Gilardino.
Ancelotti made the right choice in starting the veteran Italian striker as he finally broke the deadlock in Milan's second attempt on goal in the first 45. His experience was invaluable and the way he deflected in Pirlo's freekick showed the typical striker instinct and craftiness.
Known for his goal scoring records, Inzaghi's prowess in the 6 yard box is second to none and Pepe Reina was stranded as the ball hit the back of the net. Suspect of a handball but referee decides it is legit.
Liverpool were caught in a pretty similar situation like they did in Istanbul. But this time round, the deficit was smaller yet you feel that the pressure was very much on Liverpool. 3-0 down, nobody would give you a chance yet by being a goal down, there's still very much to play for.
Nobody will speculate as to whether the Milan players were celebrating in the dressing room this time but one thing's for sure and that is they had the confidence and plan to finish the game off in the Italian 'catenaccio' way.
Being in the position isn't unfamiliar for Liverpool as they've did that in recent years but this time round, no luck for the Reds. Kewell was threw on in place of Zenden but the Australian winger didn't seemed to have enough run out to cause Milan any trouble.
And perhaps Rafa Benitez took a little too long to put on a second striker to support Dirk Kuyt. Peter Crouch was introduced only in the 78th minute and there was little the lanky striker could do with the limited amount of time.
And just like how Milan struck in the first half, they once again pierced through the heart of Liverpool's defence surgically with Kaka weaving his magic and Inzaghi once again, showing his knack to confused defenders with his run and then calmly placed the ball under the body of Reina.
With Mascherano taken off before the goal, Rafa took the gamble but it backfired. Kaka was left alone and with all the time and space, was able to release Inzaghi. Game plan came undone and the player's head dropped.
But you'll always expect Liverpool to comeback stronger and they did once again.
Dirk Kuyt was able to head home his first Champions League goal this term and what a time to score it. Pennant's corner was deflected off Massimo Oddo's back and the Dutchman made no mistake with his header from the back post.
But it all seemed too little too late for the Reds as they failed to conjure up the magic that won them the cup 2 seasons ago. Milan very well knew that they couldn't afford to let Liverpool in once again and was able to hang on to the very last minute.
Controversies will be about the referee blowing the whistle even before the clock hits 3 minutes of added on time but it just wasn't meant to be for Liverpool. They might have used up all their luck in the match against Chelsea and perhaps, what comes around goes around.
And to the Liverpool fans:
Surely, disappointed we are to go all the way to the finals, defeating Chelsea and Barcelona on the way. But the display from the lads on the pitch suggest that there are much more to come from Rafa Benitez and his men.
As Liverpool enters a new era under Tom Hicks and George Gillett, I personally feel excited about the upcoming summer as Liverpool will dig deep into the pockets for new players as Rafa continue to look to improve the squad, with resources this time round.
It might all be a blessing in disguise for the Reds as only in defeat, we might see our own downfall and weaknesses and hopefully, Rafa acknowledges this and it might prove to be a monumental moment for the club.
Chin up lads, there are much more to come and disappointments being part and parcel of life, we look to move on and away from the pain. Well done, and we'll bounce back!