Liverpool could have finished this game in the first half. Indeed, Liverpool could have finished this game in the first 10 minutes. But the ball seemed bewitched, and simply would not go in. First it way Bobby, then Keita, then a brilliant long attempt from Trent that had “Puskas award candidate” written all over it. It was fitting that in the end, the very same player who had missed several opportunities that, on a normal day, he would have finished while looking the other way, hammered the one and final nail in his countrymen’ coffin.
It was also a testament to some of the differences between how the game is played in different parts of the world. If you track Firmino’s movement, he read the play before it even began, starting a box-to-box run that culminated in him getting a delightful delivery from pal Mane. He then took his sweet time to reason out what the best way was to have that ball meet the back of the net, dropped two Flamengo players to the floor, and coolly slotted it in.
“That’s just Bobby being Bobby”, I can hear you say. Sure. Of course. But it was also a highly skilled player, sprinting at full speed over 80 meters after having played a grueling match for nigh 2 hours, hoping to get the last ball but not necessarily knowing that it would happen, and still having the composure, foresight, and just as importantly, fitness, to not waste this critical last opportunity to finally make it happen. This level of discipline and conditioning, this intensity, is what Klopp is all about, and what makes this Liverpool team so hard to beat.
Flamengo had, by that time, simply run out of gas, and were trying their best to create something using a well-honed skill common in the south american game, colloquially known as “The Neymar”.
To be fair to the Brazilians, they acquitted themselves well against a far superior team. The scoreline really is misleading; a bit more precision on Liverpool’s part would have sent Flamengo packing with 5, 6, or even 7 in the back of the net. Instead, they took full advantage of the Reds’ sloppy finishing, and could have won it themselves with a bit more luck. Gabigol was so close to justifying his nickname, and it was only that other Brazilian in the English goal that prevented him from creating a memory worthy of a lifetime.
The other chief reason why he failed to score was one Joe Gomez, whose impact on the game was monstrous. In a below-average game for his imperious but under-the-weather teammate, Gomez was everywhere he needed to be, whenever he needed to be there, and would simply not be cheated out of what he appeared to consider a birthright trophy. Well, he got it in the end, together with a team that didn’t really care for being there in this part of their season, but did what they had to do anyway, and he wins my man of the match.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that Allison seems to have no trouble keeping clean sheets at the moment. Flamengo somehow keeping the Reds to a single goal, an almost unheard-of achievement this season, was not enough, although it did drag the game into extra time, one thing Klopp would have dearly wanted to avoid. Ox getting injured would be another. Then again, there is a certain Japanese international coming through the door in a couple of weeks…
I always find it amusing that Americans call the national league baseball champions “world champions”, when it involves no other countries. This was ultimately a well deserved win of this odd “world champions” title that is lesser than “european champions” and even “premier league champions”, but carries a unique prestige all of its own. The wall of champions at Anfield will get a seventh column, and deliciously, the “other” reds can no longer hold having been the only English side to win this one over Liverpool’s heads.
Now, let’s get back to business and get those other, more important two, shall we?