Victory against Monterrey

…Crackers in Qatar as Flamingo sing 1981 song, Liverpool still hopeful

By Onochie Anibeze

Many thronged the Khalifa Stadium Wednesday night expecting European champions, Liverpool to easily walk past Concacaf champions, Monterrey of Mexico in the semifinal of this year’s Club World Cup.

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Liverpool’s current form had informed the high expectation from their fans here in Qatar where the competition serves as a test run for the 2022 World Cup even as it is three years away.

Many truly came to watch Liverpool entertain and demolish Monterrey. They did not. They struggled to a slim 2-1 victory, scoring the winning goal just as the public address system had announced a three-minute stoppage time. Roberto Firmino, interestingly, a Brazilian did in the Mexicans. Their fans went wild, celebrating. But they did not produce the dexterity fans expected from them.

Today holds the ace. They play Flamingo of Brazil and Firmino will be playing against his countrymen. If the standard of the two semifinal matches is anything to go by, Flamingo would be favoured to win. They put up a stronger character in their semifinal victory against, Asia’s champions, Al Hilal than Liverpool did against Monterrey.

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All sides play differently. It may therefore not be proper assessing Liverpool by that performance. But if the high-flying European champions do not up their game today, a repeat of that cold December 1981 night in Japan could play out here at the Khalifa Stadium.

It was Club World Cup final. And it was Liverpool versus Flamingo. The Brazilian humiliated Liverpool 3-0 with legendary Zico scoring a brace. It was called Intercontinental Cup then. Flamingo are here with that 1981 story. Many had craved for a Liverpool/Flamingo final. After Flamingo tamed Asia’s champions, Al Hilal 3-1 in the first semifinal Liverpool struggled against Monterrey until the stoppage time when Firmino nicked in the winner and set up today’s clash that has already been sold out. Joshua Law of The Guardian in England reports that in each game Flamingo played in the Maracana during this year’s Copa Libertadores (South America’s Champions League) one song rang out louder than any other. They chanted ‘In December 1981 we ran rings around the English. 3-0 against Liverpool, it went down in history. In Rio there’s no equal, only Flamingo are world champions. And now your people ask for the world again.’ Today will be interesting in Qatar. National day celebrations will dovetail into the final at Khalifa Stadium tonight. Ir will be all crackers.

Klopp and George Jesus

Liverpool had already won the European Champions League and the fans wanted their side to win to face Liverpool again. Their dreams have come true. They are in the final with Liverpool.

Club World Cup is revered in Brazil. No Brazilian team would do what Liverpool did here in the semifinal. Juergen Klopp had benched some key players, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander -Arnold among them.

And Liverpool found themselves struggling and close to losing the match if Monterrey took their chances. Mo Salah was knocked out of his stride and he put many feet wrong. But in two brilliant moments, one in the first half and another in the stoppage time, his assists provided the goals that gave Liverpool the match. But victory came only when Mane, Firmino and Trent came in.

‘I was scared of extra time,’ confessed Klopp in the press conference after the match. ‘We had to make the crucial changes and they paid off. Mane, as usual, came with a lot of power and Firmino scored when we needed it most,’ he said.

Today, he may not bench any key player. It is the final against champions of a continent that rates the Club World Cup as high as the World Cup. Flamingo appear hungrier than Liverpool in today’s final and nobody should be surprised if they repeat the famed 1981 victory. George Jesus, their Portuguese coach has transformed the team since he arrived about six months ago. ‘It’s interesting we are playing Liverpool in the final. They are a good side. The good thing for us is that the players are in good form and looking forward to the game. We hope to win’.

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However, the bookmakers tipped Liverpool to win before the semifinal matches. Now, many are no longer sure. What people are sure of is that the match will be explosive. There will be crackers on the night and fans will have value for their money.


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