May 25th, 2005 • 11:47 pm
It certainly was quite a night, and quite a comeback. Whether it was actually a great game of football is another matter. Several of the goals were scored because of poor defensive mistakes (bad marking on the first Milan goal and the first Liverpool goal, lack of concentration on the second Milan goal, bad goal-keeping on the second Liverpool goal, etc.). Liverpool were far too easily dominated in the first half, and in turn far too easily dominated Milan during the first quarter of an hour of the second half.
Like a Guardian reader said, these ups and downs were an illustration of the lack of solidity of both teams this season (“Brilliance followed by rubbish followed by…”). And it goes for individual players as well. Baros was completely ineffectual and deservedly punished for unfair challenges. Gerrard didn’t do anything in the first half. Traoré had a really poor game until he redeemed himself with a couple of last-gap interventions in the second half. Dudek was missing in action on several occasions. Etc.
Then there is the fact that it became a rather boring game of football after reaching 3-3 and that all the players appeared to have resigned themselves to penalty kicks even before the end of regular time.
And then there is the fact that the first penalty stopped by Dudek was definitely illegal: the goalkeeper was way off his line before the ball was even hit. Had this penalty been retaken, as it should have been, and scored, would the complexion of the shoot-out have been entirely changed?
It is, of course, hard to tell. And it’s rather unfair on Liverpool, who did deserve to win just as much as Milan did.
But these things do raise the issue of how great this game really was, objectively. It probably would have been better, for example, if Liverpool had managed to score a fourth — through, say, substitute Cissé — during regular time or extra time and really complete the comeback. But Cissé was introduced far too late, at a stage where both teams had already resigned themselves to having to go through extra time and probably penalty kicks.
And the whole thing also fails to solve the issue of what to do with Liverpool and the Champions’ League next year. You cannot exactly change the rules just to accommodate the fact that Liverpool couldn’t be bothered to perform better in the English Premier League this season. It would be unfair on every other team that qualified for the Champions’ League in Europe this season.
And you have to remember that Liverpool would have been kicked out of the competition in the group stage had Gerrard been sent off like he deserved to be after a horrific challenge in the final group game against Olympiakos, where he escaped with only a yellow card and then went on to score the deciding goal that qualified the team.
So it really is a fine line between greatness and anonymity these days. In fact, look at the results of the last few international competitions… Last year’s Champions’ League was won by FC Porto, who didn’t exactly blow you away with their skills and quality (although they undoubtedly did achieve greatness in the theatrics department). Then Euro 2004 was won by… Greece, of all national teams. Did anyone really expect the Greeks to become a dominant force in European and world football after that? Did this performance reveal to the world an extraordinary well of untapped talent? Not quite…
And now this… Yes, it was a great and spectacular comeback. But Liverpool were poor in the domestic league this season, and weren’t particularly impressive in the Champions’ League either. It was a combination of luck and flashes of brilliance, but that’s it. It doesn’t quite make a great team, and it doesn’t quite make a great football game.
This is not to take anything away from Liverpool and their victory. It is just an attempt to put this particular game and team and achievement — and all the glowing comments in the press this morning — in some perspective. Surely the players and the manager themselves are aware of this. They and their fans can enjoy the moment, but the neutrals should be far from convinced that this victory signals a return to the glory days for Liverpool. I wasn’t following the game back in the late eighties and early nineties, so I cannot really say how this current team compares to that period. But the results certainly cannot be compared. Liverpool would have to become real domestic title challengers again, and it’s hard to imagine at this stage, especially in light of the fact that this is a “makeshift”, transitory team, with several players expected to leave this summer, including several of last night’s “heroes” (Hamann, Smicer, etc.).
The bottom-line is that, while this was certainly far more enjoyable than the drab 0-0 draw that some might have expected, it didn’t quite achieve the level of greatness that a real game between two truly excellent European teams might have achieved.