Rafael Benitez was visibly upset after seeing Liverpool outperform Brazilian side Sao Paolo in the Club World Cup final, yet still come away as runners-up. There’s certainly no shame for Liverpool from their performances, as Rafa said after the game: "The first thing I can say is congratulations to my players and we deserved to win. We had 21 shots and 17 corners and we hit the bar twice. We scored three goals, but what can you do? One of those goals clearly was not offside. We couldn’t have done any more to win."
It was certainly a strange choice of match officials. If England play Brazil in the Germany World Cup, it seems unlikely that FIFA would select two Mexicans and a Canadian for the three main officials. This is what they did today though – referee Benito Armando Archundia and assistant Arturo Velaquez are both officials from Mexico, joined by Canadian assistant Hector Vergara. The officials were from the CONCACAF federation as opposed to the CONMEBOL confederation whose jurisdication Sao Paolo come under, but it still seems a strange choice. Benitez is reported to have complained to FIFA president Sepp Blatter after the game.
Rafa said: "I am not happy with a lot of things from the game but I am very happy with my players. I would like to know what is a red card as Lugano should have been sent-off for the foul on Gerrard. Why did we only play three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game as there should have been at least five minutes? We know the goal from Sinama-Pongolle was a clear goal."
Rafa was obviously trying hard to understand why Liverpool had been so poorly treated by the officials, and even though he criticised them you feel he was still holding a lot back: "I have tried to show respect for Sao Paulo because it is a good team but we deserved to win and we controlled the game. I was very disappointed with how the situation was controlled by the referee."
Rafa continued: "I talked with some people and asked about the rules. These rules are not in my rule book and I don’t understand them. We did all the things we needed to do to win the game. If we played five more minutes the result could have been different."
Benitez was also asked why he had left Peter Crouch on the bench: "I was thinking to use players with fresh legs. Morientes is a player that can do as well as Crouch."
If Liverpool get anything from this game and the injustices they suffered it is to just keep trying. The three minutes at the end was certainly just a token gesture from a referee that had clearly not been keeping count of the "injury" time needed for Sao Paolo’s keeper after he made what looked to be gentle contact with Sami Hyypia. Certainly not enough to stop him from making a good save from Gerrard minutes later.
One player sent on to try and help change things was John Arne Riise, who says that the Reds must now just pick themselves up and get back to that domestic unbeaten run: "We’re all desperately disappointed to be going home in second place because I thought we were the better team in the final and we deserved to win. It’s gone now though and we’re not going to start feeling sorry for ourselves."
Riise was speaking to the Liverpool FC website about the game, and explained that some players wanted to ask the referee and his assistants about their dubious decisions: "There were a few players who went to have words with the referee and the linesman after the final whistle but the game was over then and there was nothing that could be changed. The linesman was very slow to raise his flag a few times during the first-half but there’s no point complaining about decisions now. We should have scored before Flo had his goal disallowed."
As Riise says though, when officials are having poor performances then the important thing is to make sure that you rise above it and put them in a situation where they can’t disallow a goal, where they can’t have any doubt about a goal being a goal: "We know he was onside for the equaliser and television has proved that but we had two or three good opportunities to score before then. It just wasn’t our night. Luis might have had a hat-trick on another day but at least we created lots of chances. That’s one positive we can take from the final. I know you need to score goals to win matches but tonight we did everything but that."
Now Liverpool get just over a week off from matches, Rafa Benitez will go back to Spain to see his family, then it’s back to league action: "We’ve proved we can play some great football out here but now we’ve got to go home, get used to English time again and start thinking about the match against Newcastle on Boxing Day," said Riise.
Riise also pointed out that Liverpool’s recovered from disappointment last season in spectacular fashion: "This was a bonus from last season’s Champions League win and now we have to react in the same way as we did when we were beaten by Chelsea in the Carling Cup. We’ve still got the Champions League to go for with a great tie against Benfica coming up and we’re third in the league and going strong in the Premiership. We’re looking forward to going home now. It’s been a great experience, we played very well in two games and now we have to bounce back and keep our Premiership run going."