Liverpool’s third attempt at winning the Club World Cup ended in disappointment yesterday, but it wasn’t through lack of trying. The current Liverpool side has a lot to live up to if it wants to emulate the great sides of the sixties through to the eighties, and none of those sides ever won this competition. The one thing they did win, regularly, is the one trophy Liverpool fans want as much as that European cup they won in May. After yesterday’s heroics, Liverpool fans must surely feel that League title number 19 is not as far away as it might have been.
At half-time in May it looked like Liverpool were in a false position by being in the Champions League final. They were three-nil down, and although that scoreline flattered AC Milan, it just seemed that the big final had come around a little too soon for them. The response in the second half that resulted in them getting the score back to 3-3, and going on to win on penalties, was brought about by determination and self-belief. Memories of that day will stay forever in the minds of those involved, on the pitch, in the stands, at home watching on television. Memories of yesterday’s poor decisions and that feeling of injustice will fade however, which is just as well. Right now the Liverpool players are angry and hurt, and have every right to be.
One of those lingering memories of May is of Jamie Carragher throwing his body on the line to help Liverpool take the silverware. He felt he was living a dream that night, but yesterday it felt more like a nightmare. It wasn’t real: "We played quite well and we deserved to get something out of the game. I just cannot believe we didn’t score. We were the better team, there’s no doubt about that and I’m disappointed." Sao Paulo come from a part of the world where gamesmanship is as important as skill in getting a result. They wasted a lot of time with fake injuries, got away with things that perhaps they shouldn’t, but they did still do what they needed to get a trophy. Carra is not bitter towards the Brazilians as such, just unhappy that luck and officials were against them that day: "Good luck to Sao Paulo, you can see by their celebrations at the end how much it meant to them to win it, but I don’t think anyone can say they were the better team. On another day we probably would have won. It was just one of those games."
Rafa Benitez says that the poor standard of refereeing undermines the competition. Liverpool have taken the tournament seriously, you can tell by the reactions of the players, but Rafa says that FIFA need to make changes otherwise the next European side to take part may be less serious in their approach. "I spoke to Sepp Blatter afterwards, but it was a private conversation. Something has to change if you want to give importance to this competition. To play one game before the final and not water the pitch is not the most competent. And you would not get a Mexican referee and a Canadian linesman in the World Cup final, so why in the World Club Championship final? I feel the referee controlled the whole situation."
Some may argue that Liverpool’s finishing could have been better, but to have the ball in the net three times, to have a penalty turned down and to see a player get a yellow card when it perhaps should have been red says a lot about how well the Reds played. Certainly if this had happened in the World Cup finals there would be an outcry, which is why Rafa feels Fifa need to work hard over the next 12 months to get this sorted: "Everyone has seen we have scored three goals in the final, and yet we have lost 1-0. It is a good competition we wanted to win, but to make it an important competition, they have to take it more seriously."
Xabi Alonso was asked what he thought of the incidents, he made it clear: "Just a joke." He’ll be hoping for better refereeing in Germany for the World Cup this summer, as will his team-mate for club and country, Luis Garcia: "We feel cheated. We feel as though we have won the match by scoring three goals only to have it taken away from us. They were losing time all the way through the game, and the referee did nothing about it. It was wrong."
Sao Paulo coach Paulo Autuori wasn’t bothered – his team had done what they needed, worked within the parameters the referee set them, and got the result. He tried to blame Liverpool’s defeat on their five changes: "In Brazil you would never get that many changes, and we couldn’t understand it, but it worked for us, because we knew how Liverpool would play, and we kept them quiet." Maybe he was watching a different game.
Steven Gerrard said before the game that Liverpool didn’t feel afraid of any team any more, that they were capable of beating anyone. He didn’t say they were unbeatable, just that they were confident of beating any team. This subtle difference was lost in the translation it seems though, and it fired Sao Paolo up, as Rogerio Ceni said: "Gerrard thought Liverpool were invincible. We never thought we were invincible. But in the end we won."