The match at Anfield showed why football is magical
The score line was three nil to Barcelona in the first leg of the UEFA champions league semi-final. A devastating defeat for Liverpool, despite playing extremely well. A free kick from 30 yards taken by the mesmerising little magician, Lionel Messi, was the highlight of the goals.
As Liverpool fans, we were crestfallen. To overcome a three-nil deficit against one of the top teams in the world felt too daunting. The next leg was to be played at Anfield, home for Liverpool, but to score four goals and not let in any seemed impossible.
When the day arrived, I had almost forgotten that the match was on in the evening; my wife, also an ardent fan along with our two adult boys, reminded me. Normally on such big match days, the four of us would watch it together.
But for this match, the boys decided not to congregate at our place. We decided to view the game from our individual abodes as there would be nothing to cheer about. Turning around a three-nil score against Barca was out of the question, and two of our first team strikers were not available due to injury. This made a defeat on aggregate scores from the two legs almost inevitable.
But how wrong we were.
Liverpool has had a great season this year. In the English Premier League, we are in the running with Manchester City for the top slot. Given the closeness of the competition, I must admit watching Liverpool matches are not totally fun. The euphoria only comes at the end of the game, only after the wins. During the game, it is absolute misery.
However, knowing that we will lose, why worry? But then, the drama began by the seventh minute of the game. Liverpool striker Origi scored from a parried ball by Barca’s goalie from a shot by Liverpool’s captain Henderson. Instantly, I could feel the whole physiological change in me; the heart thumping that had accompanied all Liverpool’s game this season started again. I began to believe and wish, but the predominant thought was still that this was impossible.
Surely, Barca will score, and it would be an away goal that counts for two home goals that Liverpool would have to score to maintain parity. The goal tally stayed at one-nil to Liverpool at half time.
The second half was a blistering start. To win on an aggregate, we would have to score three more goals in 45 minutes against one of the top teams in the world. But suddenly, in a span of 122 seconds, the game decisively swung in our favour. Wijnaldum, a substitute that came on in the second half, scored twice from two great crosses in the 54th and 56th minutes. Now was the time to truly believe, one more and we would be through to the final.
The fourth goal was truly magical -- a combination of skill, alertness, presence of mind, and divine intervention. Our 20-year-old right back Alexander-Arnold won a corner. We then saw another Liverpool player walking to the corner spot and Arnold walking away from the ball as if to allow the other player to take the kick.
But that’s not what happened. We saw Alexander-Arnold take two steps away and suddenly turn back to the stationary ball to take the corner kick. When the camera shifted, we saw the ball landing at the foot of Origi who smashed it in. Alexander-Arnold had the presence of mind to see the opportunity and vulnerability. In split seconds, there was a telepathic communication.
This is what Alexander-Arnold saw and took the corner kick -- a tactical masterpiece in the game that Anfield will never forget and will go into the folklore of Liverpool history. Liverpool is now in the final of the UEFA Champions League. I will be watching them, no doubt, with a pulsating heart.
Ghalib Chaudhuri writes from London. He is Managing Partner of Mountainpass Advisory, and loves football.