Archive for May, 2006

Istanbul Revisited – Total deja vu

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2006 by Tony Sebastian

No I never went to Turkey, its just a modest attempt at trying to be a sports journalist. I wanted to become a presenter till i was made painfully aware of my “horrible mallu accent” 😦 so here goes nothin…
The average football fan, who happened to miss the 125th FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham United wouldn’t be surprised if he was told that Liverpool were crowned champions. But the title of this post would be enough to tell him that he had missed a real classic. Who could forget that night in Istanbul about the same time last year when Liverpool won the finals of the champions’ league against AC Milan – A story that truly deserved the status of a fairy tale. For the ignorant, Liverpool beat a Milan side, who were leading by 3 goals to nil after 53 minutes. As described by the Milan manager 6 minutes of madness saw Liverpool draw level at the end of the hour mark, pulling back 3 goals. The game was pushed into extra time and subsequently into the dreaded penalty shootout were the Liverpool goal keeper Jerzy Dudek made himself a hero and Liverpool were crowned champions of Europe in the most extraordinary fashion.

No one would have ever dared to predict a close FA cup final this time around with the in form Liverpool expected to beat the Hammers by many goals. But as has been the case with Liverpool in recent cup finals, the truth is undoubtedly stranger than the wildest fiction. While the omens seemed to favour Liverpool that day in Istanbul, even Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist would have had a tough time deciphering the ones at The Millennium with fortunes swinging one way this moment and the other way the next. As Andrew Leci aptly summed it up at the end of 90 minutes “If you have just joined us on star sports, where on earth have you been!”
The atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was nothing short of electric but the first 20 minutes of the match was rather uneventful. And then suddenly the game came alive with Ashton’s pass finding Lionel Scaloni, who had made a brilliant run on the right wing. The Argentine defender’s low driven cross was put into the back of the Liverpool net by Jamie Carragher rather unfortunately. West Ham were leading Liverpool by a goal!! Who would have predicted that at the end of 20 minutes?
An own goal in the finals of the FA cup is not something you want to remember for long, but it appeared Jamie would be haunted by it for a long time as seven minutes later Ashton found the back of the Liverpool net again as Etherington who twisted and turned efficiently to dodge three Liverpool defenders and got a shot on target. It had no real power on it but Reina fumbled giving Ashton, whose predatorial instincts showed, the simple job of stabbing the ball into the net with his right foot. Two Liverpool players wishing they were dead now, the hammers were ahead by 2-0 and most betters were pulling their hair out.

Was that to be Liverpool’s wake up call? It certainly seemed so although the luck seemed to be going against them. As a fabulous ball from the midfield found Peter Crouch, who finished efficiently, but the linesman played party pooper. The captain Steven Gerrard seemed to be in inspired form, playing in the middle of midfield rather than on the right, and it was his lovely, measured ball that put Liverpool back in the game. Djibril Cisse who may have a funny hairstyle and weird shoes ( He was wearing a red shoe on one leg and a silver one on the other, and a pair of fluorescent yellow shoes in the second half!) showed why he is indeed a great footballer. A perfectly timed low struck volley gave Shaka Hislop no chance. Liverpool were back in it now, 2-1 the score. That’s how it finished at the end of the first half with the hammers still overjoyed.

West ham continued to play positive football after the break and had quite a few close chances. But when west ham captain Reo-Coker fouled Riise in the 52nd minute, Liverpool pushed many forward and a cross from Alonso, who was deemed fit to play in the morning, was headed back in to the centre of the penalty box by Sami Hyypia. The ball bounced well for Steven Gerrard who was in acres of space inside the box and the result as usual was a goal for Liverpool, the hammers’ goal keeper was nowhere close to the England international’s scorching shot. 2-2 the score, Liverpool back level.

The drama wouldn’t end there as 10 minutes later, Paul Konchesky was on the left wing for west ham and his intended cross sailed into the top right corner of the Liverpool goal, Reina the culprit again – totally misjudging the ball. The hammers were back in front and seemed well on their way to victory until the 90th minute, when a sporting west ham player put the ball out close to his goal as Cisse had gone down with what appeared to be a hamstring strain. Both managers had used their quota of subs and Cisse had no choice but to carry on.

The subsequent throw in for Liverpool was taken and the ball was given back to west ham in fairplay. The west ham defender’s clearance was met with a header by Danny Gabbidson. The announcer in the stadium was midway through “There will be a minimum of four minutes….” When Gabbidsons header fell at Gerrard’s feet. Cometh the hour, Cometh the man they say. And Gerrard did just that. The Liverpool captain’s screaming shot from 30 yards out went through a crowd of players and into the bottom left corner of the west ham goal.

The game would go into extra time with players undoubtedly tired from 90 minutes of scintillating football played at an unbelievable pace. Cisse seemed to be in agony , Marlon Harewood twisted his left ankle but carried on bravely. The first period of the extra time was uneventful with the best chances falling to Riise and Hyypia both shots sailed wide off the mark. Then in the 118th minute, west ham had a great chance with a free kick as Bobby Zamora was brought down on the left wing. The free kick was taken and who was to be at the end of it but west ham’s captian Reo-Coker -A great header that seemed destined for goal until Reina decided it was time to turn from blunder boy to wonder boy, His slight touch deflecting the ball on to the post. The clearance from Hyypia was only as far as an injured Harewood in the penalty box but his shot was off target. Two missed chances foe the hammers in virtually the last minute.

The game moved into the dreaded penalty shootout with Reina emerging the hero for Liverpool- Pulling three fine saves- A cruel way to end a final that both teams deserved to win. But as the saying goes “That’s the way the ball bounces”. Liverpool were champions again. The Man of the Match, undoubtedly, Steven Gerrard.