Liverpool through to Club World Cup final as Firmino scores stoppage-time strike

Jurgen Klopp was forced to call on Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino as Liverpool laboured against Monterrey, with the latter winning the game.

Liverpool will take on Flamengo in the final on Sunday following its semifinal win over Monterrey.   -  Getty Images

On Qatar’s National Day — exactly three years ahead on the 2022 FIFA World Cup final —  Liverpool left it late to secure a passage to the Club World Cup final, where it will take on South American champion Flamengo.

Despite playing 7135 kms away from Merseyside, Jurgen Klopp’s team’s penchant to leave it late continued as Roberto Firmino scored an injury-time winner to secure a fortuitous 2-1 win over Monterrey, representing CONCACAF here. Injuries and illness forced Liverpool to make a slew of changes with skipper Jordan Henderson partnering Joe Gomez in defence, while Divok Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri started alongside Mohamed Salah upfront.

Klopp, already feeling the pressure of a packed December, was relieved to avoid the gruels of an added 30 minutes of extra-time. “I was afraid of extra-time. So, I was happy that Bobby (Firmino) scored that goal. We had to make some changes. Bobby came and made a difference, Sadio, too, with his power and work.”

Salah — whose every touch brought cheers from the vociferous home crowd, 45460 for the night, — kept the Mexican opponent on tenterhooks with his quick turns and sudden burst of pace and Monterrey’s Argentine manager Antonio Mohamed often used two markers to defuse the danger posed by the Egyptian forward. He was instrumental in finding the breakthrough in the 12th minute as he received the ball — with his back to the goal — from an advancing James Milner and outfoxed his marker Leonel Vangioni with a sharp turn before threading a perfect pass on to the path of Naby Keita, who finished calmly.

The lead, however, was short-lived as Henderson, playing in an unfamiliar position, failed to track back as Rogello Funis Mori scored from a loose ball after Alisson Becker had parried away the initial effort from Jesus Gallardo in the 14th minute. Salah soon produced another moment of magic as he back-heeled the ball towards Milner. But goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero did well to come out of his line to narrow the angle and smother the shot with his body.

The Mexicans continued to look for space behind the makeshift Liverpool backline, revelling at the space offered by the absence of Virgil van Djik, who didn’t travel to the ground because of illness. Liverpool will hope the defensive stalwart recovers quickly, ahead of Saturday’s final. Alisson had to step in to iron out the deficiencies of his defence with some acrobatic saves to keep Monterrey’s long-range efforts at bay.

With the game petering towards extra-time, Klopp brought in his heavyweights as Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino were introduced in quick succession. Liverpool, benefiting from the intensity brought on by the fresh legs, started showing more cohesiveness in the opposition box as Mane often dropped deep to wrest control of the midfield. With regulation time coming to close, it was Salah again, who found a final burst of energy to chase and control the ball near the backline, holding off the challenges of two defenders. He laid it for an onrushing Alexander-Arnold, who put the ball inside the box for Firmino to score and secure a passage to the final and offer relief from the burden of playing an extra 30 minutes.

With Flamengo waiting for a recap of the 1981 Intercontinental Cup final, where Zico marshalled the Brazilians to a 3-1 win over European champion Liverpool, Klopp was cautious in his prediction for the summit clash. “It will be more difficult for sure,” Klopp said. “I don’t know who exactly will be ready for the next game. I saw the Monterrey bench and it looked like it had 10 to 15 players on it. Flamengo’s season is over and it is here with a full squad. We just have to recover as quickly as possible.”

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