How Liverpool conquered the FIFA Club World Cup

With the golden star as the world’s premier club now entrenched in their crest for the next one year, Liverpool will look to finally cross the line and once again be the English champion.

Sealing it: Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (second right, above) scores the match-winner against Flamengo and celebrates bare-chested (facing page) in the final of the Club World Cup at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.   -  AP

 

Liverpool’s yearning for the coveted English crown remains unrequited since 1990. Last season and also in 2013-14 the title was just fluttering there, well within its reach, only to be gone. The club, after already opening a healthy gap at the top of the English charts, came to Qatar to complete another unfinished business.

Its date with destiny there had a happy ending as the English side added the world title to its growing honours list after winning a dramatic FIFA Club World Cup final against an evenly matched Flamengo at the cheerful Khalifa International Stadium.

After 90-long minutes of a see-saw battle between two teams sure of their sporting philosophies, it was Brazilian Roberto Firmino who broke the resolve of his countrymen, scoring the solitary goal a minute away from the 100th minute mark. It was his fellow-Brazilian Alisson Becker who had done the initial hard work to keep the European champion alive in the contest with some timely saves, thwarting every move of Jorge Jesus’ side.

After finally winning the trophy that had eluded the club in 1981, ’84 and 2005, Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, struggled to voice his thoughts on another magical night, a sight which has become common at the club since his arrival at Anfield. “It was an incredible performance in an incredible game against a great opponent. I saw many sensational performances and the atmosphere was great. We deserved to win tonight as we were the better side, the dominant team,” he said. “It has been a wonderful night for the club. The boys are showing the desire to win, game after game. Winning it for the first time for this wonderful club feels absolutely sensational and it can’t get any better.”

All praise: “It was an incredible performance in an incredible game against a great opponent. I saw many sensational performances and the atmosphere was great. We deserved to win tonight as we were the better side, the dominant team,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.   -  REUTERS

 

Despite the late heartbreak, Flamengo didn’t disappoint its fanatic fans — the 15000-strong Brazilian contingent often dinned the strong local Liverpool fan base with their loud and boisterous support for their boys. It was a festive atmosphere at the ground, worthy of this momentous final, showing the world that World Cup 2022 will have no shortage of football frenzy when the tiny Gulf state finally hosts the quadrennial show.

Calling international fans to visit Qatar without any hesitation, in three years time, former Liverpool player John Barnes said: “In three years time the fans will find an experience that will be pleasurable. People are thinking too much but when they come they will be pleasantly surprised. The weather’s going to be fantastic. The weather is going to be better than it has been at any World Cup because I’ve been to World Cups in July. The organisation is in place and in terms of size of the country, the fans can interact with each other and you can get from one stadium to the next in an hour. It is going to be a really interconnected World Cup.”

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during the Club World Cup final soccer match between Liverpool and Flamengo at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)   -  AP

 

Qatar did put its best foot forward with the public transport system, the newly envisioned Fan Zone offering the visiting football aficionados a glimpse of what to expect in 2022.

For Jorge Jesus, who lost only his fourth game as the Flamengo manager, there were a few regrets but also plenty of reasons to be proud. “We were equal against Liverpool, the strongest club in Europe. For the first 95 minutes we controlled the match, but the goal surprised us. Football is about winning and losing and we tried to attack and press, but ultimately Liverpool deserved the title because they scored.”

With the recovered Virgil van Djik re-commanding his position at the heart of the defence, Liverpool started strongly when the Dutchman essayed a long ball over the high defensive line of the Brazilians. Firmino, however, fluffed the chance even as he faced little threat from the sole backtracking Flamengo defender. Mohamed Salah, the darling of the locals, too, got into the action as he teed off Naby Keita inside the box, but this chance was also squandered.

Riding off the initial Liverpool surge, Flamengo soon found its footing in the game offering the English giant its own version of counter press as Bruno Henrique, easily the best man on the pitch for the night, used his strength and speed to constantly harangue the Liverpool defence from the left. With skipper Everton Riberio and Gabriel Barbosa joining play with the battle-ready Henrique, the CONCACAF winner slowly wrested control of the midfield, ending the first half with a healthier possession count. The goal, though, never came its way.

Liverpool started the second session in almost similar fashion to the first as Jordan Henderson found Firmino, behind the rival defence, with a chipped shot. The Brazilian, this time, magnificently controlled the ball — flicking it over Rodrigo Caio — to unleash a volley on his second touch, but the ball hit the post before tantaisingly bouncing across the goal, out of harm’s way.

Alisson was soon coming to Liverpool’s rescue as he dealt well with an effort from Gabriel in the 53rd minute before diving in to deny him again around the 70th minute as the goal-poacher tried his luck with an overhead kick. Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim, who had earned the displeasure of the local crowd for booking Salah in the 81st minute, had another moment of nervousness as he consulted long with VAR to disallow a Liverpool penalty in the first minute of stoppage time.

Safe hands: Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker clears the ball as he is closed down by Flamengo’s forward Gabriel Barbosa. Alisson had done the initial hard work to keep the European champion alive in the contest with some timely saves, thwarting every move from the opposition.   -  AFP

 

Flamengo, unfortunately, failed to capitalise on the reprieve as Firmino finally had his goal. Henderson made the most of a fortuitous rebound to play a long ball to Sadio Mane, who ran from left to right before running the ball on to a sprinting Firmino, who rounded a defender and goalkeeper Diego Alves to put Liverpool in blessed land.

“I am happy winning the trophy, winning the UCL and then the Club World Cup. Flamengo is an excellent team and had an interesting season. Flamengo is doing well with Jesus and they played an excellent match, it was tough, but we believed in ourselves and kept pushing. Ultimately that helped us to win,” the Brazilian forward said afterwards.

Firmino’s return to form — he scored two goals in two matches — will augur well for the Reds as the side looks to consolidate its position in England. Defender Virgeil van Dijk hopes the Club World Cup triumph will spur Liverpool to finally achieve the task. “We're in a pretty good moment at the time and we are very confident of doing well in the League. This win should also help us with our confidence as we face some matches away. We know how tough it’s going to be over there,” he said.

With the golden star as the world’s premier club now entrenched in their crest for the next one year, Liverpool will look to finally cross the line and once again be the English champion. The wait for the Merseyside club has been far too long.