In football, you have to finish what you start

Liverpool might have believed, with all that pressing, that conviction, a goal was imminent, but football does not work like that, no guarantee exists, writes Rohit Brijnath.

If AC Milan could not finish what it started against Liverpool two years ago after being 3-0 up in the 2005 Champions League final, well, then, in a manner of speaking, the same was true of Liverpool against Milan in the opening 44 minutes of the 2007 final. A hundred moves were started, a hundred not finished.

One might say football is heartless, but also that it is demanding. It is not enough to show intent, and wriggle down the wing, or knit passes, and embarrass defenders, and curl crosses and elevate for headers.

No, eventually skill and possession and control and domination matter for little if they are not translated into that emblem of power, that symbol of success.

The goal.

Liverpool had done all the hard work, yet left the job undone. This was the gymnast who takes off perfectly in the vault, somersaults and twists perfectly but then stumbles on her landing. It is the tennis player who pushes the opponent deep into corners, jerks him around, plots the point, and then, at the climax, dumps it in the net.

Liverpool might have believed, with all that pressing, that conviction, a goal was imminent, but football does not work like that, no guarantee exists. Which is precisely what makes it fascinating. After all, when a goal finally came, it arrived as goals so often do, from nowhere. It would come against the tide. It would come from that most bizarre source, one impossible to predict or protect against, the ricochet.

Of course, later, with a grin, a sly one no doubt, Filippo Inzaghi suggested the deflection off his shoulder off Pirlo's free-kick which gave Milan a 1-0 lead had been practised. Indeed. No doubt Federer practices cannoning winners off a net post in his spare time. But then, in sport, talking it up is the winner's prerogative.

What do you say after such a goal, whether Milanese or Liverpudlian? Maybe you go back to 2005, to which this final was seemingly connected by an umbilical chord, to what Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said that bewildering day, to what Milan vice-president Adriano Gallian said. The same three words that somehow manage to explain everything crazy, painful, mysterious, beautiful in this game, three words that are usually accompanied by a shrug.

"This is football".

A goal such as this makes you believe in omens ("this is our day" says one team, "we're doomed" says the other). It makes some teams believe in God, that He is the 12th man on the field with them, which of course is nonsense. The victorious athlete praising God for being on his side appears an act of humility; but it is also one of conceit, for the athlete presumes his opponent is not worthy of God's attention.

Liverpool fans will see the goal as luck, they will curse that they were initially brave but still fortune did not favour them. But Rafael Benitez's men had 45 further minutes to make their own luck and did not. They were not the unluckier team but the lesser team.

Still, this much has to be said, that if the goal's method was seemingly callous, its timing was further wounding. If Liverpool had held on a minute more, they would have entered the rooms buoyant at half-time. Instead they were deflated.

If a man could simultaneously be in two places at one time, it would be in the team rooms at half-time. Was 2005 spoken of again, was it possible to ignore it, can men empty their veins of the past? Did Liverpool summon the memory of that day when it came back from 3-0 down to win against Milan to remind it to keep believing, did Milan call on that day as a warning not to embrace over-confidence?

Everywhere there was 2005. Perhaps even in the beginning of this year's final as Milan mis-kicked, mis-passed, mis-laid its fluency. Had Gattuso and gang thought too long and hard about revenge, devouring even Shakespeare, who wrote "If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him."

Had 2005 eaten so deep into their bones that they could not manage a coherent response? Can a team want victory so achingly, that it constricts the mind, interrupting the expression of its art? As Thomas Moore wrote: "Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt."

But, perhaps, this was not revenge at all. Perhaps this was more a team keen to simply redeem itself, to make amends for its own errors two years ago, to prove it could hold its nerve against Liverpool on a big night. Its anxiety was apparent in every early error, but it is to Milan's credit that it eventually found some rhythm and took its second chance.

This was less a momentous final as a final of the odd moment. To watch the slippery Pennant on the wing was to remember trying to catch a fish with bare hands. Gattuso scowled as if he owns no other face and no doubt his wife will tell us he's a softie. Kaka's one gasp-inducing, replay-demanding swivel like a skater to escape his marker suggested the Brazilian is the possessor of supernatural powers. The same might be said of the indefatigable Gerrard who rumouredly has Rolls Royce engines sewn into his chest cavity.

A final, of such standing, lost on a deflected goal, may appear unseemly to some. So, another goal, not so much artistic, or flamboyant, but neater was delivered. Kaka slid a pass between defenders as easily as a stiletto finds space between ribs, and then Inzaghi evaded the keeper to ram it home for the kill.

Later, minutes left, Kuyt scored for 1-2 and the heart lurched, and words from Liverpool's anthem reverberated:

"Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain,

Though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, And you'll never walk alone."

But no, 2005 was finally put to rest, those demons vanquished, the slate wiped clean. If final proof were needed, then it came in the end. After the 2005 final, in his biography, Gerrard had spoken unflatteringly of Gattuso, accusing him of smirking at half-time when up 3-0. The Italian, miffed, has denied any premature celebration.

Now these men, gifted, sweaty, embraced each other.

This, too, is football.