Dr Rajagopal Soondron
Never have we been accustomed to such a rout of the Spanish team; the worst, we had never seen the genius Messi brushing his hair with his hand and fingers
Having traded their religion for football and their church for the stadium, the British could not shun the celebration that the Liverpool Football club (LFC) offered to them on the night of 7th May last. To those islanders LFC’s performance was equivalent to washing away their forefathers’ humiliation, affront and failure to sink all the Spanish Armada at the Battle of Gravelines four centuries ago.
All the fans of Liverpool Football Club around the world were confident that their team would win the match yet not enough to knock out Barcelona’s three goals lead from the first leg. After all Messi’s Barcelona Football Club (BFC) is a world-class team; to eliminate the latter from the UEFA Champions League was very unlikely. Most of the LFC fans were pessimistic of making it to the final.
But experienced amateurs, having witnessed how LFC had dangerously ruffled BFC on the latter’s very ground at Camp Nou (the home stadium of FC Barcelona) one week earlier, were realistic enough to foresee that the Reds could replicate their performance at home and could even score against BFC – which they had failed to do in Spain. In fact these amateurs were of the view that never had BFC suffered so much on their very ground, and had it not been for Messi’s fantastic performance and free kick, BFC would have been reduced to a very meagre lead on their British opponents at Camp Nou.
So the latter being 3-0 down could hope to put in some effort to at least win the home match and come out of the competition honourably.
But the miracle was that the coach Klopp had vehemently motivated his team to throw in all its weight and go for BFC’s throat with the fanaticism of a frontier warrior on the battlefield. His plan was to prevent Barcelona from monopolizing the ball — which they are good at in all matches. Klopp’s strategy paid off.
The BFC were dead confident to walk through the match – yet that very overconfidence spelt their undoing. Had Messi scored only once, then LFC would have had to score five times to qualify. Almost a herculean task.
Surprise – BFC did not expect near novices Origi, Shakiri and later Wijnaldum on the field. Most probably they were prepared to see Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino as forwards – or still, the news of Salah’s injury and absence in the team had skewed their concentration ; and so had planned their counterattack accordingly. That strategy at that stage of the competition had confused the Spanish.
As to the British they threw themselves in the battle with all their heart, keeping the ball as long as they could. Anderson the captain moved as forward as possible, and as usual his shot went right into the goalkeeper, who had the misfortune to push the ball straight in the feet of Origi, who did not wait to lodge the ball into the net.
Injured after halftime Roberston the left back went out to be replaced by Wijnaldum who was very disappointing as centre forward in the away match at Camp Nou. But playing at home, and eager to prove that he was not as mediocre as the public had thought of him one week earlier, he rose to the occasion to score on two occasions within 10 minutes to give the LFC a lead of 3 goals and to equal Messi’s team score of one week ago.
Now that it was a draw on all sides, we expected the Spanish to throw themselves head and soul into their game and get Messi to score the one goal to pave their way to the final. Instead the British players continued relentlessly to dominate the game. A fine strategy by Alexander Arnold, the young right back, and Origi, took all those expert professionals from the continent by surprise. At the 78th minute, having obtained a corner, Arnold had placed the ball on the right corner spot and made as if to walk away from it making place for his mate Shakiri, some 10 meters away, to come and take the corner.
At that very instant the backs and goalkeeper of the BFC had relaxed their attention to put up their defending strategy. But within 10 seconds of having placed the ball in the corner Arnold turned round suddenly; he had spied that Origi was alone, unattended in that very mid of the BFC penalty box. He quickly shot the ball across into the Barcelona’s penalty area to Origi, who adroitly deviated it first time into the net –in between the goalkeeper and Pique the central back. The Barcelona players were all stunned; they could not believe their eyes and bad luck.
Never have we been accustomed to such a rout of the Spanish team; the worst, we had never seen the genius Messi brushing his hair with his hand and fingers, nor the disconcerted look on Suarez’s face. The Spanish players knew that they were beaten black and blue.
The whole stadium exploded with glee, amazement, disbelief and near delirium.
It was a goal to celebrate, to remember; a goal that will send LFC fans talking for years to come. It would be a match that Wijlandum and Origi will always remember – and even be proud to relate to their grandchildren. They were not extraordinary players of Messi’s class, but their contribution to upset most predictions and to qualify the local team for the final had made them the hero of the day. Surely it would be the best souvenir of their professional life.
The Psychological Moments
One can still remember the match between the Seychelles and Mauritius some 35 years ago. As soon as the whistle went for the kick-off, the Mauritian forward Changoo, receiving the ball from his colleague in the central circle, kicked it straight into the Seychellois’ goalpost half way down the field, because Changoo had noticed that the goalkeeper had come out forward too much out of his post, as if taking it easy at the very beginning of the match. That was done in 5 seconds of kick-off!
We have noticed in many games that such mistakes happen too often. One can think of those backs who, instead of concentrating on the ball heading towards their goalposts, would raise their arms to signal an imaginary offside to the linesman, thereby breaking their running speed – and allowing the attacking forwards to overtake them and go to score, or the habit of some players to concentrate on the movements of their opponents rather than keeping track of the ball.
Both Suarez and Messi always follow the ball – not the opponents. One will remember that penalty kick-off by Messi in some other match! Did the ball go to the right or left of the goalkeeper, or in the “lucarne”, or on the goalpost bars, or just off outside the post? No. Messi just passed the ball gently sideways – Suarez ran in the box and scored! That was unusual, intelligent and beautiful football.
Intelligent players take advantage of the psychological moments; or still they could have been trained to do so. To strike when the iron is hot either at the very beginning or end of a half or of a match. The forward always expecting his goalkeeper to pass him a long ball forward, when the opponents backs have moved up the field too much; to always take a free kick when least expected by others. Or to throw an outside ball when the opponents are still positioning themselves. Good players concentrate as long as the final whistle has not gone off. Coaches have to train their players accordingly — the psychological surprise has to be taken advantage of.
That phase of the Liverpool-Barcelona game denotes that professional players had to concentrate on the ball for as long as the game is on, never to relax, never to take things for granted. That instant at the 78th minute when the Barcelona’s backs and goalkeeper had been inattentive had been fatal for them.
And that’s how Arnold and Origi took their chance. And made history
* Published in print edition on 31 May 2019