Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Liverpool had a fest at Marsella

Football is ironic, just like life. Some months ago, when Liverpool was at a bad moment, it was shocked by Marseille's cheek in sneaking an historic 1-0 triumph at Anfield. Tuesday was pay-back, big time. Wearing black instead of its familiar red, running hot in the chilly Mistral wind, Liverpool crushed Marseille, 4-0, in the French team's own pitch.

And it might have been twice that score had Gerrard, Torres and company not had it in mind that the weekend brings another definitive encounter, at home to Manchester United.

"I must admit that it was almost the perfect night," said Rafael Benítez, Liverpool's coach. "Everybody knows Gerrard and Torres are good, but tonight everyone showed character and commitment. As I say, almost perfect because always you can improve something."

In fact, the coach didn't seem surprised, he didn't seem concerned that the weekend brings a rare visit to Anfield of his American bosses, who are supposedly gunning for a showdown after the boss had insinuated that they were absentee landlords who have failed to grasp the need to buy when Europe's transfer window opens in midseason.

"I'm just not thinking about money to buy fresh footballers", Benítez answered his questioners in Marseille. "I'm thinking, job done here, now I'm looking to play Manchester United. Nothing else."

We can say thtLiverpool's resurgence in Europe this season has been as remarkable as the great escape in Istanbul in 2005 when, three goals down at halftime in the final against AC Milan, the Reds recovered to draw 3-3 and win the Champions League trophy on a penalty shootout.

Captain Steven Gerrard had led that comeback, as he led Liverpool's turnaround this season. After three games against Besiktas, Porto and Marseille, Liverpool floundered with but a single point and stared eviction from the tournament in the face.

The next three, against the same opponents, yielded 16 goals to Liverpool, just one in reprisal, and in the nick of time qualification for the knockout phase.

It's important to mention that four other clubs progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday. Real Madrid and Porto did so easily; Schalke squeezed out Rosenborg to become the only German club still standing in the tournament; and Olympiakos qualified for the first time in nine years.

"In fact, the most rewarding feeling is that our fans are on the streets celebrating our qualification," Panagiotis Lemonis, the Olympiakos coach, said after his team's comprehensive 3-0 home victory over Werder Bremen. "This is one of the most important nights in the history of Olympiakos, not because of the result, but because of the way my players went for the triumph when a draw was enough."

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