The Night of Broken Dreams
Last night was the night when Anfield showed the world what a wonderful stadium it was on a European night. This was to be the night when our hopes of winning a trophy would move a little closer.
Anfield was staging the second leg of the semi final against Athletico Madrid and as always befits such an occasion the Kop were in fine voice. The noise coming from the stands was absolutely amazing and reminded me of times gone by. We had two things to worry about before the game even started, we were a goal behind and our star striker was missing. In true Liverpool spirit though, the team chosen came out and knew what they had to do.
It was Reina, Mascherano, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Lucas, Gerrard, Aqilani, Babel. Benayoun and Kuyt. Substitutes were Cavileri, Kyriakos, Pacheco, Degen, El Zhar, Ayala and Ngog.
The game started with Liverpool kicking off and they immediately went on the attack - something which is rarely seen in a Liverpool side at the moment. We had gained two corners within seconds of the game starting. The Athletico Madrid defense appeared to be rather weak and it looked as though we were going to have it easy. Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel appeared to have a great understanding as they passed the ball quite freely between each other. Aquilani also seemed to be made for the occasion and was beginning to show the traits that had been the reason for his purchase. His speed and moves were absolutely amazing and it to be honest he was a pleasure to watch. His first shot at goal was a wonderful one but went straight into the keeper's hands. Lucas at this point was bought down but the incident was completely ignored by the referee.
It was at this point that the camera went over to the sidelines and you can actually see Rafa Benitez being very demonstrative. This in itself is very unusual as he tends to just sit there and make notes. With both Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton in the stands, I guess he had to make a good impression.
Then the man that was to be cause of our heartbreak later in the game broke through our defense. That man was Forlan and all I can say is thank goodness for Mascherano. Athletico then gained a free kick, thankfully though it led to nothing, although Jamie started yelling at his partners in defense for their momentary lack of concentration. It was now becoming blatanly clear that Athletico Madrid had woken up. Suddenly Pepe Reina found himself with a major save to make and instantly proved what a great goalkeeper he was. This was also a period of the game where Liverpool had a great deal of the possession with Dirk Kuyt going for the goal, but as is usual, the goal mouth seemed yet again elusive.
At this point the camera switched to a single magpie that seemed planted on the pitch - he/she was simply not going to go away. Now I am a very superstitious person and a single magpie means sorrow, so I knew that the outcome of the game was going to be bad.
The game at this point seemed to turn a little nasty with Babel being brought down rather roughly but he was okay. We were given a free kick for this which Stevie G took and Aquilani picked up but could not make anything of it. Another free kick was awarded which led to Stevie G trying for the goal - unfortunately, the shot was far too high and moments later Stevie G was given a yellow card for a bad tackle. But then a moment of magic happened with a beautiful run and goal by Aquilani. The whole of Anfield went wild. The score was now 1-1 and we were back in with a chance.
The second half started with Athletico Madrid kicking off. They were now aware that they had a fight on their hands and immediately made a couple of shots at the goal.
There were also a couple of incidents on the pitch at this time and Aquilani was awarded a yellow card for a shirt pull. Shortly afterwards Athletico Madrid received a yellow card for a tackle on Stevie G. Mascherano did what Mascherano does best and became very demonstrative towards the Referee, but thankfully nothing came of it - he was already on a yellow card and had fortune smiled at us, could possibly have missed the final. Both teams were no aware that the clock was ticking away and I guess wanted to avoid extra time. The Liverpool team was playing some wonderful football. Aquilani, Kuyt and Masherano were playing their hearts out. Something seemed to trigger off a few moments of madness and Kuyt was pulled down. Valeira was awarded a yellow card for this. During this half, Athletico for some reason decided that time wasting was the name of the game and everything suddenly seemed to be done in slow motion.
That though did not dampen the spirits of the Liverpool team with Mascherano again proving what a great player he can be. Johnson too was for the first time in weeks having a good game and had a wonderful shot at the goal which was saved. Fortune though was not with Stevie again this evening and he had yet another shot saved. The game continued and many people have said that Jamie final got his comeuppance by getting a yellow card for a foul. Our defense by now though was showing signs of tiredness and it was Stevie G that saved the day. It was then that Rafa made his first substitution of the evening when El Zhar came on for Aquilani, who left the field to a well deserved round of applause. The two minutes of extra time that had been awarded, soon passed and the team's had to prepare for an extra 30 minutes of play.
Both teams having quickly refreshed themselves got back into the action, knowing that this was it, one of them would eventually be out of the Europa Cup. Benayoun who had seemed to have an endless supply of energy made a wonderful run and suddenly
Liverpool's fortunes appeared to have changed for the good. We were 2-1 up. The noise in Anfield, along with the noise in every home and pub must have been absolutely amazing. This though was short lived Forlan again managed to catch our defense in a off moment and suddenly Athletic Madrid were back in the game. The score now standing at 2-2 meant that Liverpool had an awful lot of work to do. In the closing minutes of this half, three Athletico Madrid players brought down Kuyt. A quick switch of ends was made and Liverpool had 15 minutes to find the elusive goal. The players were now at the stage were tiredness was a major factor and both Mascherano and Benayoun were replaced by Philip Degan and Pancheo. Unfortunately they were both too inexperienced to help us rescue the game. Both teams were now beginning to play with the final whistle in mind and when it came. It was Liverpool who, although they had played gallantly, were the losers.
Our final chance of a trophy had gone and added yet another bad mark to what has been an absolutely deplorable season. We have two games left to try and make fourth place, although personally I think that has also gone.
I just hope that in the summer there are major changes, both in the terms of the managerial and playing staff, because without it, I fear several more seasons in the dulldrum.