Sao Paulo on the other hand illustrated to the footballing world exactly why they are champions of South America, playing some breathtaking football in the opening period. With Costa Rican outfit Deportivo Saprissa having won the play-off for third place in the warm up game before the final, in front of a largely disinterested crowd, it is the Americas who Dominoqq have best acquitted themselves in this year’s tournament in Japan. Europe has failed to produce a King of Kings once again.
Liverpool were poor at best in the first half, with the Brazilians deserving of the advantage they took into the interval. In the second period however, Sao Paulo were virtually non existent, forced to desperately defend their slender lead. Liverpool spent the entire second half orchestrating wave after wave of attacks, bombarding the Sao Paulo goal from the first whistle until the last. As Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said after the game: “The first thing I can say is congratulations to my players as we deserved to win. We had 21 shots and 17 corners and hit the bar twice and scored three disallowed goals. We couldn’t have done anymore to win.”
You can quote all the statistics in the world though, but the only one that matters is the final score line. One last glimpse at the scoreboard as the referee blew his whistle for a final time confirmed for me and the other 66,000 present that the game finished without us having equalised. Some of the decisions made by the officials may have been harsh, dubious, ridiculous, even scandalous …but the simply fact is that with refereeing judgments you’re as likely to be a beneficiary as a victim. We didn’t score so we deserved what we got: nothing.
Liverpool’s failure to cancel out the Brazilian’s first half strike outlined our main areas of weakness in terms of personnel, emphasising in the cruelest of contexts, that despite being European Champions we still remain three or four short players of being a truly formidable side. With the transfer window just
around the corner, I can only hope this painful reminder will do more to convince the Liverpool management that further recruitment is required. Without it, it could be a while before I’m
back in Japan to see us do the job properly.
The Brazilians came in their droves to see their side secure a famous victory over the mighty Liverpool. I’d love to reflect warmly on them, and praise them for their gracious acceptance of the triumph, but sadly they were not the carnivalesque party-loving South Americans that the media love to portray them as. The vast majority instead seemed to represent more of the Barra Bravas school of football fandom. They set the tone for the evening; it was just a shame the Liverpool team couldn’t muster up a goal to put them in their place.
The song, “where’s your European Cups?” was one of many chants to have been lost on the boys from Brazil. Now Liverpool face a return to reality and the bread and butter of the English League Championship, with Newcastle and a certain Michael Owen to visit Anfield on Boxing Day. This is a club and indeed a player to whom the song in question will prove to be far more stinging. I for one can’t wait.
Optimism must be running at an all time high for Australian football and this from a nation hardly short on sporting self-belief, writes Marc Fox.
Not even being grouped alongside Brazil, Japan and Croatia for next year’s World Cup finals dampened the spirits of a football community right now riding the crest of a wave. Having dispatched FIFA-ranked 18th-placed Uruguay over two intriguing ties last month, who are 15th-ranked Japan and lowly 20th-ranked Croatia to stand in the Socceroos’ way?
“Japan and Croatia are not among the world’s top 10 teams and if we play to our strengths then we have a good chance of going through to the knockout stages,” goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer told Melbourne newspaper The Age.
Meanwhile captain Mark Viduka went one further by suggesting a result against five-times world champions Brazil might be within reach.
“We have got to give ourselves a chance,” Viduka told the Sydney Morning Herald after the draw. “I think we are a team that’s up for a challenge and obviously our aim is to get to the next round.
“They (Brazil) are all world-class players and they have got the history and pedigree behind them, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us. But we have played them before in other tournaments and done well.”
And who can blame them?
Like the extravagant Leipzig ceremony on December 9, Australia has a Dutch magician of its own. And with super-coach Guus Hiddink steering the ship any trick appears possible. The tactician who has guided successive nations to the semi-finals stage feels certain the Socceroos have the raw materials to be able surprise either or both of Japan or Croatia.
“They taught me in Australia ‘no worries mate’ and sometimes I think it’s too relaxed, but this team does not have many worries,” Hiddink said from Leipzig after watching the draw unfold alongside Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. “Brazil is a clear favourite, no doubt about it, and the other three are more or less equal and they will fight for the second position.”
Avoiding an opening round clash with Brazil is a distinct advantage in the race of second. The Socceroos will face Japan first up in Kaiserslautern, a side Hiddink knows plenty about from his time in charge of South Korea. Home advantage in 2002 favoured the Japanese in proceeding from the group phase although they have undergone a period of change since under the tutelage of former Brazilian great Zico. Saying that, they lost just once in World Cup qualifying and have a number of players dotted around Europe.
The group-closing encounter with Croatia has thrown up a cauldron of stories regarding Australian-born defectors Joey Didulica, Ante Seric and Joe Simunic. The trio decided against representing Australia in favour of turning out for their motherland. Simunic, in particular, has proved a worthy acquisition and has already racked up 39 Croatian caps since his debut in 2001.
Out of the three group games, the deciding game with the Croats on June 22 will have the most spice. A win will not only erase the bitter memories of a 7-0 thumping in 1998 prior to Croatia finishing third at the France finals but surely guarantee progression to the knockout stage.
Just try finding any Australian football fan who believes that won’t happen.