10 May 2019, 11:49 IST
Liverpool v Barcelona – UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second LegEven hardened atheists would find it hard to deny the miracle which took place at Anfield on 7th May. It’s because of nights like these that football has been christened the beautiful game. How does one even begin to capture, in mere words, a spiritual experience like this?Every adjective will be inadequate, every superlative will fall flat. But still one must try.I am not a Liverpool fan. But Liverpool is a club which is hard to dislike. The history, the Kop, the triumph of Istanbul, the tragedy of Hillsborough; it is all indubitably romantic. More so since Jurgen Klopp has taken over. How do you dislike this man? Even the most cutthroat misanthrope would melt in front of Herr Klopp’s charm. His passion for the game is infectious. His attitude is outstanding. He is the consummate father figure for his players. And on this night, they all proved to be prodigal sons.Even though Liverpool lost the first game in Camp Nou, it did not seem they were defeated. The board read 3-0. But score lines can be deceiving. In this case, fatally so. Most pundits wrote Liverpool off. Barcelona will win the next leg, they said with grim and astute faces. Who could blame them? Mo Salah and Firmino, two star forwards, had gone supernova on the biggest night of their career.But this Liverpool team, it gives you…a feeling. What this emotion is, is difficult to explain. Maybe it is the way they play. A red tsunami crashing over the opposition. So many forward jabs you think you were watching fencing, not football. It is, as Herr Klopp likes to say, hard metal football.Red mist. Chanting. Giant birds waving in the sky. Passion at its edge. Threatening to spill over. Barcelona players chuckling nervously as they gaze out of their bullet-proof windows into the blinding red world they are entering. So, this is Anfield, they mutter under their breath. Who would not be intimidated?The chants they give you goosebumps. The hair on your arms stands up in attention. Something is about to happen. You have that feeling again. Divock Origi, the forgotten Belgian is in the starting line-up, alongside the pint-sized, bull-doggish, furiously named Xherdan Shaqiri. Elegantly named Trent Alexander-Arnold is back at right-back. Virgil, like his Roman poet namesake, is eager to pen a masterpiece. But I am getting ahead of myself…Liverpool walks out in red. Barcelona in fluorescent green. Barcelona did not know it then, but the colour of their kit would be the only highlight of their game.The game starts. Barcelona begins with a slow canter. With a practiced self-assuredness which borders on arrogance. They know who they are. Perhaps they know who they are too well. The red shirts, however, are hounds from hell unleashed. They bite at the fluorescent green ankles of the elegant Barcelona players and cut them to pieces. Hunger. You can see the hunger. You can feel it.
Guarding Liverpool’s goal in solemn grey is Allison Becker. Once before too, in Rome, with Roma, Allison had thwarted Barcelona. Messi, the god of football, tests him with a curler. And what does Allison say to the god of football?Not today.In the middle of the pitch, Fabinho roams like a man possessed. Suarez, biter-extraordinaire, master of dark arts, gets Fabinho in the books with a yellow card. And then for the next 80 minutes, Fabinho plays the most immaculate game of football a midfielder has ever played.After the referee, fate, too, deals Liverpool a card. Robertson has to be replaced. In walks Gini Wijnaldum, smooth faced and sure footed; he scores two goals in two minutes. Lock. Stock. And two smoking barrels.Barcelona players walk about like zombies. Tiki-taka has tick-tocked to a stop.Anfield believes. Catalonia disbelieves.Arthur comes on for Barca, but the other knights have long abandoned the quest. Barcelona players become Benjamin Buttons. They go from men to children in mere minutes. Because what else would explain the schoolboy error at the 79th minute? Maybe I am being too harsh. What can you do when faced with a millennial hustler like Trent Alexander Arnold? What can you do when two men are in tune like that? When the ball-boys at Anfield are under the spell of higher powers?Nothing. You can do nothing.The corner is taken. The ball nestles into the back of the net. As snug as the hearts of Liverpool fans. Pandemonium. Chaos. Klopp smiles his smile of a thousand suns. Origi, the forgotten Belgian will now be remembered forever.When the final whistle is blown, Anfield erupts. The god of football stands in the middle of the pitch crestfallen. He has no hand in the miracle tonight. Pundits hurriedly revise their post-match scripts. We always believed in Liverpool they will now say.In Iberia, the sports journalists sharpen their pens. It is time for another Spanish inquisition. Liverpool v Barcelona – UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second LegThe miracle at Merseyside was followed by another one in Amsterdam. Ajax, a team who’s boys have put men to shame all season were vanquished by Tottenham Hotspur. By the Brazilian magic of Lucas Moura. And now the two miracle workers, Senor Mauricio Pochettino and Herr Klopp, will come face to face on 1st June in Madrid. It won’t matter who lifts the trophy, because they are both already winners.
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