In my post before Liverpool faced Real Madrid at Anfield on Tuesday, I hoped for the kind of Champions League moments that remain in the memory and define a campaign. Liverpool’s four goals and two other bits of brilliance made my wish come true in a greater abundance than I could have imagined.
Four minutes in, Fernando Torres signaled his ravenous intent with a brilliant backheel and turn that left the Madrid defenders in his wake. Keeper Iker Casillas threw himself down to keep the shot out, but I could see Torres was going to score on his old hometown rivals before the day was over. It seemed unavoidable. The beauty of that move stayed with me. When Torres gets on the ball it is so scary how naturally good he is. Like one man shouldn’t be that talented.
Shortly after that, Javier Mascherano’s powered blast from just outside the box forced Casillas into one of many acrobatic saves. Spain’s national keeper pushed the ball over, but the shot was so beautiful, and like Torres’ turn, it showed the Red resolve to break down the defense and sully Casillas’ clean sheet.
Those moments obviously would have been truly beautiful had they resulted in goals. But the brilliance of their execution and the doggedness of their intent were enough them to remain in my mind. Besides. They would have gone past most keepers. Casillas is simply too good and one must expect him to make so many saves that shock spectators and defy the laws of physics. Only the fact that Liverpool won with such conviction allows me to appreciate that I got to see one of the finest keeper’s on the planet display his artistry.
On sixteen minutes, Pepe Reina found Torres with a long ball into the attacking third. Torres tried to knock it down in the path of Dirk Kuyt, but Madrid’s Pepe got in the middle of it. Torres’ quick pressure on Pepe saw the ball go to Kuyt anyway. Before Pepe could recover, Torres was in front of goal, emphatically gestering at the empty space in front of him. I’m open!!!! Dirk responded with a crisp pass and Torres pulled the trigger first time. Goal.
Twelve minutes later, the linesman adjudged that Gabriel Heinze had handled the ball in the area. Though Liverpool were awarded the penalty, the replay showed the call to be a harsh one. Alvaro Arbeloa had taken the ball off his chest and the ricochet caught Heinze on the shoulder. The ref clearly decided Heinze was using his arm to interfere, but it seemed there was little the Argentinian could have done to avoid making the contact.
I felt a little guilty but didn’t complain when Steven Gerrard stepped to the spot and sent Casillas the wrong way. The ball rattled into the upper left corner. It was now three-nil on aggregate.
While the penalty may have been undeserved, from Torres’ goal onward, the match was always going to Liverpool. The Reds were too dominant and too determined for any other result.
Ryan Babel loves to cut in when he’s coming down the flank. But on 47 minutes he opted to stay wide, beating Sergio Ramos before launching a perfect left-footed cross into the box. Gerrard steamed in at the perfect moment and caught the ball on the half-volley. The shot fired past Cassilas into the top corner. The captain’s genius and timing put him level with Miroslav Klose as top Champions League scorer with seven goals.
Raul had some decent chances, but Madrid were never coming back from four-nil down on aggregate. Just to be safe Andrea Dossena fired home a powerful shot off Javier Mascherano’s pass in the 89th minute. Ryan Babel had started the play and capping off the evening with such teamwork after such a fantastic 90 minute team performance was the perfect outro to a stunning match.
I would have been satisfied with a one-nil home leg. Two-nil would have been heavan. Where Liverpool found the legs to play such earth-shattering football on Tuesday is beyond me. But I hope they can recall it against Manchester United on Saturday. We shall see.