It took extra time but Liverpool are the World Champions of club football!
The Reds prevailed 1-0 against Flamengo in the FIFA Club World Cup at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
Liverpool started brightly. Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita both spurned strong opportunities inside the area that could have put the Reds ahead early in the first half. After that initial period of intensity, Flamengo eventually grew into the game.
The half unfolded in unfamiliar fashion. Liverpool dropped into a disciplined shape as Flamengo possessed the ball for long stretches. The Reds were rarely under threat but the Brazilian side were allowed to shuffle the ball around the back, proving less vulnerable to Liverpool’s press.
Liverpool restarted with familiar renewed energy and focus. They piled on early pressure but still could not break through. Then the match took a strange turn.
Just into stoppage time, Sadio Mané was brought down by a challenge from behind at the edge of the area. The referee pointed to the spot and gave defender Rafinha a yellow card.
Yet, after a video review, Qatari referee Al Jassim Abdulrahman waived off the penalty, retracted the yellow card, and gave Flamengo a drop ball. It was an absurd reversal, forcing extra time.
In the 99th minute, again Mané was sent through. He drew the last defender, spun and foun Firmino, who calmly took his third chance to make it 1-0. From there, Liverpool saw out the victory.
Here are four findings from the match.
As the matches mount in this campaign, Liverpool keep winning but the victories rarely look easy. It is the mark of their quality that they can grind out games when their performance may not be at its peak.
In Doha, the Reds showed more challenge and command in their execution.
There were moments where it seemed like fortune was Liverpool’s folly. Flamengo were a strong, solid side, better even than might have been recognized in Europe. Add the multiple farcical decisions by the referee, Liverpool had to graft to gain this trophy.
At no point did they look panicked, they continued to create chances and eventually capitalized.
Make no mistake,Flamengo are a strong side. The South American champions include a number of veterans with European playing pedigree at the highest levels.
The Brazilian side play with a high press, include a contingent of technically gifted players, as well as possessing street savvy on the pitch. They challenged Liverpool, despite losing.
The Reds have grown used to opponents ramping up for their fixtures. Flamengo showed no fear and presented a number of problems for Liverpool to solve.
While they usually spend most of the match in the opponents’ half, the Reds did not earn a corner kick until the 78-minute. Additionally, the Brazilian side showed proper snide and a canny ability to con the referee. These were a tough test.
After putting Liverpool through to the final with a late goal, Roberto Firmino looked like he might have found his form. The Brazilian had been looking a little jaded, despite making all kinds of contributions.
Apart from the semifinal heroics, goals have proven more elusive of late for the central forward. In the final, he became the man of the match.
Initially, Firmino frustrated. With the match barely a minute old, the Brazilian could have broken his countrymen’s club. Instead, he blazed the ball over the crossbar. In the second half, he crafted a nearly open goal chance with his silky skills, only to bang one off the post, across the face of goal, and out of bounds.
Finally, the third time, he followed Sadio Mané’s and took the goalkeeper and a defender out with one touch to slot it home for the winner.
Having spent over a year to regain fitness from his knee injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was finally featuring with greater regularity.
The midfielder admitted recently that he was not quite back to where he wanted to be but the progress he had made since the start of this season was starting to show.
In this final, he remained a bright spot in a side that struggled to hit their typical heights. In the aggressive midfield setup, paired with Naby Keita, his recent run in the side has given the Reds a renewed surge.
To see him rolling in visible distress after a challenge summoned all kinds of concerns. While he was able to walk off the field after rolling his ankle, results now await.