FOX Soccer Exclusive
Liverpool, Arsenal get unjust results
More on the Hillsborough disaster:
- Accidental death verdicts quashed
- Government announces fresh probe
- UK police chief stands down
- FA chairman apologizes for tragedy
- Fans hold vigil for victims | Video
- Reds legend Dalglish calls for next step
- Sun editor apologizes for headline
- Video: Police "disgusted" over report
- British PM issues apology | Video
- Liverpool welcome report | Video
- Fergie calls for Liverpool, United truce
- Ferguson offers emotional support
- Investigation announced over cover-up
Liverpool found justice off the field, if not yet on it.
On Sept. 12, the Hillsborough Independent Panel finally absolved the 96 Liverpool fans who were crushed in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium stampede of blame in their own death, which had for more than two decades been pinned on them.
On Sunday, minutes before Liverpool’s first home game since the panel’s findings were released, the Anfield faithful sang a breathtakingly emotional rendition of club anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone while fans held up boards that formed mosaics saying “Truth” and “Justice”.
Yet in spite of playing better than it has all year and outmaneuvering old enemies Manchester United, the Reds lost 2-1. A few hours later, some 30 miles to the east, Arsenal, which overmatched incumbent champions Manchester City, had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Such is soccer, the cruelest of sports.
This is a low-scoring sport, and the best team often doesn’t win. While in American sports, where making the most shots, hitting and pitching well, or putting together prolonged scoring drives, more or less guarantees you the W, this isn’t so in soccer. Every weekend, a team will have the majority of possession, take the bulk and the best of shots and generally outplay their opponents in every way — and then lose on a rogue goal scored on a breakaway. Or walk away with merely a tie, rewarding them with a single point, instead of three.
Liverpool, unimaginably looking for its first Barclays Premier League win of the season, looked sharp from the beginning on Sunday. It showed the possession and sharp movement their new manager, the young Brendan Rodgers, had been advocating. But however many fine attacks it crafted, the final pass emerging from the wings was invariably met by nobody, a real Liverpool striker resounding in his absence.
Liverpool was hamstrung when Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for a rash two-footed tackle in a clash with the equally rash and two-footed Jonny Evans in the 38th minute. Still, less than a minute after resuming the game with ten men in the second half, Liverpool captain and talisman Steven Gerrard, who lost his 10-year-old cousin in the Hillsborough disaster, chested down a ball in the middle of United’s box, and, left strangely unguarded, volleyed in the cathartic go-ahead goal.
Roused from its slumber, United took action. It never did wrest control of the game from Liverpool, but, anchored by the insertion of Paul Scholes, it did display the efficiency that’s made it twelve times champions in 20 years of Premier League play. That very efficiency has been lacking in Liverpool – they are zero times champions in 20 years of Premier League play.
In the 51st minute, right back Rafael set up and finished an attack by curling his shot into the far top corner from inside the box. In the 76th, Antonio Valencia eluded a double tackle at midfield, galloped into the box and was chopped down in the penalty area (or was he already losing his footing?) by Glen Johnson in an attempt to recover. Robin van Persie converted the penalty and handed Liverpool its third loss in five games.
Arsenal too snatched the initiative and control of both the ball from its opponent, taking the fight to tougher and heavier City.
Arsenal looked strong on the ball, inventive in the attack and swiveled deftly in transition, pinning City back for long stretches of the first half. A few god-awful touches by the iron-footed Gervinho prevented an early lead. Punishment for such brazen malpractice came in the 40th minute, when Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone missed his punch on a corner, leaving the ball for the soaring Joleon Lescott to head in. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, the sport’s resident grump, had every right to look as cranky as he did.
Arsenal didn’t recover its self-belief, even if it remained superior and relegated City to counter-attacking, until the 81st minute, when Lescott headed away a corner in his own box but sent it straight into the feet of Gunner defender Laurent Koscielny, who smashed in the equalizer.
That was all Arsenal would get for its superiority though. It remained undefeated but had to make do with a single point for a third time. Like Liverpool, the Gunners weren’t rewarded for their temerity, falling prey to the inherent cruelty of soccer.
In both marquee games in this superest of Sundays, the best team didn’t win. Ho hum.
Such is soccer.
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