Vasco da Gama, the Irish Rover and the British Bulldog

For centuries, sailors of Europe wanted to sail to India, but they were rebuffed by the Cape, the horn of Africa. Evryone tried and everyone failed. Then along came the Spaniard that changed the face of sailing. He incorporated something into his ship that noone before him had done: the stars. He used the stars to navigate a way around the Cape to India, and opened a trading route that brought the riches of Asia back to Europe.

Jump forward a few centuries and Liverpool moved rudderless through the waters of Europe, without any real idea of how to reach their former glories. Until one day, the modern Vasco da Gama came to Liverpool. Rafa Benitez employed the use of (football) stars, and sailed to Asia (Istanbul) and brought back riches to fill our history books.

Jump forward to 2007. The stars are in the other team: Xabi, Ronaldinho, Deco, Messi, Eto’o, Puyol: The names of footballing legends. The players that less than 12 months ago thrilled the footballing world with their open, attacking football. But, Rafa Benitez wouldnt be comparable to Vasco da Gama when that small problem of Barcelona got in the way. He is not a failed school pupil who threw himself into football, was successful and turned to the job of trainer. He studied and got a degree, he learned to be a dab hand at chess, and these skills were brought to the football world. His talent was so good that he was soon employed by Real Madrid. After the success of Istabul they were so impressed they tried to secure his talents again, only to be rejected in favour of a furture at Liverpool: But what about Barca?

Enter the Irish Rover and the British Bulldog

steve finnanIs it really right to single anyone out after we produce a mesmerising performance and dumped the Champions out of the Champions League? This was a team effort of the highest degree. But the first name on my lips is an Irishman called Steve Finnan. He was collosal. He played like a giant. Barcelona threw everything at him and he grew in statue with every new attack. He made some timely tackles, he made some important interceptions, and he had moments of pure world class. Some of his defending was beyond words. Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Xabi in full majestic flight, and Finnan stood, not equal, but above them. He conquered. He won the ball, time and time again. A constant and impressive performer this season, and against Barcelona he stood on the world stage and excelled. I take my hat of to him and welcome him into the hall of fame.

steve finnanDont get me wrong. Barcelona were very skillful and fast. They are very talented and made us chase the ball on occasions. But we had something they never had. The British Bulldog. We played with commitment, pressing, control, discipline. Noone epitomised that more that the mighty Carragher. Again, as he has done for the last three years in his rightful position under Rafa, he shone in defence. He stood as a rock, but, a clever rock ! He timed his challenges to perfection, so everytime Ronaldinho shimmied past, waiting for the clumbersome legs of some beaten Centre half to give him a free kick, Carragher would be sliding in, leaving his legs in one piece and coming away with the ball.

steve finnanGerrard was on fire too. He buzzed down the right wing, he harried in the centre, he hurried back to defend. Bellamy annoyed the defence with his pace. With the tireless Kuyt he pushed the Barcelona defence, time and time again into errors. Riise was again free to exploit space down the wing and if luck had been on oue side, he would have gone in at half time with a hattrick.

For a team needing to score 2 goals to win, Barcelona had one shot ongoal in the first half. In contrast, Liverpool, whilst never running ahri kiri at them, still managed to created 4 or 5 clear goal scoring opportunities. Rafa appeared to hav his tactics sopt on again.

The Barcelona players were fleet of foot, but continually, they run into Sissoko and Alonso who bit at their heels. They may not be British, but after spending two years honing their talents against the likes of Bolon and Blackburn, they showed against Barcelona the steel in British football. What they couldnt match in Skill they surpassed in bravery and the will to win. Time and againn they intercepted balls and broke up Barcelona’s play before it had begun.

Just as Vasco da Gama employed the stars to guide his ship around the cape of Africa, Rafa Benitez guided his team passed Barcelona with the a multi national team that played like a classic british team.

The last eight of the Champions league. Two years ago we were quaking in our boots at the prospectof who we could meet. Now we stand there, resurrected as a top European team. The slaughterers of the Champions of Europe and hungry for our seven crown. Who do we want?… More like: Who will stand in our way? Because, we fear no one.