Mohamed Salah struck a wonderful winner as Liverpool sealed a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Needing to beat Napoli 1-0 or two clear goals to qualify, the Egyptian netted in the 34th minute with a turn of pace and fine finish past David Ospina. It was his ninth goal in the competition.
He slipped another effort just wide and Liverpool, and particularly, Sadio Mane, wasted a host of chances to ease their fears.
The Reds, who had not lost a European tie at Anfield since 2014, were almost punished in the closing seconds when Alisson made a superb block to deny Arkadiusz Milik.
Here we analyse the key talking points from Liverpool’s 1-0 win.
As Anfield applauded his crucial winning goal, Mohamed Salah bowed down on the pitch to perform Sujood.
There was no smile in his celebration again, but does it matter that he shows no obvious sign of elation?
Perhaps the joy is in scoring itself. What is clear is that he is focused on the task in hand and firing like he did in his record-breaking 43-goal previous season.
At the start he looked a shadow of that with concern he has not looked right since the shoulder injury which wrecked his Champions League final and subsequent World Cup debut with Egypt.
Of course that may have affected him mentally. But the hat-trick against Bournemouth on Saturday was followed by another decisive strike against Napoli and indications of Salah sparkling again.
With swaying hips and close control to bemuse defenders and create chances, coupled with a clinical finish, he had the swagger of old. This was a message for any doubters and Liverpool’s rivals.
KEEPING THE FAITH
Jurgen Klopp’s starting line-up said it all. Despite bringing in fresh faces in the summer to strengthen his team, the Liverpool boss kept faith with those who served him so well to get the result they needed.
On a night when passion and purpose was one, Klopp challenged those players to deliver and they offered a flashback of last season’s Champions League heroics which saw them charge to the final. Of the team that lost to Real Madrid, only Joel Matip and keeper Alisson – replacing Dejan Lovren and Loris Karius – were changes.
The presence of Jordan Henderson prompted much debate. Inspirational captain last season, he has not been as influential in this campaign as Klopp has given new signings Naby Keita and Fabinho opportunities.
There is no question Henderson divides opinion. He’s either liked or not with the argument often that he slows down play and does not suit Liverpool’s fast-paced style.
But it would be churlish to deny he can contribute to this team and is under-rated and under-appreciated. Breaking up play with his work-rate, he is also capable of a defence-splitting pass for which he does not always get much recognition.
What he also does is drive his team-mates through his determination and will to win. Klopp trusts him and so should the fans.
KOULIBALY NOT A SURE THING
Manchester United fans will have watched this match with interest. Not just for the fact their side will visit Anfield on Sunday in a game pivotal to Liverpool’s Premier League title ambitions.
But the appearance of Napoli’s big centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly.
With rave reviews of his performances in Serie A and the Italian side’s Champions League efforts, particularly in the home group stage win over Liverpool, he has been linked with a move to Old Trafford in January.
But the way he was teased and tormented by the Reds front three, and static as Salah swept past him for the winner, suggests Jose Mourinho should hang fire on a potential £90 million bid. He is not worth that much.
For all his physical attributes Koulibaly is a reminder of Eric Bailly, currently out of favour at United, or Eliaquim Mangala at neighbours City.
Both came highly recommended after starring at Villarreal and Porto respectively, but have struggled in English football. For the money United are willing to spend to cure their defensive woes, they should not be taking another gamble.
The phrase “building a dream” means more than most to Team Wellington skipper Justin Gulley.
Since he dropped out of the professional game with the A-League’s Wellington Phoenix in 2016, the left-back has been pursuing a builder’s apprenticeship by day and OFC Champions League success with TeeDubs by night.
This hard graft paid off, in spades, this year. Not only were a first trio of New Zealand international caps earned, but the breaking of Auckland City’s stranglehold, since 2011, on Oceania means Gulley will have the honour of leading his side out against Al Ain on Wednesday night at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium when the Club World Cup kicks off.
Sport360 caught up with the 25-year-old to discuss his work/life balance, dreams of meeting holders Real Madrid in the UAE and much more.
You’ve had a breakthrough year, with winning the OFC Champions League and making your debut for New Zealand. What would success at the Club World Cup mean to you?
It would be an awesome way to cap off the year. It has been quite a big year for me, personally.
Just to do well here will mean a lot. I really, really want to make my mark here – it is the same for the rest of the boys.
Getting some good success here will be massive for us, massive for the club and it will be good for New Zealand football back home.
There are a lot of people wanting us to do well.
You’ve been in the professional game before. Is the Club World Cup a showcase to get back with an A-League contract?
It definitely is. There will be a lot of eyes watching and if you perform well on the international stage, who knows what can happen?
I am sure doors can open up anywhere. I am just going to put my best foot forward.
It is about having that belief, and showing what we can do. I know we are good enough to do it.
We need to be brave and then who knows what can happen?
GALLERY | 📸 First look at Hazza Bin Sayed Stadium today ahead of our first game tomorrow.— Team Wellington ⚫️🔶 (@TeamWelly) December 11, 2018
View the full album here 👉 https://t.co/GngXlbd89x#FullThrottle #Weready #OurMoment pic.twitter.com/WV8CdiY4LW
What is your day-to-day life like, as an amateur?
At the moment, I am working on a building site and doing my apprenticeship to become a qualified builder.
It is a long, heavy day of work and then, sometimes, it can be quite taxing on the body. Then it is training at night.
But when you have opportunities like this, then you just find a way to push through it.
I’m working five days a week, for 40 hours. Big weeks, but it keeps me fit at the same time.
For the last seven years, Auckland City were in this competition. Can you give us an insight into the rivalry between the teams?
It is a really good rivalry that we have with Auckland. They’ve been pretty dominant in the seven years running.
We knew we had to work extra hard and we really wanted to topple them this year. Beating them in the semi-finals was a huge confidence boost.
We almost felt like we could do anything.
It is still a very healthy rivalry. We look forward to playing them and I think they look forward to playing us, too.
We are constantly putting each other under pressure.
Have you guys allowed yourselves to look ahead to possibly playing the likes of Real Madrid?
You cannot help but think about those things. The chances of playing Real Madrid or River Plate… those opportunities play on your mind.
We are not looking too far ahead of ourselves. We know we have a huge test against Al Ain.
You’ll probably be up against Hussein El Shahat, who is an Egypt international. Al Ain also have Sweden target man Marcus Berg, plus many other internationals. What is it like knowing you’ll be testing yourself against these guys?
It is a great opportunity, really. Coming up against internationals and top-class players is a great opportunity for the boys and myself to prove ourselves and see what we are made of.
It is a good showcase for what we can do. We are all really looking forward to it.
You’ve been in the UAE for about a week. What have you made of it?
We were in Abu Dhabi, for a bit. We had a good little spot there.
We didn’t get too much sightseeing done. When we arrived, we went to Dubai Mall.
It was pretty impressive, really. The scale of the place is just crazy and a lot of us hadn’t seen a place that big.
Looking around Dubai, it was a pretty impressive place. Now in Al Ain, we are up in the mountains and get to look over everything.
What are the key things against Al Ain?
The key for us is to have belief and hold no fear. I really think we are good enough to take them, as long as we believe.
We cannot go into our shells and panic. There will be tough times, as long as we stick together, that is huge for me.
The 2018 CWC will bring together six continental champions – holders Real Madrid, Asia’s Kashima Antlers, Africa’s Esperance de Tunis, Central America’s Chivas Guadalajara, Oceania’s Team Wellington plus South America’s River Plate – and host team Al Ain. Visit www.fifa.com/clubworldcup for more information and www.fifacwc.ae/tickets to buy tickets.
River Plate won the Copa Libertadores by coming from behind to beat rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra-time of their controversially rearranged final in Madrid.
Juan Quintero all but settled a keenly fought encounter at the Bernabeu with a stunning strike after 109 minutes before Gonzalo Martinez broke away for a third, securing a 5-3 aggregate success, in the dying moments.
Boca had taken a first-half lead through Dario Benedetto but River hit back through Lucas Pratto and Boca’s hopes were badly hit after Wilmar Barrios was sent off early in extra-time.
River ended the match victorious but the saga of this final, postponed and moved to Spain after Boca’s team bus was attacked by rival fans in Buenos Aires, may not be over.
Boca failed to get the fixture suspended at the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Saturday but their attempts to have River disqualified could continue.
Boca were much the better side early on and almost went ahead when River’s Jonathan Maidana sliced a clearance over his own bar. The ball rebounded off players from the resulting corner and fell to Pablo Perez shot at Franco Armani.
Boca’s next opportunity also came from a set-piece after Benedetto drilled a shot into the wall. The ball broke for Perez on the right but his goalbound effort was deflected over.
River thought they should have had a penalty for a push on Milton Casco but Boca threatened again through Lisandro Magallan and Carlos Izquierdoz. Armani also had to be alert to punch away a dangerous Sebastian Villa cross in front of Benedetto.
Gonzalo Martinez shot well over for River, who then squandered another opening before Boca broke to take the lead. In a breathless passage of play, Boca goalkeeper Esteban Andrada gave away the ball but River failed to take advantage and Cristian Pavon released Benedetto with a brilliant throughball.
Benedetto skipped over a challenge from Maidana and showed great composure to beat Armani.
River were much more positive in the second half.
They pieced together a good move soon after the restart as Pratto teed up Ignacio Fernandez but he shot narrowly wide.
River continued to dominate but without creating clear-cut chances until Pratto swept home the equaliser after a fine move in the 68th minute.
The game then became scrappy with frequent stoppages and drifted into extra-time, which got off to an explosive start when Barrios earned a second yellow card for a poor challenge on Exequiel Palacios.
River proceeded to dominate possession and their breakthrough came early in the second extra period. They pieced together a series of passes and Quintero struck with a ferocious shot from the edge of the area that went in off the underside of the bar.
Boca responded by sending on Carlos Tevez, the former Manchester United and City forward.
River had a scare almost immediately as Camilo Mayada went close to heading into his own net but Armani reacted quickly.
Leonardo Jara hit a post for Boca in a frantic finish but they were punished for throwing men forward as River broke to score a third through Martinez in stoppage time.