Liverpool may have entered the Club World Cup in Qatar as overwhelming favourites but it took another hard-fought, energy sapping performance from Jurgen Klopp’s troops to grind out a narrow 1-0 win over Flamengo after extra-time and be crowned champions.
A weakened Liverpool side toiled against Monterrey in the semi-finals and despite fielding a full-strength line-up on this occasion, the Reds were only able to score the decisive goal in the 99th minute.
Flamengo went toe-to-toe with the European champions and enjoyed 53 per cent of possession, while having 15 efforts at goal to the Premier League giants’ 18.
However, as Liverpool have through much of the season, they dug deep and found a way to emerge victorious with their quality ultimately coming to the fore.
Faith in Firmino
Firmino snatched victory with a last-gasp winner in the semi-finals, but couldn’t finish when presented with the opportunity to fire Liverpool ahead in the opening minute on Saturday. He only had the keeper to beat having latched on to Jordan Henderson’s pass with a well-timed run, but lobbed his effort over.
It was deja vu for the Brazilian seconds into the second half. Again, it was Henderson with the pass and Firmino did brilliantly to chip it over the defender, but his eventual strike crashed off the post.
The narrative didn’t appear to be scripted for the striker on this occasion but just as he did against Monterrey, Firmino came in clutch.
Credit must be attributed to the supporting cast, though. Henderson had a great game, creating several big chances and even drawing the save of the match from Diego Lopes.
His probing pass forward was taken in stride by the relentless Sadio Mane, who was a constant nuisance for Flamengo. The Senegalese held the ball up admirably before playing in Firmino, who showed the composure to open up the angle before finishing well.
This wasn’t a classic but while it did feature plenty of chances, there was a bizarre refereeing incident that was thrown into the mix.
With Mane charging through the middle in stoppage time and one-on-one with the keeper, a Rafinha challenge from behind put the forward off, sending his finish wide.
Referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim immediately pointed to the spot and issued a yellow card.
However, after watching the incident back on the monitor, it became apparent that contact was made outside the box so no penalty was awarded. But, to the bewilderment of onlookers, the tackle was also judged to be a legal one.
Flamengo were given a free-kick and Rafinha’s booking was rescinded.
Best of the rest
Back-up goalkeeper Luis Cardenas emerged as the hero for Monterrey having starred in the penalty shootout that clinched third place for the Mexican team after a 2-2 draw with Al Hilal in normal time.
Carlos Eduardo’s goal saw the Saudi Professional League side take a 1-0 lead into the break but quick-fire goals from Arturo Gonzalez and Maximiliano Meza early in the second half put Monterrey 2-1 up. Bafetimbi Gomis restored parity to take the contest to penalties where Monterrey won 4-3 win with Cardenas saving twice and scoring the winning penalty.
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