Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Torres in form but my agonies will persist



I am, and am completely aware of being, an incorrigibly gloomy watcher of football. I approach most fixtures either with an expectation of defeat, or in the firm belief that the opposition are such a diabolical outfit that anything less than a cricket score will simply obfuscate the frailties endemic within the team I follow. Confidence and enthusiasm are for me traits only exhibited in the flush of relief after a good victory.

Watching games on television is a particularly agonising, purgatorial pursuit. I tend to hunch restlessly in front of the TV, maintaining a perpetual incanted commentary of doubt and complaint. Thus during Liverpool’s first leg Champions’ League tie against Inter Milan I became convinced that a lack of cutting edge would limit us to a 0-0 draw. ‘It’s no good having all this possession and not scoring’, ‘it’s got 0-0 written all over it’, ‘they’re happy to soak up the pressure’ etc etc.

In contrast my girlfriend was insistent that Liverpool’s dominance would pay dividends. And despite all the extra years I have spent watching the Anfield reds, it has to be said that she was right. Eighty minutes I spent writhing and moaning like a heroin addict in withdrawal, ten minutes I spent jumping around the living room with delight.

In my defence Liverpool went into that night’s match fresh from an appalling F.A. Cup defeat at home to Barnsley. Since that game they have completed five straight victories and go into tonight’s away leg against Inter as favourites to progress to the quarter finals. Nevertheless you will not be surprised to learn that I am nervous about the match. Inter Milan are currently romping away with Serie A and their squad is stacked with the type of highly rated personnel to which Liverpool aspire.

Certainly Rafa Benitez tactics for European games are rarely wrong and there is ample precedent to show that Liverpool can travel to difficult venues and defend heroically. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are meanwhile in a rich vein of goalscoring form. But Liverpool have been so mercurial this season and have delivered so many disappointing performances, that it would be folly to go into this match with too much confidence. Even in Europe there have been intolerably poor displays. Losing against an appalling Besiktas outfit springs to mind.

Then there are the auguries and portents. In the 1965 European Cup semi final Inter Milan overturned a 2 goal first leg deficit inflicted at Anfield and denied Bill Shankly’s team the chance to become Britain’s first Champions of Europe. The very overconfidence of the English media, who have assumed their normal habit of self-satisfied crowing after Arsenal’s victory in Milan last week, can often presage a defeat. If Liverpool were not the English representatives tonight I would perhaps be urging on the Italians.

I can only hope that I am proved wrong once again. Removing the figurative egg from my yokey visage will be only a pleasure.

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