Friday, September 24, 2021

How Sao Paolo beat Liverpool in 2005 to become world champions

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It was a Liverpool side that had reached the Fifa Club World Cup after completing the comeback of all comebacks against AC Milan in Istanbul the previous May. A dejected-looking Liverpool side trudged off the pitch at half-time, three goals down, looking as inferior as a side possibly could in a European final.

While most fans could be forgiven for having a similar reaction, the Liverpool faithful rose to their feet and a spine-tingling chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” echoed around the ground for the entirety of the half-time break.

Whether the players could hear it or not remains a mystery, but based on their reaction as they re-entered the pitch, the support was well and truly felt. Three goals without return, an incredible save from Jerzy Dudek that was followed by a nail-biting penalty shoot out, and Liverpool were once again crowned champions of Europe.

Fast forward to the following December and it was Sao Paolo football club that stood between the Reds and the title of being World Champions. It was an honour Liverpool had yet to add to their trophy cabinet and few would have bet against Rafa Benitez’s men sailing to victory.

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While Liverpool had beaten AC Milan 3-2 in a penalty shootout, São Paulo won the 2005 Copa Libertadores, defeating Brazilian team Atlético Paranaense 5–1. The final itself took place at the International Stadium in Yokohama, the second-largest city in Japan by population and the most populous municipality of Japan.

As an excited 67,000 fans packed themselves into the arena, few could have predicted what would happen next.

Liverpool sat in second place in the English Premier League and went into the final having just gone 10 matches without conceding a goal, which equalled a club record. Liverpool started the better of the two sides and dominated the game for the opening twenty minutes. Club captain, Steven Gerrard, looked eager to add World Champion to his CV and was the driving force behind Liverpool’s early dominance.

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However, as the Reds squandered their early chances, the Brazilian side grew in confidence despite their rocky start. Their newfound belief culminated in Sao Paolo taking an unexpected lead in the 27th minute. A beautifully weighted pass from Aloísio José da Silva put Mineiro in one of one with Pepe Reina, who calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner.

For the final hour of the game, Sao Paolo demonstrated their in-game intelligence and made sure to limit the number of chances they afforded to Liverpool. Despite this, the Reds had three goals disallowed and were left frustrated by the match officials on the night. Benitez, the Liverpool manager, was adamant that at least one of the goals should have stood and made his feelings more than known at the final whistle.

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However, this should not take away from the wonderful achievement of Sao Paolo. Many experts within the game are quick to give the non-European sides a chance in this tournament, but the Brazilian team once again proved that they can easily cause an upset in a one-off competition.

It would take Liverpool Football Club a further 19 years before they added the FIFA Club World Cup to their list of honours, which demonstrates how unique a competition this is.

As a final note, while club football is all too often focused on the European leagues, it is games like this that open up the eyes of European football fans to some of the best teams in South America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

While the future format of the FIFA Club World Cup is still to be decided, it is a competition that should be celebrated as a true representation of the game on a global level.

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