A two-game football drama

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I was treated to two football games played three days apart on two continents that were filled with so much drama, tension, controversy, incredible goals, twists and turns that no script that a writer could never bring up.

The first was between Liverpool and Leicester City in the Carabao Cup in England last Wednesday, while the second was between Indonesia and Singapore in the 2021 Suzuki Cup semi-final second leg at Kallang National Stadium on the day of Christmas, the land of this last nation.

Liverpool and Leicester ended the game 3-3, with the Reds coming back twice from a two-goal deficit to win it, 5-4 on penalties.

Indonesia survived the upset ax by sending eight Singapore players, 4-2 (5-3 overall), in extra periods to return to the Suzuki Cup final for the first time since 2010.

For the English Football League (EFL) game, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp again fielded an indescribable squad with five young players and three second-team players against a full-fledged Foxes side.

I realize how low priority the EFL Cup is for Klopp and I understand why. The Premier and Champions League matches are the most important matches. That doesn’t mean he’s going to turn around and allow other teams to beat Liverpool.

Liverpool fell quickly behind two goals from Jamie Vardy in the opening 15 minutes. The Foxes took advantage of Liverpool’s high line and beat them with speed and a superb counterattack.

Five minutes after Vardy’s second goal, LFC’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been a staple in Klopp’s side over the years, fired a shot on an assist from Roberto Firmino. Liverpool had a lifeline.

Then came a goal from James Maddison, a scorcher from several yards outside the area to make Leicester 3-1. It’s kind of a “game over” goal, but when Klopp started to introduce some of his regulars into the game, the tide turned.

Takumi Minamino helped Diogo Jota score for Liverpool. Then in the dying seconds of extra time, a James Milner cross in the box was missed by the Leicester defender. Minamino controlled the ball with his chest and then pulled it to the far post after Kasper Schmeichel dived to tie things at 3-3.

In the penalty shootout that followed, Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher saved two shots with the second atonement for Minamino’s miss (which would have given Liverpool an instant victory). Surprisingly, Jota, not included in the top five to shoot on goal, won the game for Liverpool.

It was an incredible comeback victory; one that Liverpool have become famous for over the years, including late strikes. Twice lower and continue to equalize with a few seconds left in the game. And this victory was only good news after the disappointing draw against Tottenham a few days earlier.

It says a lot about how Klopp transformed this club. There’s this belief that they can get the job done no matter the odds.

And this is something that Singapore has almost achieved.

If the Liverpool-Leicester game was a complete comeback, the Singapore-Indonesia game was… messy football.

Indonesian Ezra Walian took advantage of the confusion in Singapore’s area to score early, 1-0 in the 11th minute.

In extra time in the first half, Safuwan Baharudin was sent off after fighting with Indonesia’s Rizky Ridho. While Safuwan was provoked, he lost his mind. You have a yellow card and you keep bumping into your opponent. He was kicked out.

Immediately after that, Singapore’s Ui-young scored a free kick when Indonesia couldn’t clear the ball; 1-1.

In the 67th minute, Irfan Fandi was also sent off for a bad tackle on Irfan Jaya who was in scoring position. Indonesia could not capitalize on Singapore at nine and the free kick. Instead, it was Lions’ Shahdan Sulaiman who scored on a brilliant free kick in the 74th minute that I thought Merah Putih goalkeeper Nadeo Argawinata should have saved. This must be one of the goals of the tournament.

Think about it… every time Singapore lost a player, they scored.

Sulaiman almost scored with another free kick in the 78th minute but this time Nadeo was up to it.

With Indonesia on the verge of losing the game despite the man advantage, they equalized in the 87th minute when Pratama Arhan scored a rebound attempt. Arhan was in fact offside, but the linesman missed the infraction; one of the many appeals that hurt Singapore.

The Lions shot each other in the foot as the red cards were all correct, but the offside missed… now it was bad.

What made matters worse was that Singapore’s Faris Ramli missed a penalty shot a minute later which could have given the Lions a storybook end. Instead, it was extended by an own goal for the Lions. A fourth goal was scored to practically end it, but not before Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was also sent off for a reckless tackle.

Defender Irfan Fandi replaced Sunny on goal and saved a shot on goal. The Singaporean crowd – credit them – roared. They never left even after Indonesia’s fourth goal. And when everything was done with Merah Putih who qualified for the final, what I loved in the end was to see the Indonesian players console Ramli who could have been the hero of the match.

Both games had it all: drama, tension, controversy, incredible goals, twists and turns no screenwriter could ever conjure up.

And that is why it is called “the beautiful game”.


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