Following a brutal evening of football, Liverpool beat Flamengo 1-0 after extra-time to become World Champions.
The Reds triumphed in Doha having been given one hell of a fight from Flamengo across all 120 minutes. What did we learn?
1. Bobby does the business, again
In the UEFA Super Cup, Liverpool were getting plastered all over the Vodafone Park in Istanbul by Chelsea. At half-time they were lucky to only be 0-1 down so brought on Roberto Firmino. Within five minutes the Brazilian had assisted Sadio Mané to make it 1-1 and then later in extra-time he did the same again to make it 2-1. Chelsea equalised but Liverpool won the shootout (Firmino scored).
In the Club World Cup semi-final, Liverpool were being held 1-1 with Monterey. In all honesty they were lucky to be level. Anyway right at the end Trent-Alexander Arnold sent a cross in and Roberto Firmino, who came off the bench with five minutes to go, touched it so beautifully and deftly to guide it home and win Liverpool the game in stoppage time.
Point is: in big cup moments so far this season, Roberto Firmino has been Liverpool’s man. Which is why it was so odd that the Brazilian missed two very presentable chances during regular time. But we should have known better than to rule Bobby Firmino out. Jurgen Klopp said he was the only player who was “always world-class” and part of that means never letting your head drop.
It was nearly 10 minutes into extra time Sadio Mané gave him the ball for his third clear-cut chance and this time he made no mistake, sitting the defender and goalkeeper down before hammering home the goal that made Liverpool the Champions of the World.
2. Bruno Henrique is ready for his second act
Bruno Henrique is 28-years-old. Like most incredibly talented attacking Brazilians he had a move to Europe. Back in 2016 he joined Wolfsburg and many expected that to be a brief stay as he ascended to the elite levels of European football. Well, it was a brief stay (half a season, to be exact) but only because he was so disappointing in Germany.
Since then he returned to Brazil, first with Santos and then, at the start of 2019, Flamengo. Since joining the Rubro-Negro he has been nothing short of sensational. Coming into the final of this tournament he had an incredible 35 goals in 61 games, winning a phenomenal Treble of Campeonato Carioca, Brasilerio and Copa Libertadores.
Now in the final against European Champions Liverpool, a lot of expectation was placed on his shoulders. And it was expectation he proved more than capable of handling as he was the most electrifying attacking player on a pitch that included Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian tortured both of Liverpool’s full-backs, giving special attention to Trent Alexander-Arnold with his supreme movement and dribbling skill. He linked superbly with his team-mates, in one instance fizzing a ball across the face of goal that, had anyone made a run in front of Virgil van Dijk, would have resulted in a goal.
Bruno Henrique continued to torture the Reds in the second-half, always looking capable of doing damage. Even into extra-time as Liverpool took and then held the lead, Bruno Henrique continued to torture Liverpool and look by far the most potent creator on the field. This is a player who is clearly ready for a second act in European football, should anyone wish to offer him a stage.
3. Super Sadio Mané
“To be honest he deserved to win the Ballon d’Or first,” said Yaya Touré of Sadio Mané. Now, when Yaya Touré, a player hesitant to give anyone but himself credit for anything, says you’ve been the best? Then people need to pay attention.
Now whether or not Mané deserved to win the Ballon d’Or is besides the point (it’s an individual award in a team sport and the criteria are so fluid and senseless you could make a fair case for it) what cannot be denied is that Sadio Mané, the man who had people questioning the £34m fee three years ago when the Reds signed him, has become one of the world’s finest players. And as one of the world’s finest players, we expect world-class wonder from him.
And in the 99th minute of the Club World Cup final, he produced just that. A searching ball in behind a tiring Flamengo defence from Jordan Henderson was reached by a ripping run from Mané who picked up the pass but was in no position to shot. He had to wait, but he somehow saw Roberto Firmino running behind him because he stopped, turned and almost without looking played a perfectly weighted ball pass to Firmino. The Brazilian duly scored and took all the glory, but the brilliance, the genius, the class belonged to Super Sadio Mané.
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4. Gomis can still go
Remember Bafetimbi Gomis? The French striker who spent two seasons at Swansea? Turns out he can still play. After five impressive seasons with Lyon he moved to the Premier League and struggled to make the same kind of impact. This was the only time in his career that he wasn’t prolific, however, and he’s since been great for Marseille, Galatasaray and now Al-Hilal.
With his side trailing 2-1 in the last half-hour of the third-placed playoff, Al-Hilal were staring a fourth-placed finish in the face. Carlos Eduardo picked the ball up in the right-half-space and took one second to wait before lifting a tasty cross into the area. Gomis peeled away from his marker and launched a wonderful header low towards the goal. Luis Cardenas in the Monterey goal tried to stop it but couldn’t, and the game was level. It then went to penalties where Gomis opened the scoring only for his side to later throw it away and finish fourth anyway. Gomis showed his quality, however, and probably could play at a higher level than for Al-Hilal.
5. Making a mockery of FIFA’s expansion
The Club World Cup is currently only for the winner of the continental confederation competitions such as the Champions League and Copa Libertadores, but that will soon change. In fact this 2020 edition was the final one that would see it be a strict battle of victors. From 2021 the tournament shifts to being held every four years with every confederation sending multiple representatives.
On the one hand, this ensures that UEFA can always send cash cows Barcelona and Real Madrid, and CONMEBOL will be able to send Boca Juniors and River Plate if they want to, but whilst that could create some superstar match-ups, today’s final proves that we would lose something far more valuable: true competition.
Yes, Flamengo vs. Liverpool is the first time in a while that we have had a genuinely thrilling final where either side was capable of winning. The Brazilians proved a perfect match for the Reds, pushing them all the way. This is the glorious potential of the Club World Cup, two of the year’s continental cup winners going head-to-head. It’s what will be lost if the competition becomes a bloated Intercontinental Champions League. Obviously if Flamengo vs. Liverpool is the last ever true Club World Cup final it’s an amazing one to go out on, but what a shame if we are denied any more classics like this because of financial interests.