Monday, July 27, 2009

Match Report: Singapore 0 - 5 LiverpooL

Young Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth scored twice and Xabi Alonso made his first pre-season appearance as Liverpool beat Singapore 5-0 at the National Stadium.

Seeking their first pre-season victory after draws with Thailand and Swiss side St Gallen and a 1-0 loss to Rapid Vienna, the Reds gave a disjointed appearance in the first half but took the lead with the final kick before half-time when Andriy Voronin's long-range effort found the net.

Albert Riera extended the advantage early in the second half before Nemeth struck twice in the final 17 minutes with a Fernando Torres effort wedged in between.

With Rafael Benitez including a number of unfamiliar faces including goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, defenders Mikel Dominguez and Philipp Degen and forward David Ngog in his starting line-up, the Reds struggled to assert themselves in the first half against a defensively-minded Singapore side.

Ryan Babel rose above the Singapore defense to put a header straight at goalkeeper Hassan Sunny after seven minutes but apart from that, there was little to entertain the crowd in the first half as the Premier League side were restricted to shots from distance.

There were some moments of concern for the Reds as Javier Mascherano twice went to ground after heavy challenges by Mustafic Fahrudin and Noh Alam Shah and the hosts nearly took a shock lead in the 22nd minute when Shi Jiayi's through pass released Shahril Ishak whose weak shot was easily saved by Cavalieri.

But in stoppage time at the end of the half, Liverpool's opening goal arrived from out of the blue as Voronin got past the challenge of Fahrudin and, with the Singapore defense backing off, fired in an innocuous low shot that crept past a late-diving Hassan.

Buoyed by the unexpected goal, Liverpool were much improved after the break and extended their lead 10 minutes into the second half when Mascherano floated in a fine cross from the right for Riera, who chested the ball down at the far post before firing a low shot past Hassan.

The fans were clamouring for an appearance by Torres and got their wish just after the hour when he was brought on with Dirk Kuyt in place of Yossi Benayoun and Ngog.

It was the Dutchman that would make the bigger impression though setting up the last three goals, beginning in the 73rd minute when he crossed from the right for 20-year-old Nemeth to slide the ball past Hassan to make it 3-0.

Alonso came on in the 77th minute for Daniel Agger and just three minutes later started the move that ended with Kuyt crossing for an unmarked Torres to apply the finishing touch from point blank range for his first pre-season goal.

And with seven minutes left, another Kuyt cross found Nemeth, who headed home his second of the game.

Liverpool's Benitez Wowed By Singapore Fans' Adulation

Even Liverpool's normally impassive manager Rafa Benitez could not fail to be moved by the adulation and adoration of the club's local fans during a boat ride along the Singapore River on Saturday.

Benitez, who started the cruise inside the boat politely acknowledging fans through the window, ended up standing at the bow smiling and waving as enthusiastic fans cheered his name, sang songs and waved banners written in his honor.

The Spaniard, whose team are in the city-state for Sunday's friendly against Singapore, stayed outside the boat's sheltered comfort for about 15 minutes despite the crippling heat. He was joined by former Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish, who has recently returned to the Premier League club as an ambassador and director of the youth academy.

Other ex-Liverpool players in attendance were Sammy Lee, assistant coach to Benitez, and Steve McMahon, whose company the Profitable Group was responsible for bringing the 18-time English champions to Singapore for the second time in 10 years.

In another boat, carrying most of the players, goalkeeper Pepe Reina was the main livewire, engaging in good-natured banter with the hundreds of fans that thronged the riverbank.

When one supporter exhorted him to win the league title, which the club has not done since 1990, the Spanish goalkeeper replied: "Jump into the water and we'll do it for you!"

However, not all the players were as enthusiastic as Reina. Spain striker Fernando Torres, the obvious crowd favorite, waved politely several times but mostly stayed inside.

Other players were even more elusive, such as pony-tailed Andriy Voronin, recently returned from a season-long loan spell at Hertha Berlin, who kept his headphones over his ears.

Liverpool, Premier League runners-up last season, are in Asia for a two-match tour of Thailand and Singapore. They drew 1-1 with Thailand's national side on Wednesday.

The boat ride was part of the team's promotional events that have seen the players showing up at the country's many suburban shopping malls, signing autographs and holding clinics.

The team was divided into three vessels, decked with banners proclaiming "The Kop Comes to Asia", which sailed down the Singapore River into the heart of the city.

They meandered through the Central Business District, past entertainment centers Boat and Clarke Quay and the Esplanade.

However, the man most Liverpool fans wanted to see -- captain and inspiration Steven Gerrard -- was absent due to a court case for affray. He was acquitted in Liverpool on Friday.

"I'm sorry for the fans that he can't come. We have to protect the player and the best thing for him to do is to rest at home," Benitez had told an earlier news conference.

Hundreds of fans lined the riverbank, dressed in the club's famous red shirts and waving banners professing loyalty to the Merseyside team and lauding their achievements.

Some supporters ran along the two km stretch of the river screaming at their favorite players.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in the flesh and to get this close," gushed secretary Stacey Lee, 22. "And they even responded to me when I called out their names."

Real Madrid Boss Pellegrini Non-Committal On Alonso Rumours

Manuel Pellegrini has given his latest thoughts on Xabi Alonso, as well as Real Madrid's failure to sell their excess players.

The Alonso saga is still no closer to completion and the latest twist was Rafa Benitez's claims that he had asked Alonso to stay at Anfield. Responding to those rumors, Pellegrini told Marca, "I do not have an opinion about what he said."

"He has his reasons and opinions, he knows his player and his club.

"I will not speak about other club's players, and definitely not about other manager's statements."

Pellegrini then touched on the indication he had given earlier that July 27 was the deadline by which he wanted his final squad assembled.

"A week ago, I said that the 27th was the ideal day for the squad to be finalized.

"But I also said that nothing should be rushed. What is important is to make correct decisions.

"If that takes time, it must be taken.

Finally, Pellegrini talked about the players that the club had yet to sell, stating, "I am not too concerned that there are still a lot of players left, but it is not ideal."

"I had hoped our squad could be finalized by now, but there is still a great environment at training.

"My job is to coach everyone."

Fernando Torres Fired Up

Fernando Torres plans to cash in on the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo as the Premier League's most fearsome hitman.

But the Liverpool superstar admits he'll only hit the glorious heights of the ex-United winger if he inspires the Kop to their Premier League holy grail.

Torres believes the title race has been blown wide open thanks to Ronaldo's £80million departure from Old Trafford.

He is relishing the prospect of filling his boots with the kind of title winning goals United had become accustomed to - and will now sorely miss.

"Of course, it's my ambition to be seen in that way, but to do that we must win trophies," said Torres.

"I know only then will people be able to speak the same way about Liverpool and me as they have done Ronaldo and United.

"First we have to win trophies as a team and to do that we have to have a fantastic season. It's true we have one of our best chances to win the title for a long time, but it's still time to be careful.

"People are saying United will be a lot weaker without Ronaldo, but I don't think so. They are still a fantastic team but of course we have a big chance.

"Maybe with Ronaldo leaving United it's not so easy to see one big favorite this time.

"We think this can be the year for Liverpool, but we know how difficult it's going to be. Chelsea are the same side as last season and Arsenal are strong.

"We are also strong, and with a great signing like Glen Johnson joining us we feel we'll be even stronger. I hope Xabi Alonso stays too because he's one of the best midfielders in the world."

Torres has vowed to ensure last season's injury woes are a thing of the past. The 25-year-old said: "It's my aim to be fit for every game this season.

"It's hard to say I feel fresher now than last season because I've only just started training again after the Confederations Cup.

"By the start of the season I'm going to be 100 per cent. I hope last season's injury problems are well behind me."

Relief For Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez believes Fernando Torres is now clear of the injury problems that plagued the Spanish striker last season.

A succession of hamstring injuries undermined Liverpool's title challenge and left the Kop boss frustrated.

Benitez said: "We are trying to keep Torres fit and last year we had a specific plan. But now it is a case where I don't think he will have special treatment.

"We have all the medical staff and coaches checking everything. He has been away with Spain in the Confederations Cup so we have to be careful."

Benitez will hold talks with Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano over the next 24 hours and is confident one if not both will stay at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard Cheered By Fans As He's Cleared Of Affray In Bar Brawl Court Case

Steven Gerrard was cheered by supporters as he left court a free man yesterday, after being cleared of attacking a man in a bar brawl.

The England star admitted punching Marcus McGee three times but a jury took 75 minutes to find him not guilty of affray.

With his hands clasped behind his back, the Liverpool captain, who has scored more than 100 goals for the Reds, stood alone in the dock as the verdict was announced.

Gerrard, 29, showed no emotion as he learned he had been cleared.

The Judge, Henry Globe QC, the Recorder of Liverpool, told him: "You can walk away from this court with your reputation intact."

A relieved-looking Gerrard emerged from Liverpool crown court to cheers, applause and shouts of, "Come on, Rocky."

He told the fans: "Can I just say how pleased I am with today's verdict. I would like to put this case behind me.

"I am really looking forward to the season ahead and concentrating on football now.

"I would just like to say a big thank you to my legal team, my friends and family and everyone at Liverpool Football Club for supporting me. Thank you."

Club manager Rafa Benitez echoed his relief yesterday.

Benitez, who is in Singapore for Liverpool's pre-season match there on Sunday, said: "We are really pleased. Now he can just concentrate on playing football."

And Gerrard wasted no time getting back on the pitch. He played for Liverpool XI against Tranmere Rovers last night, scoring in their 2-2 draw. He had not joined the rest of the first team squad in Singapore because of his trial.

But his team-mates heard the verdict during a training session at the Singapore National Stadium. Led by Jamie Carragher, the squad linked arms and danced as fans started chanting Gerrard's name.

Gerrard always maintained he was acting in self-defense when he clashed with Mr McGee in the Lounge Inn bar in Southport, Merseyside, on December 29 last year. But Mr. McGee spoke of his fury last night at the verdict.

He said: "I can't believe this. What message does this give to any young lad who goes into a pub at the weekend?"

Gerrard and a group of friends had gone to the Lounge Inn following Liverpool's 5-1 victory over Newcastle United, during which he had scored twice. CCTV footage showed his party drinking beer, dancing and singing football songs.

But after Gerrard argued with McGee over the music a fight broke out. CCTV footage showed him landing three uppercuts at Mr. McGee, before being dragged away.

The fight continued without him and later a second brawl broke out, not involving Gerrard.

Mr. McGee, 34, lost a front crown and needed stitches to a head wound as a result of his injuries.

Five of Gerrard's pals admitted affray earlier this week and a sixth admitted threatening behavior.

But Gerrard always insisted he was trying to resolve the dispute and that he only lashed out at Mr. McGee in self-defense.

He told the jury: "I am sorry about the whole incident." The judge had reminded the jury to put aside their football loyalties while considering the evidence.

After the verdict, he told Gerrard: "With hindsight you may agree it was unwise of you to have approached Marcus McGee in an attempt to speak to him about your earlier trivial disagreement.

"However, that is far cry from saying you were criminally responsible for the violence which thereafter erupted."

He said that CCTV proved it was his pal John Doran who had launched the initial assault.

Gerrard's friends Ian Smith, 19, Doran, 29, Paul McGrattan, 31, and Accrington Stanley footballers Robert Grant, 19, and Ian Dunbavin, 28, all admitted affray.

Another friend John McGrattan, 34, admitted threatening behaviour. They will be sentenced next month.

Liverpool Players Jump For Joy On Hearing Their Captain Steven Gerrard Is Free

Steven Gerrard’s jubilant Liverpool team-mates last night celebrated their skipper’s not-guilty verdict like one of his winning goals.

The ecstatic players jumped in the air, roaring with delight when they were told he had been cleared of affray as they trained 6,700 miles away in Singapore’s national stadium.

Several hundred Reds fans watching the session immediately started singing Gerrard’s name.

Boss Rafa Benitez said: "We’re really pleased. He’s very important for us and he can now focus just on football. We’ve been supporting him all the time and were waiting for this decision."

Gerrard, 29, who was forced to miss the two-match Asia tour to attend his trial, said: "I’m glad to put this case behind me. I’m really looking forward to the season and concentrating on my football."

Jason McAteer: Steven Gerrard Will Not Be Affected By Court Case

Steven Gerrard will be totally unfazed by his court case, according to former team-mate Jason McAteer.

Liverpool skipper Gerrard played against Tranmere Rovers on Friday - the day he was acquitted of affray at Liverpool Crown Court.

And McAteer, who is the assistant boss at Prenton Park, said: "Steven Gerrard is an absolute credit to Liverpool and to himself and he will just be pleased this is over and done with.

"He will put this behind him, I am sure. The best place to be sometimes is out on the pitch, away from all the distractions, so Stevie will be absolutely fine. He is very mentally tough and this will not affect him.

"I expect Stevie to have another amazing season for Liverpool.

"He never lets them down."

Barcelona's Josep Guardiola Holds Little Hope Of Signing Liverpool's Javier Mascherano

Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola has admitted it will be difficult to sign Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano this summer.

The Spanish league champions have been linked with a move for the Argentinean midfielder consistently this summer, with the player's agent Walter Tamer claiming that he would prefer a move to the Camp Nou.

But Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is, of course, reluctant to sell Mascherano and has previously stated that the player has no price and is extremely important to the club.

And while Guardiola was full of praise for Mascherano, he also declared his belief that signing the player is unlikely, given Benitez's stance.

"Of course we know Mascherano, he's a huge player," Guardiola told Sky Sports News, after Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in the Wembley Cup.

"He's at a huge team, with a great manager in Benitez.

"But if he [Benitez] wants to keep Mascherano, then it is a problem."

Barcelona are, meanwhile, set to complete the signing of Inter striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with Samuel Eto'o ready to go the other way in the deal.