Date: 28th July 2007 at 12:34pm
Written by:

The final of the Barclays Asia Trophy saw Pompey take on the bookies overwhelming favourites Liverpool, also more heavily backed by the locals, but a strong travelling support got well behind the lads.

8 out of 11 that started against Fulham started again on Friday, the men to miss out were Hermann Hreidarsson, Lauren and Niko Kranjcar as Djimi Traore, Martin Craine and Matty Taylor came in to start. Potential record signing John Utaka again had to be content with a place on the bench.

Pompey had few chances in the 90 minutes itself, with Liverpool the most threatening but the defence stood firm as did David James. After a 0-0 draw the dreaded penalty shoot out was required to decide the winners and Pompey came out triumphant 4-2 to claim the cup!

1st Half
The early pressure was coming from Liverpool, but it was Benjani who showed a superb piece of skill to outclass the level defence early on – with him again involved shortly after as he found out Gary O’Neil who moved towards the box, who intern tried a clever flick to David Nugent but it was just too strong for him.

It was Dirk Kuyt who was causing most problems, or at least having the chances. Firstly a slip by Sol Campbell allowed him to get on the end of a cross but his first time effort was flicked over the bar, then after good work from Jermaine Pennant he volleyed over. He finally hit the target when he again got onto the end of a Pennant pass that split the defence but David James got down well to deny him.

After the water break James produced a heart stopping moment with an error the likes of which have not really been seen from him in some time. He took too long dealing with a back pass that almost saw Ryan Babbel steal the ball from him but he did enough to recover to the extend that he managed to hold him up before Martin Craine got back to help him.

He soon redeemed himself though with a brilliant save, again from Kuyt who found some space to have a free header but he reacted superbly to deny the Dutchman again.

Pompey should have had a penalty as the break approached when David Nugent got onto the end of Matty Taylor’s pass to be fouled by John Arne Riise in the area, but it was judged to have been outside and all that was given was a free kick.

Liverpool had most of the possession in the half, with the better chances but with the half nearing an end the best chance of all fell to Pompey. Sulley Muntari’s fantastic defence splitting ball found the run from midfield of O’Neil who went through to be one on one with Jose Reina. He should have scored but was denied by a good save, although he made it quite easy.

2nd Half
The 2nd half saw Pompey come out having made several changes – off came Martin Cranie, Pedro Mendes, Benjani and David Nugent with Lauren, Noe Pamarot, Lomana LuaLua and John Utaka – for his Pompey debut – all coming on.

Much like the 1st half Liverpool had most the possession and offered a fair degree of threat, with most of the opening 10 minutes or so spent in the Pompey half, one surging run from midfield from Mohamed Sissoko really causing some problems. His run was halted in the box as he went down and my initial worry was it was a penalty, but credit to the ref he saw through his con act as it was a blatant dive, which in an official match would have seen he rightly booked.

Even though he had already made some superb saves and would go on to make more, James again had another rush of blood to the head as he charged out to meet Pennant, who looked to get in behind the defence. It was not pretty, but was just about effective enough.

We did not really offer much attacking wise, but were looking to break and were breaking quickly, in numbers too, but with the keeper beaten for the first time at either end LuaLua almost broke the dead look. What at first appeared a speculative effort saw him only denied by the post.

Fernando Torres eventually got on for his Liverpool debut – and he caused problems.

After a fortunate ricochet quick feet gave him space for his first chance but he shot narrowly over, with James having to again react brilliantly to deny him near the end. Pompey had been attacking with a corner but quick thinking by Reina saw Torres away who got in between Djimi Traore and Campbell to poke goal wards, only to be denied by another brilliant piece of agility and goalkeeping.

As time ebbed away Sulley Muntari picked up the one and only yellow of the tournament for a wild lunch on Steve Finnan with Steven Gerrard coming on to the biggest reception seen at the event.

Time was virtually up, Campbell had already came off for Hermann Hreidarsson as Niko Kranjcar came on for the dying seconds for O’Neil – with him clearly lined up for a penalty, but Kuyt almost won it with the last kick, but James was out quick to smoother.

Full time came; penalties were needed to decide the final as extra time was skipped.

Penalty shoot out
First to step up was Utaka, he dragged wide of the left hand post as Reina went the right way anyway, 0-0.

Gerrard calmly sent James the wrong way as he went left, the ball right, 1-0 Liverpool.

A quick turn and run to the ball without making eye contact with the keeper saw Matty Taylor send Reina the wrong way, 1-1.

Kuyt finally beat James as he gave him no chance even though he went the right way, 2-1 Liverpool.

I have to admit when I saw LuaLua strolling up I was a little worried but probably the best penalty of the lot saw him fire high into the top right hand corner as Reina went the other way, 2-2.

The first to be unsuccessful for Liverpool would be record signing Torres as he placed to James’ right, with him guessing the correct way to save, 2-2.

Hreidarsson swung the contest in our favour as he just about squeezed below Reina low in to the left hand corner, he even celebrated with a little summersault, 3-2 Pompey.

James pulled off a fantastic save as he turned Yossi Benayoun’s effort round the post, he had gone for power and placement to the left, still 3-2 Pompey.

Kranjcar came on to take a penalty and it was down to him to win it. He gave Reina no chance, even though he went the right way, as he fired high into the to left corner, Pompey won 4-2.

Match Summary
We were lucky to get as far as penalties, as Liverpool should have won if we are honest, but having got their we held our nerve to claim the cup – and as small as the tournament may be I am happy to claim it!

This could probably a sign of things to come against Liverpool when we go to Anfield this season, but with the conditions making it harder, not to mention the fact this is still pre season hopefully we will offer a little more of an attacking threat – which we did not offer too much – when the league fixture comes round?

Liverpool had a lot of possession, but we were well organised with the defence once again proving how tough it will be to break down this season, even when it is David James – who was easily the man of the match – again showed how tough he will be to beat after! All players were getting back well and although we might not have attacked much we got forward well in numbers, even in very testing conditions.

The very promising thing is looking like the runs will come from midfield this season, which if the finishing is better will yield more goals. Pedro Mendes and Sulley Muntari will find those defence splitting passes, as Muntari did to carve open Liverpool for Gary O’Neil, who really should have scored.

John Utaka looks very nippy and is not at all short of confidence, as he showed with some nifty quick footwork and some clever little flicks, not to mention the fact he stepped up to take the first penalty – even if he did miss.

Something that thrilled me though was the effort of Lomana LuaLua, he looked hungry and looked up for the fight. He was battling back and won several challenges, even winning back the ball if he had lost it and, much as he had in the Fulham game, looks more than willing to play the team game as well as his own. Utaka and LuaLua might not be a pairing that works, but I am optimistic that LuaLua is ready for the season ahead.


Liverpool 0
Pompey 0

David James
Martin Cranie (Lauren)
Sol Campbell (Hermann Hreidarsson)
Sylvain Distin
Djimi Traore
Gary O’Neil (Niko Kranjcar)
Pedro Mendes (Noe Pamarot)
Sulley Muntari
Matty Taylor
David Nugent (Lomana LuaLua)
Benjani (John Utaka)