Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Thailand 1 Liverpool 1

Pre-Season Match 2009

The Main (Stand) Man Match Report:

A 70,000 crowd awaited the Liverpool starting line-up upon their emergence from the tunnel to face Peter Reid’s Thailand national side. Rafael Benitez chose probably the strongest initial XI of the pre-season so far, none more so than in defense where Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher teamed up for the first time. Insua and Degen were again chosen to continue in the full back positions, Lucas Leiva and Damien Plessis began at the heart of the midfield flanked by Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt with David Ngog and Kristian Nemeth completing the outfield line-up. A strong bench included many of the Liverpool’s international contingent after joining the rest of the squad just three days earlier,

The game began with a worrying moment for Diego Cavalieri, his first clearance of the match going straight to one of the Thai midfield. The resultant shot, however, was poorly hit and the Liverpool keeper breathed a sigh of relief as it drifted aimlessly wide of the mark.

However, after just 6 minutes, the reds finally got their first goal of the pre-season. Picking the ball up in his own half, Carragher lifted his head and saw a run inside the Thai right full back from Babel. The chipped through ball was not immediately controlled by the Dutchman, but he got enough on it so that he could simply run onto the bouncing ball and slot home past the onrushing keeper. It was a goal that seemed to expose a little naivety in the home side’s defensive strategy, with the central defenders having pushed out in search of an offside decision, leaving room at the back for Babel to run into.

There were shortly to be chances at either end. First, Thailand fashioned a clever move which, had the linesman’s flag not gone up immediately, would have required the good save that Cavalieri produced. Momentarily, Babel was clean through on goal, although the ball ran slightly too far ahead of him and the goalkeeper was able to smother his effort relatively easily. A jinking run from Nemeth then almost left him with a simple tap in, but again his final touch was a little too heavy and the danger passed. Insua then won the ball by his own corner flag, and following a swift interchange of passes down the left, Lucas floated across an excellent ball, finding Babel again in space at the far post. Babel’s effort on the volley, though, was weak and went well wide of the post.

After this promising initial period, the game began to get more scrappy as the half progressed. In truly difficult circumstances thanks to the downpour that beset the game halfway through the first period, the quick passing and attempted through balls were replaced with poor control and mistimed challenges. It took until the 42nd minute for Liverpool to threaten again, largely thanks to some tenacious work from Dirk Kuyt. As a Thai defender looked to let the ball run out of play for a goal kick, Kuyt caught him napping and was able to hook the ball free with his right foot. A delicate chipped ball almost found Ngog at the back post, but he was blocked by one of the home defenders.

After a mystifying three minutes of injury time at the end of the first half, the referee called a halt and some tired legs trudged off, the combination of the humid conditions and wet playing surface serving to provide probably the best workout for the Liverpool players so far during the pre-season.

Ten substitutions again took place, the team for the second half including Glen Johnson, Jay Spearing and Javier Mascherano playing his first full half since returning after international exertions in the close season. The Pacheco/Voronin pairing was again given the responsibility up front to try and extend the Liverpool lead from the first half.

A setback shortly into the half saw El Zhar injure himself in a bizaare attempt at an overhead kick on the edge of the Thailand box. He could only kick the defender who had gone up for a header to clear the ball, and the impact left the young midfielder on the floor. Martin Skrtel was forced out of the game moments later, with a suspected hamstring injury, and he was soon followed by El Zhar who looked in genuine pain. Martin Kelly came on for Skrtel and a welcome return for Alvaro Arbeloa was the result of El Zhar’s enforced withdrawal.

Overall, however, the second half proved to be a dour affair, punctuated only briefly by some promising passing movements and half-chances. The sight of Fernando Torres warming up on the touchline was greeted by a massive cheer from the Thai crowd (some of whom were in protective masks, presumably to guard against swine flu), who had little else to shout about for much of the half. The home side defence was not put under anything like enough pressure, with long range efforts providing the only real threat to the opposition net. Perhaps the best of these came from Javier Mascherano just after the hour mark, a fierce effort met with two fists from the Thai goalkeeper.

The setback in losing Martin Skrtel was then compounded when the Thai’s were able to fashion an equaliser. With 72 minutes on the clock, a superb move sliced through the makeshift Liverpool backline, a one-two leaving Sutee racing clear and he provided a neat finish down to Gulacsi’s left which rolled into the net off the post. As the rain became even heavier and was joined by some gusty winds, the umbrellas went up in the crowd and Liverpool at last began to venture forward with more consistency and Benitez decided that Reina, Torres and Riera should be introduced. The substitutes, in particular Albert Riera, though, had to wait longer than expected as the fourth official struggled to get the numbers correct on a Velcro board to indicate who was coming off. Torres immediately went running through the Thailand defence, but unfortunately his shot was a weak one that proved easy for the keeper to save. Torres again then became involved and threaded a superb throughball on to Voronin who held his head in his hands after putting the ball wide with only the keeper to beat.

The second half ended as it has begun, though, and petered out with some of the reds players tiring visibly. Johnson found time for one more effort, however, cutting in from the left hand side to get the ball on his right foot, he curled a dangerous looking shot just wide of the upright. The whistle went with another disappointing result, but the most strenuous workout for the Liverpool players thus far on their travels. The injuries to Skrtel and El Zhar will be worrying for the reds camp, as will the large periods of ineffective play which peppered the match. Coming so soon after a 10 hour flight as it did, perhaps this result should not be viewed with too much scepticism, though, and we can all hope that the reds can gain their first victory of the pre-season when they play the national side from Singapore on Sunday.

Match time and date: KO 14:00. 22 July 2009

Ground: Rajamangala Stadium

Goals: Babel, 6 (Liverpool). Suksomkit, 72 (Thailand)

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