EL/QF: Redemption found in dramatic comeback

LFC v BVBLiverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund (HT 0-2)
Liverpool win 5-4 on aggregate

It was unexpected, unlikely and ultimately, unbelievable. Liverpool progressed to the Europa League semi-final thanks to Dejan Lovren’s injury-time winner. But the timing of the goal only hints at a snippet of a story that will be retold for generations to come.

Anfield promised to be the host of another atmospheric European night as Jurgen Klopp’s present took on his past. Both sets of fans and their stadiums share similarities, including the anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone. The mutual respect – enhanced by Klopp – was displayed during the impeccably acknowledged minute-silence the day before the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Entering the game, Liverpool held a slight advantage thanks to Divock Origi’s away goal in Dortmund last Thursday. But that advantage was wiped out within five minutes of the game when Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored. The Armenian playmaker tapped in the rebound from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal bound effort, which was superbly saved by Simon Mignolet.

The home fans were temporarily silenced when Aubameyang doubled Dortmund’s lead just five minutes later. The Gabon striker managed to beat Mignolet with a fierce drive into the near top corner following a perfectly weighted pass by the impressive Marco Reus.

Liverpool were stunned and suddenly needed to score three without reply in the remaining 80 minutes. While Dortmund aren’t the most convincing in defence, their counter-attacking threat which had already produced two goals already, was a constant concern for Liverpool’s equally vulnerable backline.

Locals started to find their voice again when Liverpool created some half chances for Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. But the Germans came just as close to extending their advantage on several occasions.

Whilst the deficit wasn’t reduced by half-time, Liverpool supporters saw a glimmer of hope in those opportunities. The club’s achievement in Istanbul 11-years ago allows its supporters to dream with that little bit more reason.

Just like that improbable night in Turkey, a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung as the players returned to the pitch. An early goal was needed to build momentum and within several minutes, it came.

Emre Can exchanged passes with Firmino, to bypass Dortmund’s midfield. The German then slipped Origi in and the improving Belgian burst beyond the defence before poking past Roman Weidenfeller.

Suddenly the noise levels rose, hope had more substance and the Reds were one step closer to a miraculous recovery.

But less than ten minutes later, Dortmund responded. Mats Hummels brought the ball out of defence and played a defence splitting pass. Marco Reus’ clinically composed first-time finish saw him get the goal his performance warranted.

Liverpool were pegged back to needing three goals again, but now they only had a little over half an hour to do it.

Not to give up without a fight, Klopp’s side continued to attack as their manager gesticulated on the sidelines like the world’s most enthusiastic ringmaster.

Having misplaced the pass that led to Dortmund’s opener, Coutinho set about making amends. In the previous round away to Man Utd, it was the Brazilian’s loose square ball that led to Anthony Martial earning and converting a penalty. But the little magician responded with a classy goal that all but sealed that particular tie. This time, however, he played a one-two with stand-in captain, James Milner, before rifling a low-shot into the corner. The noise was back and Coutinho’s rousing of the crowd was remarkably similar to what Steve Gerrard did in Istanbul after he scored.

There was twenty-five-minutes left to score two goals. To try and chase three goals on more than one occasion is asking a lot of human nature. But one’s capabilities can feel almost limitless when there is genuine belief within a passionate cauldron of hope and desire.

Seconds after Dortmund’s manager, Thomas Tuchel, brought off midfielder Shinji Kagawa for defender Matthias Ginter, Liverpool were level.

Several of Liverpool’s (primarily Milner’s) corners failed to beat the first man much to the disappointment of their supporters. So it was ironic that another poor corner would lead to the equaliser.

This time it was Coutinho whose low ball evaded the defenders at the near-post to allow Mamadou Sakho a free-header from point-blank range.

Cult hero, Sakho, had seen Reus’ assist for Aubameyang evade his attempted interception. The Frenchman was also at fault for the former’s goal as it was he who kept him onside. It was another player making up for earlier mistakes in this frenetic match.

Dortmund was now the side left stunned. But to their credit, with 15 minutes remaining, they withstood the inevitable onslaught as the home side tried to save seconds and their season.

But with four-minutes of injury time to play, Liverpool won a freekick on the right, just inside Dortmund’s half. Milner looked to be lining up a deep cross into a cluster of bodies, hoping something will fall the way of a red shirt. But substitute Daniel Sturridge – who came on with Joe Allen minutes before Coutinho’s goal – made a run into the vacant channel. Milner played the ball in and headed for the byline. Sturridge adjusted his feet before slipping a perfectly timed pass for his England international teammate. The Kop held its breath. Anfield was standing. The man who had failed with numerous corners was on the byline and about to cross into a crowded penalty box. Milner saved his best for when it mattered most. His floating ball in drifted to the far-post where Lovren had the run on Gustavo Ramos – a late sub for Reus. The Croatian defender rose highest to head past Weidenfeller and cause scenes of sheer jubilation.

Klopp was at his calmest (still punching the air with nearby fans) as the stadium erupted. The scarves were swinging, flags were waving and fans were singing. Lovren just put to bed the memories of his penalty miss which knocked Liverpool out of the same competition last season against Slaven Bilic’s Besiktas.

Of course, the drama couldn’t just end there. The last kick of the game was a set-piece within 30-yards of Mignolet’s goal and in front of the shocked and bewildered Dortmund supporters. Ilkay Gundogan took aim before sending his effort narrowly wide of the post and with that the final whistle went.

Immense elation for Liverpool supporters as their players lined up to salute the Kop. No one in red wanted to leave the pitch, no one in red wanted to leave the ground. They all wanted to savour the moment where individuals redeemed themselves so that a team could rise above adversity.

Football provides many moments that can be referenced and transferred into everyday life. On Thursday 14th April 2016, football taught us mistakes can be rectified and that belief overcomes fear.