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Sevilla suckerpunch floors reds


Dejected Liverpool players with Jurgen Klopp after the match

Dejected Liverpool players with Jurgen Klopp after the match


Dejected Liverpool players with Jurgen Klopp after the match

In boxing it's called rope-a-dope.

Muhammad Ali invented the tactic. He's soak up punishment and then, when least expected, he'd take the fight to his opponent, hurting him and demoralising him and he cruised to victory.

Last night in Basel, Liverpool and Sevilla came out like a couple of eager prizefighters, each anxious to impose themselves.

Both with impressive histories, neither wanted to be on their knees when Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson blew the final whistle.

Europa League medals are coveted when, in Liverpool's case, you've finished eighth in the League or, like Sevilla, you want to become the first team ever to win this competition three times.

Twenty minutes in, the rain began to fall. It rains in Spain too but Liverpool fans have endured enough wet afternoons on Anfield Road to believe the conditions would suit their boys.

Initially, it looked like it was going to be close.

Liverpool were almost caught by a sucker-punch when an overhead kick whizzed past the post. But they drew first blood when Daniel Sturridge drove a left-footed shot past the outstretched left hand of Sevilla's David Soria.

Soria was picking the ball out of the net again a few minutes later when a Dejan Lovren header rattled the net. But Sturridge, in an off-side position, was rightly judged to have interfered.

Still, Liverpool were playing with confidence and courage.

They closed out the first half 1-0, ahead on the scoreboard and, crucially, coming out on top in the psychological battle.

They'd even had two perfectly valid penalty shouts for blatant hand ball obstructions dismissed in a manner that makes a mockery of assistant referees and the concept of having an additional assistant referee working the goal line.

But things were to change dramatically.

The second half, to paraphrase legendary Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn, started with an earthquake and built up to a climax.

The second half was only seconds old when Mariano danced through the Liverpool defence and crossed for Kevin Gameiro to drive the ball into the Liverpool net.

It was, as we say, game on. But that's as good as things got for Liverpool supporters.

When Kolo Touré took the ball off Mariano's foot a few minutes later, he spared Jurgen Klopp's blushes and had the supporters in the stands fearing what lay ahead.

As Coke appeared like a will-o-the-wisp to deliver a blistering right footed curler past Mignolet, there was a sense that Liverpool were floundering. But there was still time to turn things around.

Unfortunately, the second half was proving a very different proposition to the first forty-five. The Sevilla fans had found their voice while the Liverpool supporters appeared to have been shocked into silence.

Basel is not the place you'd expect to see a mirage but, having flattered in the first half, when they looked like champions elect, Liverpool faded.

Visions of a glorious end to the season, and a ticket into next season's Champions League, were beginning to crumble to dust.

Sevilla were playing with the panache that a two-goal lead can foster.

But, as the history books show, when Liverpool are under the cosh, there can still be hope.

Would Liverpool find a way back into the game? The club had done it before on big occasions.

But as Sevilla piled on the pressure, the Reds began to look like the team that finished the domestic league with even less points than last season.

When Coke scored again, it seemed all over, even though there were 20 minutes left on the clock.

Sevilla are the Europa League champions for the fifth time in the club's history.

For Liverpool, the dream ended in disarray. But, more than any other club in the modern era, Liverpool know that the end spells a new beginning.

And with Jurgen Klopp acknowledging a process of development, there might be some consolation to take into the next season.