At the end of one of the best Cup finals I have seen in my life, a virtual replay of our famous win in Istanbul last year, Liverpool are once again Champions, this time winning the FA Cup in an amazing victory over West Ham United. I can hardly speak as my voice is destroyed from singing, but I can't help feeling that this is one of the most magical clubs in the history of sport. No team has given me so much to cheer, so many heartbreaks and thrills, and the connection between this supporter and this club is absolute. I will follow Liverpool FC to the ends of the earth.
Steven Gerrard and manager Rafa Benitez lift the FA Cup (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Today was special. It was a hard fought match, with Liverpool going down 2-0 to West Ham when Jamie Carragher scored an own goal, and Dean Ashton poked a bobbled rebound past keeper Jose Reina. I have to admit, my head sunk down a bit at this point. 2-0 down is never a pretty feeling, but we all had belief, belief that was rewarded when Djibril Cisse (of whom I have been critical, but who bravely fought on today despite an injury and exhaustion) got on the end of a pin-point ball from Liverpool Captain Steve Gerrard (more on him later) just moments after Peter Crouch was unjustly ruled offside on what should have been a goal. Suddenly, it was 2-1 to the Hammers going into the half. A lifeline...
After the half, the game ebbed and flowed with the Hammers playing attractive football and out-hustling Liverpool all day. But after the ball fell to Gerrard at the top of the West Ham penalty area, he latched onto it and scored a mighty goal, pulling us level, 2-2. Liverpool were revitalized, and our supporters were in full voice, all of us singing our hearts out, when suddenly, from nowhere, West Ham went up 3-2 on a brilliant (and lucky) shot from Paul Konchesky. One of the best goals I've seen (was it a cross? a shot?), Konchesky came up the left wing and fired the ball toward the goal, and it swerved and dipped past Reina and into the Liverpool net. At this point, with plenty of time to fight back, Liverpool dominated posession and West Ham bravely soaked it up for 27 minutes (with a great set piece of their own, almost scoring!) until the fourth official held up the sign, indicating 4 minutes of extra time. And that's when magic happened again.
Captain Fantastic Saves The Day (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
In the 91st minute, with just seconds remaining in the match and some 30 yards away from goal, Gerrard latched onto a failed clearance and thrashed the ball into the back of the West Ham net. I was thunderstruck; the man had once again put our side on his shoulders and carried us to dizzying heights almist single handedly. 30 minutes of extra time came and went, with both sides exhausted (and West Ham having an incredible chance for the terrific Nigel Reo-Coker denied by a now focused Reina), and in the time honored tradition, the game went to penalty kicks. After three goals from Liverpool (Hamman, Riise, and Gerrard), Reina saved his third penalty, this one from Anton Ferdinand, and the Cup was ours.
Pepe Reina Saves from Anton Ferdinand and Seals a Famous Win (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Liverpool played their hearts out today, but it was our captain, Steven Gerrard, who was the true hero today. I am often prone to superlatives on this site, but there are no words to describe him. He is, quite simply, the one football player whose will to win consistently produces miracles. There are more technically gifted players (Henry and Ronaldinho certainly), but no one has the will to win that Gerrard posseses and it is precisely that drive, that will, that abiility to grab an entire team and drag it to victory, that makes him the best.
Poets have written eloquently about the allure of football/soccer, but not even the most rhapsodic words can do it it justice. With the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany coming in 26 days, my interest shifts homeward, to the United States and our team's chances with a truly arduous draw (Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana), so expect plenty of football/soccer writing in the weeks to come. But today, at the end of a long, wonderful season, I just can't help but be a proud supporter of the greatest club in the world. Liverpool FC, the 2006 FA Cup Champions!
You'll Never Walk Alone! (AP Photo/Toby Melville/Pool)