Crouch double downs Saprissa as Liverpool cruise into final
Liverpool eased into the anticipated final against Sao Paulo after a 3-0 victory over Deportivo Saprissa at the Yokohama International stadium on Thursday. Two goals from Peter Crouch and a Steven Gerrard special sealed a fine victory for the English side who dominated the semi-final clash against the CONCACAF champions. The Costa Rican side, conquerors themselves of Sydney in the quarters, will now face Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad on Sunday before the champions of Europe and South America lock horns for the world crown.
Saprissa's coach Hernan Medford had kept the same team that began in the quarter-final against Sydney but Liverpool took just three minutes to pierce their rearguard for the first time in the competition. John Arne Riise crossed to the near post, Djibril Cisse laid the ball off first time and striker partner Crouch hit the ball on the bounce unerringly into the far corner for his second goal in a Liverpool shirt (0-1, '3).
Rafael Benitez had fielded a near full strength side and the Reds were testing the Saprissa defence using Crouch's height to good effect in the opening exchanges.
The two-metre tall England striker stole in behind the defence on 17 minutes but, slightly off balance, skewed his effort well wide. With Fernando Morientes on the bench, Crouch and Cisse were showing good understanding and following a fine cross-field pass from Xabi Alonso, the Frenchman centred for Riise but the Norwegian's header lacked accuracy and goalkeeper Jose Porras was able to save to his right. A few minutes later, on 26, Crouch could not control in the six-yard box after a Sami Hyypia knock down.
The Costa Rican side appeared a little overawed by the occasion but they had a great chance to equalise just before the half-hour mark. Walter Centeno sent Alvaro Saborio through on goal with a defence splitting pass. Racing clear, the striker fired inches wide with a low skidding shot.
It was a costly miss. Within four minutes, Liverpool were two to the good. Crouch flicked the ball down the left into the path of Riise who floated a centre to the back post. It seemed to take an eternity to come down as Gerrard shaped to shoot but when it did the Liverpool captain struck it sweetly, cutting across the ball to send the ball spinning into the near corner (0-2, '32).
The Purple Monster were well and truly tamed now. The English side's pressing game had reduced Saprissa to launching unfamiliar long balls aimed at the surging runs of the excellent Christian Bolanos.
Just before the break, Gerrard stole in again but unselfishly chose to cut the ball to Cisse and the chance went begging. The England midfielder did find the Frenchman with an angled free kick two minutes after the restart but Cisse's header shaved the post.
Crouch was proving to be handful and he took full advantage of hesitation by Victor Cordero, running into the box and coolly slotting past Porras for his second and Liverpool's third (0-3, 58).
There were a few party tricks now. A back flick from Cisse found countryman Florent Sinama Pongolle, on for Gerrard, and only a saving tackle prevented a fourth.
So long without a goal in the Premiership, Crouch almost grabbed his hat-trick on 69 minutes but, after neat control in the area, he lifted his effort high over the bar.
With the game won, Benitez's side relaxed and Saprissa started to exert some pressure. Randall Azofeifa's inswinging free kick almost caught Jose Manuel Reina by surprise with Ronald Gomez's follow up deflected for a corner.
There were some half chances at the end for the Tico side to grab a historic goal against Liverpool but it was not to be and the European champions ran out easy winners.