Liverpool legends put on a show for fans
LIVERPOOL MASTERS 3
(Emile Heskey 10, Lim Tong Hai 18-og, Jari Litmanen 47)
SINGAPORE MASTERS 1
(Rafi Ali 64)
Jalan Besar Stadium witnessed a mini pitch invasion last night.
Moments after referee Sukhbir Singh blew the final whistle in the Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters exhibition match against a Singapore Masters team, the sell-out crowd spilled onto the pitch.
Kids, makciks, elderly uncles, you name it: Everyone surged towards their Liverpool heroes for a picture, an autograph, anything.
They didn't care about the scoreline or the fact the home team, spearheaded by an attack comprising Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy and Aleksandar Duric, were defeated by the Reds legends.
They just wanted to get close to their heroes. And the Liverpool stars lapped it up.
"It's fantastic," said striker Robbie Fowler, revered as "God" by the Reds faithful.
"We know all about how passionate the Liverpool fans here are and, seeing how they braved the weather to see us just goes to show how much they love the club.
"I want to say a massive 'thank you' to the organisers for giving us this opportunity and a massive 'thank you' to the fans for showing their support to us again."
Winger Steve McManaman added: "The turnout was excellent. The rain and the threat of lightning tested everybody, so I'm happy everyone stayed behind to show support.
"It's always nice to get this kind of reception and especially when you stopped playing football such a long time ago."
The Liverpool stars kept their cool despite the buzz surrounding them, and gamely posed for photos and signed autographs every time a camera or a marker pen was thrust in their faces.
They didn't disappoint on the pitch, either.
Even though this was the first time they played an 11-a-side Masters match together - Masters events are usually six-a-side games played indoors - there was no ringrust.
Emile Heskey opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, taking advantage of a defensive lapse by the Singapore team to put his side ahead.
Eight minutes later, Lim Tong Hai put his team in further trouble when his attempted headed clearance went straight past Rezal Hassan into the Singapore goal.
And Jari Litmanen put the icing on the cake with the best goal of the night, a classy chip from outside the box, right into the top left corner.
The Liverpool legends could have put more gloss on the scoreline but Patrik Berger saw two efforts in 12 minutes cannon off the same upright.
Rafi Ali then scored a consolation goal for the home team, timing his run to perfection to head home from close range six minutes before the end of the match comprising two 35-minute halves.
The 41-year-old midfielder's strike was the one celebrated most wildly in the stands, with fans erupting into a spontaneous chant of "Ole! Ole!", like they did in the old days when him, Fandi, et al were playing.
GULF IN CLASS
Liverpool custodian Jerzy Dudek had a busy night in goal and kept out Fandi, Rafi and Duric with good saves but the gulf in class was clear.
If it weren't for the heroics of Rezal, and then Shahri Rahim in the Singapore goal, the scoreline could have been different.
Duric, who took home the Man-of-the-Match award in a game that also served as his testimonial - he retired two weeks ago from professional football after a glittering 16-year career - was emotional afterwards.
The number of fans who swarmed around him after the game rivalled those who stalked the likes of Fowler and McManaman.
Said Duric: "I wanted to stay forever on the Jalan Besar pitch, man.
"I knew that after the final whistle, that was it. My whole career is over.
"I enjoyed my last game, it was really good fun. I want to thank everyone who shared the pitch with me, from the Singapore team and the Liverpool team, and it was a wonderful way to end it all.
"I'll never forget it."
- LIVERPOOL STARTING 11: Jerzy Dudek, Jan Kromkamp, Bjorn Tore Kvarme, Phil Babb, Steve Harkness, David Thompson, Steve McManaman, Jari Litmanen, Robbie Fowler, Patrik Berger, Emile Heskey
- SINGAPORE STARTING 11: Rezal Hassan, S Subramani, Lim Tong Hai, Aide Iskandar, Nahar Daud, Steven Tan, Rafi Ali, Nazri Nasir, V Sundramoorthy, Aleksandar Duric, Fandi Ahmad
Dudek: Don't make Mignolet the scapegoat
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has come under fire this season, but former Reds shot-stopper Jerzy Dudek is backing the Belgian to come good and make his critics eat their words.
Dudek, who made 185 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool from 2001 to 2007, says the criticism Mignolet (above) has received this season is down to the fact the media is looking for a scapegoat for Liverpool's poor form.
Touted as challengers for the English Premier League title before the season started, Brendan Rodgers' men are now languishing in 11th place after 11 games.
They have lost five league games, shipping in 15 goals in the process and collecting just 14 points - less than half of league leaders Chelsea, who have 29.
Some have pointed to Mignolet's tendency to commit the odd error as a reason behind their slump, but Dudek told The New Paper last night: "I don't understand all the criticism he's getting.
"Just because Liverpool have not been winning as many games as they did last season, people are looking for someone to blame.
"Some people try to destroy his game, but he is good enough."
The 41-year-old Pole described Mignolet as a "very good goalkeeper" and said he has the mental strength to bounce back from all the brickbats.
"You need to be a strong person to be a Liverpool goalkeeper and that's what he is," said Dudek of Mignolet.
"I saw him in training for a week when Real Madrid played Liverpool in the Champions League recently and I don't think he is off-form or anything like that."
Dudek is no stranger to criticism and his time in a Liverpool shirt was pockmarked with errors from time to time.
Most infamously, he let the ball slip between his legs and allowed Diego Forlan an easy goal in a clash against arch-rivals Manchester United at Anfield in Dec 2002.
United won the game 2-1.
But he is most fondly remembered by Reds fans for his contribution to their success in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.
Then, after Liverpool had rallied from 3-0 down to pull level 3-3 against Italian side AC Milan, Dudek pulled off a remarkable double save from Milan's chief goal-getter Andriy Shevchenko in extra time.
In the ensuing penalty shoot-out, he saved spot-kicks from Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo as Liverpool won 3-2 and lifted their fifth European Cup.