Early Doors

And if Liverpool had lost?

Early Doors

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Sometimes the meaning of victories can only be established by considering what would have happened if you hadn't won.

Forget the nonsense in today's Daily Mirror: 'Rome.. Cardiff.. Istanbul.. Wembley was the most sensational of all' (the reference was to Liverpool's dramatic penalty shoot-out wins, but even then, really?).

No, it wasn't. What happened at Wembley, objectively, was Liverpool winning domestic football's third-most coveted trophy, beating the Championship's sixth-placed side, sealing their first trophy in six years. And doing it by the skin of their teeth and the varnish of the woodwork.

Winning was considerably less important than not losing.

When Charlie Adam booted Liverpool's second penalty of the shoot-out high into the sky, what the high definition pictures did not capture was the ball hitting the team's guardian angel (for the day) Early Doors flush in the face.

It sent him down to earth with a nasty bruise and, in scenes which bear only coincidental resemblance to the film It's a Wonderful Life, ED showed Liverpool what might have happened if they had not lifted the trophy.

This morning's press would not be trying to compare the joy of an eighth Carling Cup triumph with that night in Istanbul, for a start. Rather, it would be taking aim squarely at Luis Suarez, and asking why he had not taken a penalty.

Had Suarez's hand been too wearied from blocking goal-bound efforts in World Cup quarter-finals and avoiding handshakes to raise it high when Dalglish asked for penalty-takers?

The match reports would tell the story, meanwhile, of Liverpool's wastefulness. They would take a look at Liverpool's 45 (FORTY-FIVE, as the vidiprinter used to clarify) chances on goal, and surmise that the Reds had been wasteful, as they had on so many occasions in the current campaign.

They would wonder how, having taken the lead in extra time, their defence managed to surrender that advantage with just a couple of minutes of the match remaining.

The fingers of blame would point at familiar individuals — Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson. As a collective, Liverpool's mentality would be questioned, that they could prise defeat from the jaws of victory.

The loss would have festered in the news all week. International weekends are notoriously quiet periods for journalists, and so the reaction stories and the analyses would have continued for days on end.

Steven Gerrard, who described himself as feeling 'suicidal' when Liverpool lost their last League Cup final on the eve of this match, would most likely have been put up to face the press as England captain just days afterwards. There would be little time to rally the troops.

And when the team came back from the international break to face the resurgent Arsenal at Anfield with the race for fourth place in the league hotting up, with anything less than victory leaving Kenny Dalglish's men at least seven points adrift of the last Champions League spot, the pressure would build again. There'd be a game in hand, but also three strong teams to overhaul. There'd be talk about the curse of the Cup, after Arsenal's wretched year since their loss in the final to Birmingham. How long before the media focus returned to Dalglish's expensively-assembled squad, and his own future at the club?

Liverpool's American owner JW Henry said in the aftermath of victory yesterday that the Carling Cup would have little resonance in his homeland, but those words, delivered without hubris, were telling, and when he said he was glad victory would give the media a chance to write something positive about Liverpool, he showed a solid understanding of the way the back pages work.

The revelation received, ED disappeared to write a column, butterflies flapped their wings at just the wrong moment for Cardiff fans, and crucial penalties struck the woodwork rather than creeping in the corner of the net.

This was not a game Liverpool could afford to lose, and although it wasn't pretty, they didn't.

Penalties from Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson later, victory was in the bag, and the world for Liverpool was a brighter, happier place once more.

A League Cup trophy is no guarantee that success will follow in the future — recent winners of the cup have not been rewarded by sudden upturns in fortunes, but without that silverware in the cabinet, the ultimate target of winning the Premier League and the Champions League would have been that much further away.

A long reign at the top of English football is still some way off, but such reigns have been built on less.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'First observation - Kenny should be wearing a suit.' — Michael Owen's first observation on the Carling Cup final was on the Liverpool manager's sartorial choice. ED will not repeat its first observation to Owen's first observation, but it will tell you Owen's second observation some time later: "Wow. Penalties here we come." Wow indeed.

FOREIGN VIEW: OK — stop it, it's getting silly now. Cristiano Ronaldo scores the winner for Real Madrid with a backheeled goal which found its way through a mass of bodies in the penalty area and nestled in the far corner. That moment of magic made it 29 goals from 24 appearances in La Liga this season.

Later that evening Barcelona's Lionel Messi settles a tetchy game at against Atletico Madrid with a spell-binding moment of opportunism from a free-kick, and scoring in the process his 28th goal from 24 appearances in La Liga this season.

As it stands, 12 teams in La Liga have not managed to score more goals than either Messi or Ronaldo this season.

COMING UP: The football takes a well-earned breather after a manic Sunday, but the analysis of the weekend's action will continue throughout the day, with Paul Parker filing his latest blog and a wealth of Premier League video highlights to take in.

Away from football, there's a rather important cricket match between England and Pakistan at 16:00, with the winner claiming the three-match T20 series — while the big guns of men's tennis, including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, are in the United Arab Emirates for the pithily-named Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

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