Tag Archives: watershed

Branislav Ivanovic desperate to win World Club Cup

Winning Club World Cup will help make up for Champions League exit, claims Ivanovic

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UPDATED:

10:27 GMT, 15 December 2012

Branislav Ivanovic has claimed Chelsea's World Club Cup final with Corinthians could be the key game for this generation at the club.

Defender Ivanovic suggested a win in tomorrow's match in Yokohama would be the catalyst for a new era of success at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea's Champions League triumph in May was a watershed moment for the club, having been followed by an overhaul in both personnel and playing style.

Raring to go: Branislav Ivanovic believes the Club World Cup can be a launchpad

Raring to go: Branislav Ivanovic believes the Club World Cup can be a launchpad

And Ivanovic said of tomorrow's world-title decider: 'For us, this is maybe the key game for this generation.

'We know how we have to play the final and we know that it's going to be tough.

'So, we have to be ready.'

Ivanovic admitted Chelsea becoming the first Champions League holders to crash out of the competition before Christmas – the third trophy they have missed out on already this season – made victory tomorrow even more imperative.

'It's going to be a key point for this generation because to be eliminated from the first stage of the Champions League is, for us, a little bit disappointing,' he said.

'We have to work hard and how we worked hard in the past to be champions.

Main man: Rafael Benitez hopes to win his first piece of silverware with his new club

Main man: Rafael Benitez hopes to win his first piece of silverware with his new club

'Tomorrow is the one new chance to make history.

'I think we are ready for that challenge.'

The Club World Cup has been cast somewhat as an ugly sister to the Champions League but Ivanovic added: 'I think this is one of the biggest chances we have in our lives, what we have at the moment.

'So we have to try to do everything to take it.

'We know why we came all the way here.'

The common perception is that the tournament means more to South American clubs than those in Europe.

Eyes on the prize: FIFA President Sepp Blatter with the Club World Cup

Eyes on the prize: FIFA President Sepp Blatter with the Club World Cup

Ivanovic countered that and said: “We know how this competition in South America is very big, very huge.

'But, for us, it's the same.

'There are not a lot of chances to be a world champion.

'We have to take this chance like it's the last one and we have to play this way.'

Tomorrow's match is being played at a neutral venue but Chelsea's travelling fans are expected to be completely outnumbered and outsung by their Corinthians counterparts.

'This is quite a similar situation to the Champions League final, when we actually played the game away,' Ivanovic said, recalled May's triumph against Bayern Munich – in Munich.

'Tomorrow, there are going to be a lot of Brazilian supporters.

Training days: Chelsea warm-up before the final against Corinthians

Training days: Chelsea warm-up before the final against Corinthians

'But there are going to be our supporters as well.

'We know the atmosphere is going to be quite like it is in South America but we will try to adapt to this quickly and try to stay focused on the game.'

Interim manager Rafael Benitez revealed he had yet to decide on his starting line-up, particularly whether to hand Frank Lampard a first start since his recovery froma a calf problem.

'The good thing about this team, this squad, is I can choose any player and I'm sure that they will perform,' Benitez said.

'Frank is one of these players. He's a good player, a very good player.

'Still, I don't have the team in my head.

'After talking with my staff, we will decide.'

Asked if defender David Luiz might keep his place in midfield, Benitez said: 'Why not'

Martin Samuel: Being good at football is not an act of provocation

Being good at football is not an act of provocation

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UPDATED:

10:03 GMT, 12 December 2012

Say you could win a thousand pounds, right here, right now, and all you had to do was hit a bloke on the nose with a 2p coin from 20 yards.

Chances are, you couldn’t do it. It is quite hard to throw a 2p with any accuracy. It isn’t a cricket ball. Copper is quite light, but the surface area of the coin relatively large, meaning there is resistance and wind factor, plus your target is moving.

All things considered, if your financial well-being depended on a tuppenny vice you would end the day as poor as you started it.

Ready, aim, fire: Manchester United players were pelted with missiles as they celebrated the win over City

Ready, aim, fire: Manchester United players were pelted with missiles as they celebrated the win over City

Abuse: Wayne Rooney was subjected to a torrent of bile by City fans as he prepared to take a corner

Abuse: Wayne Rooney was subjected to a torrent of bile by City fans as he prepared to take a corner

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So, there was in all likelihood significantly more to Rio Ferdinand’s injury, struck by a missile thrown by a member of the crowd in the Manchester derby, than mere dumb luck. The law of averages would have been at work, too.

For if the same prize was up for grabs but you could have a hundred shies with that 2p piece, well, the balance of probability would produce a different set of figures.

And looking at the footage from behind one goal on Sunday, Ferdinand would not have needed to dodge a single coin after Robin van Persie scored Manchester United’s winning goal, but a whole monetary shower.

At one stage in the second half, Wayne Rooney goes to take a corner from the left. Clearly visible is a hail of tiny missiles as he stands, back to the fans, ready to restart the play. And it is this bit of footage that kills, dead, the idea that player provocation played any part in the events of Sunday.

Rooney wasn’t taunting the home fans, he didn’t even turn to them. Met with the standard sea of angry, contorted faces as he went to take his kick, he merely rounded to face the game and got on with his job. So there was no excuse, no mitigation beyond hatred and jealousy.

A section of modern football supporters do not need a trigger to demonstrate their brutal irresponsibility. And celebrating an emotional late goal isn’t a trigger anyway.

A caller to the BBC’s 606 phone-in show on Sunday attempted to shift the blame for the events at the Etihad Stadium on to Manchester United’s players, for the way they responded to victory.

Incredibly, he was indulged by Alan Green, who allowed him his platform unchallenged, and even supplied a supporting anecdote.

He recalled the way Gary Neville once ran the length of the pitch at Old Trafford away from his team-mates, to celebrate a late winner, from Ferdinand, in front of Liverpool’s fans in the away end. Green was appalled by this. He painted a very moralistic portrait of how he would react, if he was ever in Neville’s position.

Cut: Rio Ferdinand was struck by a 2p coin, splitting the skin above his eye and drawing blood

Cut: Rio Ferdinand was struck by a 2p coin, splitting the skin above his eye and drawing blood

Cut: Rio Ferdinand was struck by a 2p coin, splitting the skin above his eye and drawing blood

Provoked, much: Gary Neville famously celebrated late United winner in front of Liverpool fans

Provoked, much: Gary Neville famously celebrated late United winner in front of Liverpool fans

Which, of course, he won’t be. None of us will. For what Green neglected to mention in his recounting of the incident, was the song the Liverpool supporters had been singing about Neville for much of that match, to the tune of London Bridge Is Falling Down, implying that he enjoyed a sexual relationship with his mother.

We can’t print it here and this is a pity, as to appreciate the full horror, one really needs to spell it out.

Those with vivid imaginations and strong stomachs may wish to deduce more from the fact the final word rhymes with glitter. Now we’re getting there.

So Green, and others, can pontificate and judge, but until they have had several thousand people inserting their name where Neville’s is, they have no clue how they would react to an event as vindicating and cathartic as a last-minute winning goal.

If thousands of people were insulting you and, mid-sentence, an event happened that silenced those voices and caused them great upset, might you not revel in it, just a little

And might you not, as Neville did, jump high in the air in pure elation and run towards the tormentors, gripping your Manchester United shirt and holding its badge out in defiance, while emitting a roar of pure rage

In John Carpenter’s film Escape From New York, a kidnapped President played by Donald Pleasence finally gets his revenge on the preening gangland overlord who captured and tortured him (see below). As he guns him down, he screams in mockery and vengeance the words he was made to recite under duress: ‘Aay, number one! You’re the Duke, you’re the Duke! You’re ‘A’ Number 1.’

Carpenter wanted to show the savage inside every man. That goal against Liverpool brought out the darker side of Neville. Pushed to his limit, he reacted. Yet players did not start this war.

John Carpenter’s Escape From New York

Being good at football is not in itself an act of provocation. Nor is scoring a goal and celebrating it.

Some of us would like to see more smiles and less snarls when this happens, because Sir Alex Ferguson gets easily as much grief as his players but always reacts to a Manchester United goal with untrammelled glee, but as long as no scorer deliberately instigates a riot, then all’s fair.

On Sunday, United celebrated in front of their own fans, who happened to be adjacent to a Manchester City section. There was nothing provocative in what they did, unless winning a contentious derby match late is now reclassified as incitement.

Maybe if the scores are tied, or close, with 10 minutes to spare, the referee should blow early to prevent anybody getting overwrought.

The reaction of Phil Jones has been mentioned by some City supporters, and it is true the defender did run the length of the pitch to join the celebrations, looking at the home fans and gesturing for them to now be quiet; but a couple of observations.

First, Jones was deep on the right, and United’s little party took place high on the left. So the idea that Ferdinand was hit by a coin because of something Jones was invisibly doing on the other side of the field is preposterous.

Second, Jones had spent the bulk of the match, 85 minutes, on the substitutes’ bench where, one imagines, he had heard and felt the full force of hatred from the home support. Might this be why he was a little more caught up in the moment than usual

Nobody goes to Paddy Crerand for the impartial take on United, but his outrage during a radio interview when confronted with a lot of mealy-mouthed questions that appeared to place the blame on the visiting players was understandable.

Yet this is not about United and City or United and Liverpool. This is not about any individual club at all. Only a fool believes that what happened on Sunday is not repeated, in varying degrees of intensity, around the country each weekend.

Reaction: Phil Jones has been accused after he ran to join his delighted team-mates

Reaction: Phil Jones has been accused after he ran to join his delighted team-mates

Reaction: Phil Jones has been accused after he ran to join his delighted team-mates

This is about players and fans. It was United under attack this week, it could be City on the receiving end in the return fixture later this season.

(When Ferguson recalled the venom recently directed at his players in the derby and at Chelsea, he conveniently forgot that a City player had been hit by an object thrown at Old Trafford in 2009.)

And what is the crime these young men have committed They’re good at football. They can put the ball in the net. They achieve the point of the game. They possess the dedication, the discipline, the work ethic and talent, to stand on the pitch and perform.

And when they do, apparently, their skill is too provocative for some tastes. What a perverse little society we have become.

Handball’s plight proves legacy talk is a sham

So, as predicted, it meant nothing. Handball, volleyball, water polo, all the other team sports that Great Britain embraced during the Olympics, entering inferior home teams so we could pointlessly tick boxes for participation, have ended in a funding dead end.

A policy that rewards success and starves failure was always going to splutter out this way.

What was the point of starting a handball team from scratch and taking up a place that could have gone to a stronger, deserving nation if the journey ended after 2012

This was a gimmick; a publicity exercise; an act of sporting theft, considering some deserving athletes will never compete in the Olympics now because Great Britain blocked the way.

It is also very harsh on administrators. If only success is going to increase funding for volleyball, then the sport has no chance of growing. Volleyball is played across 218 federations —more than football — with participation estimated at 998million 10 years ago.

No way past: GB handball teams, built from scratch for the Olympics, have reached a funding dead end

No way past: GB handball teams, built from scratch for the Olympics, have reached a funding dead end

It is fair to say the rest of the world has a head start.

Some sports are harder to crack.

Take rugby union. A small country like Georgia, with reasonable investment, could grow quite quickly on the world stage because rugby participation is limited. Georgia could not make the same impact in football because so many countries play it, and have strong development systems in place.

So when Britain got serious about track cycling it was in the knowledge that the performance ladder could be climbed relatively quickly due to lower participation numbers.

Not true of volleyball, nor even handball, played by nine times as many people as rugby. So, unless different funding rules were to apply post-Olympics, it was all pretence.

The cheerleaders will keep waving their little flags and telling us the Olympics were the days of our lives, but strip away the euphoria of the moment and much of the legacy talk is a sham. The sports were had, the athletes were had and so were you, if you thought it would end any other way.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT

Money matters

The pressure felt by India’s cricketers going into the fourth Test in Nagpur will be very familiar to England’s underachieving footballers.

Blame for the first back-to-back home Test defeats since 2000 — India have now lost 10 of their last 16 Tests — is being placed on the riches of the Indian Premier League.

It's your fault: The IPL and its big contracts for foreigners has been blamed for India's poor form

It's your fault: The IPL and its big contracts for foreigners has been blamed for India's poor form

Earning too much and caring too little. Now where have we heard that before And, yes, it seems a compelling argument when young players who have not even faced a ball in Test cricket have already earned over 4million from the IPL.

Yet, just as with English football, it is a sweeping rationalisation. India’s problem is that the qualities in which they excel — batting and spin bowling — are among England’s strengths, too. Wickets prepared to get the best out of the home side equally suit the visitors.

The ferocity of the criticism levelled at India’s cricketers in defeat suggests it is rather simplistic to claim that the money from the IPL, like that of football’s Premier League, makes losing palatable. It just means India’s players can afford bigger gates on their houses; which they are going to need, by the sound of it.

Usual suspects in line 2020

Remember when English football stood tall against Sepp Blatter and FIFA That didn’t last long.

Now Football Association chairman David Bernstein greets the old fraud like a long-lost pal, and cosies up to his UEFA equivalent Michel Platini at every opportunity.

2020 vision: Michel Platini has announced the European Championships in eight years will be cross-continent

2020 vision: Michel Platini has announced the European Championships in eight years will be cross-continent

The FA reaction to Platini’s plan to hurl the 2020 European Championship across the continent was not a denouncement, more like an excited squeal.

‘Ooh, can we have the final and the semi-finals, Mr President Ooh please, please, please, please, please.’

Yet the only way Platini’s idea would have any worth at all is if it took the competition to the parts of Europe that have never hosted it, and probably won’t get the chance now the format has expanded to include an unwieldy 24 teams.

Cities such as Dublin, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bucharest, Tblisi, Prague or Istanbul. This, however, is the option that makes it super-expensive for supporters.

So London has a good chance of reward, as have Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Rome, Paris. You know, the usual. Not that the FA care. They tried having principles once. Turns out there wasn’t enough money in it.

Chris Foy: England must build on New Zealand victory

England's stunning victory over All Blacks must not be a glorious exception

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UPDATED:

23:39 GMT, 2 December 2012

The teams were in a meeting with broadcasters in the countdown to kick-off at Twickenham when a member of the All Blacks staff asked a question.

Where should they stand when collecting the Hillary Shield for winning the Test

'When' rather than 'if' certainly jarred with England. Victory had been assumed. Hours later, the tourists had an answer they weren't expecting.

Showmanship: Manu Tuilagi made two tries and scored one

Showmanship: Manu Tuilagi made two tries and scored one

Flying high: Chris Ashton goes over in typically exuberant fashion

Flying high: Chris Ashton goes over in typically exuberant fashion

Over: Ashton

The New Zealand players found
themselves standing on the grass at HQ, looking up into the stand as
Chris Robshaw raised the shield which England had wrenched from Kiwi
clutches.

A week after being booed at the same
stadium, the captain and his team-mates were swamped by euphoria, having
delivered a performance from the heavens and a result to sit high in
the pantheon.

There have been few days like it, certainly not against these opponents.

In a year when British sporting
triumph has become almost routine, here was one last instalment to set
among the golden highlights from 2012.

Put aside for now the magical,
startling numbers – a scoreline from English fantasies – it was the
manner in which the hosts shattered the All Blacks' aura of
invincibility which generated such joy.

This was not a wild and wonderful fluke, although only time will tell if it is truly a watershed.

Stuart Lancaster's team systemically
and thrillingly dismantled the world champions. In the post-match search
for an explanation, it became apparent that the backs-to-the-wall
mind-set of the squad after defeats against Australia and South Africa
was a factor.

They had stood by their embattled
skipper and challenged themselves to deliver a stirring riposte, without
perhaps ever imagining it would be quite as stirring as this.

On the charge: Brad Barritt breaks away before going over for England's first try

On the charge: Brad Barritt breaks away before going over for England's first try

On the charge: Brad Barritt breaks away before going over for England's first try
5 KEY ISSUES FOR LANCASTER

Thinking it over: Stuart Lancaster

RETURNING STARS
If the injuries clear up in the New Year, Stuart Lancaster (right) has plenty to ponder, with Ben Foden, Tom Croft and Dylan Hartley trying to force their way back into the team, but perhaps finding their positions taken, judging by Saturday's performance.

THE SKIPPER'S CASE
Chris Robshaw suffered in the defeats by Australia and South Africa, then led with distinction against the All Blacks. It fortified his case for captaining the side in the Six Nations but Hartley and Tom Wood remain contenders.

DEPTHS DISCOVERED
Tom Youngs prospered at hooker to offer an alternative to Hartley, and lock Joe Launchbury showed stunning potential. There is ample tight-five cover, and England are well stocked with flankers and scrum-halves, but reserves are thinner at No 8 and on the wing.

PERFECT EXECUTION
England varied their game but, until Saturday, the execution let them down. The midfield axis was better used against New Zealand, forward runners did not clog up the line too much, and a better chase justified the in-field kicking.

LOGICAL SELECTION
Lancaster and his assistants kept a logical selection policy, even when making six changes before the South Africa game. Failings were fixed between games, hinting at good work in training. The set-up didn't panic under pressure.

The spirit was willing, but there was
no secret formula underpinning English exploits. They simply did all
their jobs with that much more precision.

A week earlier, Lancaster had lamented an absence of composure and this time that precious quality was evident in abundance.

Take the build-up to Chris Ashton's
try. When the marauding Manu Tuilagi blasted through Dan Carter, Richie
McCaw and Aaron Smith and burst clear towards the 22, he shaped to pass
to his supporting wing but delayed for a second.

That made all the difference in
clearing space for Ashton's gallop to the corner. It showed that, in the
midst of a tumultuous encounter, Tuilagi had used his head.

That was the composure his coach
wanted to see. There were various clues to England's state of mind and
their intent to be positive against the world's leading team.

In the first minute, deep in his own
half, Mike Brown shaped to clear his lines but instead chose to swerve
past Cory Jane and scorch clear.

Shortly after half-time, that sense
of adventure from the players in white was writ large again when the
ball was shipped down the line in their own 22 and Alex Goode stormed
clear.

He released Ben Youngs and although
the scrum-half 's off-load went forward, this was England using the
weapons at their disposal.

They had the courage of their
convictions. Conservatism was chased out of town. There was a familiar
hallmark of Lancaster's England in there, too: character.

In the closing seconds, when the
game was up, New Zealand's Charlie Faumuina rumbled towards the home
line but was resolutely held up by Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole.

Even at that late stage, shattered from the effort, they had a fierce determination to quell the last resistance.

Setting nerves jangling: Kieran Read went on the charge for the All Blacks' second try

Setting nerves jangling: Kieran Read went on the charge for the All Blacks' second try

On the charge: Julian Savea scores the first of his two tries to give New Zealand a foothold after half-time

On the charge: Julian Savea scores the first of his two tries to give New Zealand a foothold after half-time

So many aspects of this herculean
achievement warrant so much credit, but the fundamental issue which has
been spectacularly enhanced is England's breakdown work.

Man of the match Tom Wood, along with
Robshaw and the likes of Cole and Geoff Parling, annihilated the All
Blacks in the contact areas.

The usually peerless McCaw could do
nothing to stem the tide and in being reduced to mere mortality, he was
joined by fellow Kiwi icon Carter, who missed kicks and tackles, and was
hounded to oblivion.

England established a 15-0 lead just
after the break, founded on a relentlessly swarming defence, Owen
Farrell's kicking and that breakdown ascendancy, allied to a distinct
edge in the set piece.

What happened next was remarkable.
The All Blacks, a champion team raging against the dying of the light,
hit back with tries from Julian Savea and Kieran Read.

Twickenham practically trembled with foreboding of a New Zealand onslaught, but instead the mayhem unfolded at the other end.

Under pressure: England were 12-0 up at half-time, the first time New Zealand have failed to score before the break since 1998

Under pressure: England were 12-0 up at half-time, the first time New Zealand have failed to score before the break since 1998

Metronomic: Owen Farrell's right boot accounted for 20 points

Metronomic: Owen Farrell's right boot accounted for 20 points

In the space of eight minutes,
England scored three tries. First, their derided midfield pair ripped
the visitors apart, Brad Barritt dashing through a hole on the left and
passing out to Tuilagi, who flipped the ball back infield for his centre
partner to cross from close range.

Then came the 'Ash-Splash', courtesy
of Tuilagi, before Leicester's Anglo-Samoan wrecking ball claimed a try
of his own by intercepting a pass from Read on halfway and first
sprinting clear, then jogging and finally walking over to touch down.

'I looked into the eyes of my
opposite number and said, “I accept your challenge, now let's play some
rugby”.'

– Manu Tuilagi on the Haka

Perhaps the All Blacks should have feared the worst when England's No 13 watched the Haka and responded with a big grin.

'I really enjoyed it,' said Tuilagi.
'It was the first time I had faced it. I looked into the eyes of my
opposite number and said, “I accept your challenge, now let's play some
rugby”.'

Boy, did he play some rugby. They all did.

England were sensational and the upshot was one of the greatest victories, not just of the professional era but of any era.

They spoke later of the need to use
this win as a launchpad for improvement in the Six Nations and beyond,
which is just the right tone to adopt.

This cannot be an isolated success. It must become the norm, rather than a glorious exception.

But for now, a fanfare is fully justified.

ROB WILDMAN'S PLAYER RATINGS FROM ENGLAND'S DAY OF GLORY:

Player ratings

Player ratings

Liverpool 1 Manchester United 2: A minor skirmish but it mattered – Martin Samuel

A minor skirmish – but it mattered: Liverpool and United's animosity resurfaces

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UPDATED:

08:19 GMT, 24 September 2012

It was a day of numbers: 96, 19, 12, zero and ultimately the 11 versus 10 that decided the outcome of the football match.

Anfield remembered, the visitors crowed. The ceremonies to mark the final emergence of the truth about the Hillsborough tragedy and its toll of 96 dead were impeccably observed, but once hostilities commenced it felt foolish to have ever imagined this would be anything more than the most famously bitter rivalry in English football. A watershed moment of realisation, a change of mood, of direction

Much hope was placed on this encounter and when Sir Bobby Charlton presented red roses to Ian Rush — they were later placed with the other sacred debris on the shrine to victims of official incompetence and the extremes of fate — and Luis Suarez warmly clasped the hands of Patrice Evra pre-match, it was possible to imagine, for a moment, that this was the start of a new era.

Respect: Bobby Charlton (left) hands a bouquet of 96 roses to Liverpool's Ian Rush

Respect: Bobby Charlton (left) hands a bouquet of 96 roses to Liverpool's Ian Rush

And then the game began. It was not especially poisonous and the reaction to it nothing exceptional: but it wasn’t a dawn of enlightenment, either.

The 19 titles won by Manchester United, overtaking Liverpool’s 18 (Ryan Giggs has won 12 to Steven Gerrard’s nil to put the modern era in sharp relief), has increased the intensity of this match like at no time in history.

We might as well organise a charity fund-raiser for Rangers at Parkhead as hope the animosity between Liverpool and Manchester United could be driven underground for long.

There was nothing too outrageous here — the worst excesses amounted to little more than 10 idiots being antagonised by 10 mugs — but nor were too many bridges left standing by the end.

Liverpool supporters did not mention Munich but United’s did, taunting them in hope of drawing an outrageous response. When the ground had emptied they mockingly chorused ‘Always the victims, it’s never your fault’, the song that had caused such embarrassment and anger at Old Trafford last week.

Well behaved: The fans of both sides were largely respectful throughout

Well behaved: The fans of both sides were largely respectful throughout

HAVE YOUR SAY…

How can Liverpool recover from their poor start
Since the start of 2012 Liverpool have won only two of 12 home games. Are they unlucky or is there a more fundamental problem

Steven Gerrard

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

They did so in response to another outburst of indignation fromLiverpool, a skirmish bearing scant comparison to the battle for the truth about Hillsborough, although it must be said that in both cases much of the protest was justified.

The home team thought Manchester United could have had a man sent off (which they could), they thought they should have had a penalty (which they should) and that United’s penalty winner was a harsh call (which it wasn’t). So, two out of three: and those numbers changed the game.

Even with 10 men, though, Liverpool were the better team, and had their ranks stayed even would probably not have been so stretched for United’s winner. It came from a penalty converted by Robin van Persie, but the damage was done on the break when Liverpool’s numerical disadvantage left them exposed to the counter attack.

It seems crass to speak of injustice when the last 23 years at the club has been spent fighting a system considerably more sinister than a referee’s call, but in strictly sporting terms Liverpool were hard done by here.

In the 39th minute, Jonjo Shelvey and Jonny Evans were competing for a 50-50 ball. Neither went in entirely fairly. Shelvey was late, high and second in the race, Evans was first but two-footed and out of control. Both were reckless. Evans came out worst.

Early bath: Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for Liverpool as they lost to Manchester United

Early bath: Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for Liverpool as they lost to Manchester United

Too late: Glen Johnson (right) tackles Antonio Valencia to concede a penalty

Too late: Glen Johnson (right) tackles Antonio Valencia to concede a penalty

Referee Mark Halsey produced a red card and dismissed Shelvey, who went cursing Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson. Evans stayed on after treatment, unpunished. It wasn’t right. Either both players should have gone, or Halsey should have traded yellows; either he misjudged what he saw, or he reacted purely to Evans’s injury.

The result was that Liverpool played the remaining 58 minutes of the game, including added time, a man down. Unsurprisingly, against United, they lost.

The result leaves them in a poor state but a Liverpool win, not even a draw, would have been the fairest result. ‘The best team lost,’ said manager Brendan Rodgers, and he was right.

If there was poetic justice, the winning goal would have been scored by Liverpool captain Gerrard after 46 minutes. The pure abandon of his celebration suggested his young cousin Jon-Paul, who did not return alive from Hillsborough, was on his mind. And yes, it may seem perverse to equate winning a football match with a duty performed in the memory of the dead, yet what else is there for Gerrard to do These people were fans, in the days when it wasn’t easy to follow a team around the country.

Obtaining tickets, particularly those for FA Cup semi-finals, meant physically going to a ticket office and standing in line, not clicking a button on a computer, credit card at the ready. The dead were some of those who were first to the ground. They loved football. They loved Liverpool.

Looking to the heavens: Steven Gerrard (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal for Liverpool

Looking to the heavens: Steven Gerrard (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal for Liverpool

Gerrard isn’t a lawyer, or a prosecutor. The best he can do is score a goal that wins a match that would have made the fans happy. So that is what he did. And then his fine deed was overtaken.

Rafael equalised, a cracker, but then Glen Johnson brought down Antonio Valencia with a rashly attempted challenge from the wrong side. The nudge unsettled the Manchester United man who lost his footing — as many did on a pitch that may have been overwatered — and Halsey pointed to the spot.

Underlining the sense of outrage, a very slow and detailed replay showed that Suarez had been fouled by Evans in the penalty area previously. A theatrical jerk of the head by the Uruguayan as he fell had probably convinced Halsey of simulation. Had Suarez simply fallen with natural momentum, the referee probably would have pointed to the spot.

So justice was not served. Yet, at this of all times, it is important to keep such matters in perspective.

There is the loss of a football match and the loss of life. At Anfield, they are only too aware of that painful difference, and will surely remember it when looking at the league table on Monday morning.

The management cannot rely on this raw perspective to stave off the tough questions forever, though. The football matters around these parts, too. Just as it mattered to the 96.

A minor skirmish but it mattered

A minor skirmish – but it mattered: Liverpool and United's animosity resurfaces

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UPDATED:

22:10 GMT, 23 September 2012

It was a day of numbers: 96, 19, 12, zero and ultimately the 11 versus 10 that decided the outcome of the football match.

Anfield remembered, the visitors crowed. The ceremonies to mark the final emergence of the truth about the Hillsborough tragedy and its toll of 96 dead were impeccably observed, but once hostilities commenced it felt foolish to have ever imagined this would be anything more than the most famously bitter rivalry in English football. A watershed moment of realisation, a change of mood, of direction

Much hope was placed on this encounter and when Sir Bobby Charlton presented red roses to Ian Rush — they were later placed with the other sacred debris on the shrine to victims of official incompetence and the extremes of fate — and Luis Suarez warmly clasped the hands of Patrice Evra pre-match, it was possible to imagine, for a moment, that this was the start of a new era.

Respect: Bobby Charlton (left) hands a bouquet of 96 roses to Liverpool's Ian Rush

Respect: Bobby Charlton (left) hands a bouquet of 96 roses to Liverpool's Ian Rush

And then the game began. It was not especially poisonous and the reaction to it nothing exceptional: but it wasn’t a dawn of enlightenment, either.

The 19 titles won by Manchester United, overtaking Liverpool’s 18 (Ryan Giggs has won 12 to Steven Gerrard’s nil to put the modern era in sharp relief), has increased the intensity of this match like at no time in history.

We might as well organise a charity fund-raiser for Rangers at Parkhead as hope the animosity between Liverpool and Manchester United could be driven underground for long.

There was nothing too outrageous here — the worst excesses amounted to little more than 10 idiots being antagonised by 10 mugs — but nor were too many bridges left standing by the end.

Liverpool supporters did not mention Munich but United’s did, taunting them in hope of drawing an outrageous response. When the ground had emptied they mockingly chorused ‘Always the victims, it’s never your fault’, the song that had caused such embarrassment and anger at Old Trafford last week.

Well behaved: The fans of both sides were largely respectful throughout

Well behaved: The fans of both sides were largely respectful throughout

They did so in response to another outburst of indignation fromLiverpool, a skirmish bearing scant comparison to the battle for the truth about Hillsborough, although it must be said that in both cases much of the protest was justified.

The home team thought Manchester United could have had a man sent off (which they could), they thought they should have had a penalty (which they should) and that United’s penalty winner was a harsh call (which it wasn’t). So, two out of three: and those numbers changed the game.

Even with 10 men, though, Liverpool were the better team, and had their ranks stayed even would probably not have been so stretched for United’s winner. It came from a penalty converted by Robin van Persie, but the damage was done on the break when Liverpool’s numerical disadvantage left them exposed to the counter attack.

It seems crass to speak of injustice when the last 23 years at the club has been spent fighting a system considerably more sinister than a referee’s call, but in strictly sporting terms Liverpool were hard done by here.

In the 39th minute, Jonjo Shelvey and Jonny Evans were competing for a 50-50 ball. Neither went in entirely fairly. Shelvey was late, high and second in the race, Evans was first but two-footed and out of control. Both were reckless. Evans came out worst.

Early bath: Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for Liverpool as they lost to Manchester United

Early bath: Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for Liverpool as they lost to Manchester United

Too late: Glen Johnson (right) tackles Antonio Valencia to concede a penalty

Too late: Glen Johnson (right) tackles Antonio Valencia to concede a penalty

Referee Mark Halsey produced a red card and dismissed Shelvey, who went cursing Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson. Evans stayed on after treatment, unpunished. It wasn’t right. Either both players should have gone, or Halsey should have traded yellows; either he misjudged what he saw, or he reacted purely to Evans’s injury.

The result was that Liverpool played the remaining 58 minutes of the game, including added time, a man down. Unsurprisingly, against United, they lost.

The result leaves them in a poor state but a Liverpool win, not even a draw, would have been the fairest result. ‘The best team lost,’ said manager Brendan Rodgers, and he was right.

If there was poetic justice, the winning goal would have been scored by Liverpool captain Gerrard after 46 minutes. The pure abandon of his celebration suggested his young cousin Jon-Paul, who did not return alive from Hillsborough, was on his mind. And yes, it may seem perverse to equate winning a football match with a duty performed in the memory of the dead, yet what else is there for Gerrard to do These people were fans, in the days when it wasn’t easy to follow a team around the country.

Obtaining tickets, particularly those for FA Cup semi-finals, meant physically going to a ticket office and standing in line, not clicking a button on a computer, credit card at the ready. The dead were some of those who were first to the ground. They loved football. They loved Liverpool.

Looking to the heavens: Steven Gerrard (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal for Liverpool

Looking to the heavens: Steven Gerrard (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal for Liverpool

Gerrard isn’t a lawyer, or a prosecutor. The best he can do is score a goal that wins a match that would have made the fans happy. So that is what he did. And then his fine deed was overtaken.

Rafael equalised, a cracker, but then Glen Johnson brought down Antonio Valencia with a rashly attempted challenge from the wrong side. The nudge unsettled the Manchester United man who lost his footing — as many did on a pitch that may have been overwatered — and Halsey pointed to the spot.

Underlining the sense of outrage, a very slow and detailed replay showed that Suarez had been fouled by Evans in the penalty area previously. A theatrical jerk of the head by the Uruguayan as he fell had probably convinced Halsey of simulation. Had Suarez simply fallen with natural momentum, the referee probably would have pointed to the spot.

So justice was not served. Yet, at this of all times, it is important to keep such matters in perspective.

There is the loss of a football match and the loss of life. At Anfield, they are only too aware of that painful difference, and will surely remember it when looking at the league table on Monday morning.

The management cannot rely on this raw perspective to stave off the tough questions forever, though. The football matters around these parts, too. Just as it mattered to the 96.

Ricky Hatton blasts Sky"s reluctance to back boxing promotions – Ricky Hatton

It's a dog's life! Ricky blasts Sky's reluctance to back Hatton Promotions

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UPDATED:

22:07 GMT, 30 April 2012

Pugnacious is the only word to describe Ricky Hatton's riposte to Sky's failure to renew their contract to televise the fight promotions with which he is quite brilliantly inventing a life in boxing after retiring from the ring.

'If you want loyalty buy a dog,' he tweeted.

Typically pugnacious. Perfectly understandable, too, since Sky had the best of his Pied Piper career, including his epic world title win over Kostya Tszyu and his kamikaze assaults on pound-for-pound kings Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Shooting from the lip: Ricky Hatton is now a successful promoter

Shooting from the lip: Ricky Hatton is now a successful promoter

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Not only that but Sky's last screening of a Hatton promotion, at least in the foreseeable future, will be the show which promises to be a vital stepping stone for the cream of his fighters towards world titles and perhaps future stardom.

Topping the bill at the Manchester Velodrome on June 16 will be the most likely of all Ricky's lads, British champion Scott Quigg, in a battle with the re-born former Commonwealth and European champion Rendall Munroe for the interim WBA super-bantamweight title.

With unbeaten heavyweight Richard Towers bidding for the European belt and Martin Murray champing for another world middleweight title shot after being robbed by Felix Sturm in Germany, Hatton confidently expected Sky to back him into the future.

But boxing is rarely that straightforward. While the Hitman's angst with Sky is unsurprising it is just as likely that Frank Warren, the promoter with whom he fell out as a fighter, has damaged Hatton's TV deal, albeit inadvertently.

It is Warren's launch of his dedicated BoxNation channel which appears to have obliged Sky to rethink their boxing strategy.

There is a perception that Sky – already massively committed to football – are having to divert more of their financial resources into other sports, notably their acquisition of Formula One with its own dedicated channel.

But that is only part of the story.
Warren's ambitious BoxNation project includes securing the rights for
huge fights abroad involving some of the world's most famous fighters.

TV gold: Ricky Hatton's fight with Kostya Tszyu in 2005

TV gold: Ricky Hatton's fight with Kostya Tszyu in 2005

Klitschko-Chisora is being followed onto that 10 a month subscription channel by such highlights as Hopkins-Dawson last Saturday night, Mayweather-Cotto this coming weekend, probably with Pacquiao-Bradley to come in June.

Sky still have Khan-Peterson and Froch-Bute – both major world titles bouts – coming up. But where once they exercised a virtual monopoly, it now looks very much as if they need to free up funding to compete for the big events around the world.

While their split from Hatton, who had given them so much of himself, is bound to rouse the emotions there can be no denying that it is Sky who have kept boxing alive with the telly-viewing public in recent years.

The virtual withdrawal of the terrestrial broadcasters left Sky to carry the flag for up-and-coming British boxers, while also bringing the biggest fights to the small screen.

It's a knockout: Manny Pacquiao v Hatton was watched by a huge TV audience

It's a knockout: Manny Pacquiao v Hatton was watched by a huge TV audience

They made multi-millionaires of the stars – Hatton included – with their pay-per-view transmissions.

That bonanza was scuppered by David Haye's non-fight with Audley Harrison and virtual no-show against Wladimir Klitschko.

As Sky re-group after those fiascos their dilemma is how to balance their support for grass roots boxing with the need to attract the global super-stars.

Programmes full of young hopefuls cannot draw the required audiences unless they are hooked onto the glamour of the Pacquiaos, Mayweathers and Klitschkos.

The irony is that if the Hitman were still fighting he could name his own price for a Sky contract.

The world was watching: Floyd Mayweather beat Hatton in Las Vegas

The world was watching: Floyd Mayweather beat Hatton in Las Vegas

The danger to televised boxing is that it will disappear from the mainstream altogether unless Sky can rationalise their coverage – and that means reducing their current high volume of fight dates in favour of big box-office events.

It is a Catch 22 situation in which one of the best loved of all British fighters finds himself trapped.

Perhaps only for the time being, since the nature of boxing politics is such that if and when one or more of Hatton's protges hits the big-time he and Sky are likely to find themselves back at the negotiating table – with no hard feelings.

It is ironic, also, that if it were not for this upset Sky could do much worse than add Ricky Hatton to their ringside commentary team.

If you want a quick-witted, sharp-tongued, razor-funny analyst who shoots from the lip, hire the Hitman.

Haye to face the music

If David Haye imagined he was off the hook for his part in the Munich brawl with Dereck Chisora, it appears he was mistaken.

After a delay due to the protocol involved in seeking official British permission to interview Britain's former world heavyweight champion, the Munich police are now collecting witness statements from all those present at the media conference which degenerated into shameful scenes following Chisora's world heavyweight title defeat by Vitali Klitschko in February.

Chisora was arrested, questioned and released without charge that night but Haye fled Munich on a dawn flight while police were arriving at his hotel.

The investigation is on-going into the provocative taunting between Haye and Chisora.

Off the hook Haye hasn't escaped punishment for his brawl with Chisora

Off the hook Haye hasn't escaped punishment for his brawl with Chisora

Since none of the many photographs or film show Chisora striking out, the police inquiries appear to focus now on Haye punching his fellow Londoner while clutching a bottle in his hand, then swinging a metal camera tripod at opposing trainer Don Charles but missing and striking his own manager Adam Booth in the head.

Chisora has been suspended indefinitely by the British Boxing Board of Control for his abuse of Klitschkko and his brother Wladimir before the fight, as well as the subsequent fracas.

He is appealing. Haye, who is seeking a money-making bout with Vitali despite being officially retired, is expected to face sanction if he applies for a renewal of his license.

No Hopkins clash for Cleverly

Nathan Cleverly's hopes of a championship unification mega-fight with Bernard Hopkins in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium this summer were scuppered on Saturday night as the veteran American legend lost his version of the world light heavyweight title in his re-match with Chad Dawson.

Hopkins, until then boxing's oldest world champion, is considering retirement.

Although a fight with his conqueror would also be a draw in Cleverly's Welsh homeland, Dawson is reported to be seeking a catch-weight money-maker with Andre Ward, whose victory over Nottingham Cobra Carl Froch added the WBC world super-middleweight title to his WBA belt.

Froch, also mentioned as a potential foe for Cleverly, is busy preparing for his May 26 challenge in Nottingham to IBF super-middleweight champion Lucien Bute.

Fortunately, as the youngest of all the stars in that mix, Cleverly can afford to be patient.

Scuppered: Hopkins lost his title to Dawson in Atlantic City on Saturday

Scuppered: Hopkins lost his title to Dawson in Atlantic City on Saturday

Joe Frazier's gym up for sale

As television gets ready to pay another tribute to Joe Frazier, so the news comes that his fabled Whitehouse Gymnasium in Philadelphia, which later became his ramshackle home, is to be sold off for almost a million dollars.

When Frazier died towards the end of last year fans place teddy bears outside the building on North Broad Street, even though it had been converted into a bedding factory outlet store years earlier.

Frazier, who needed the proceeds to live, received significantly less from that first sale than the $990,000 (610,000) now being asked for the property on Craigslist.

The poignancy which has surrounded Frazier's death – with his great old foe Muhammad Ali defying his Parkinson's affliction to attend his funeral – continues.

Mourning: Ali attended Frazier's funeral earlier this year

Mourning: Ali attended Frazier's funeral earlier this year

Smokin' Joe was due to attend the first screening of a new film about his life – When The Smoke Clears – on the day he passed away.

That documentary airs here on ESPN Classic on the evening of Saturday week, May 12, and is bracketed between re-runs of the two epic battles in his trilogy with Ali, The Fight of the Century and The Thrilla in Manilla.

Frazier says in the movie: 'Ali He wasn't a fighter, he was a boxer.' Never a truer word from beyond the grave. It was that contrast which made their rivalry so glorious.

Fabrice Muamba news: Petr Cech injury made game safer

Cech's injury has made our game safer, let's hope that will help save Fabrice

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UPDATED:

00:52 GMT, 19 March 2012

The high level of emergency medical care Fabrice Muamba received at White Hart Lane was the result of measures the Premier League put in place after Petr Cech suffered his serious head injury in 2006.

The medical teams from both Tottenham and Bolton received praise for the treatment they administered during those shocking scenes, as did the match officials.

Watershed: Cech's injury in 2006 changed medical care at Premier League matches

Watershed: Cech's injury in 2006 changed medical care at Premier League matches

Bolton star got best possible medical care

White Hart Lane was well equipped to deal with Saturday’s incident:

Both clubs had a doctor on the bench. They were both wearing earpieces allowing them to communicate with the touchline so equipment could be asked for quickly.

An additional doctor was in the stadium, primarily to look after problems with the crowd.

Both clubs’ physios were trained in resuscitation, as were three others from Spurs’ medical team.

Two paramedics were pitchside.

There were two ambulances for the exclusive use of the players, one from St John and the other one paid for privately by Tottenham.

The Tottenham doctor carried a second defibrillator in his bag in case there was a problem with the first.

As well as the mandatory medical equipment, Spurs had on hand an additional resuscitation bag.

Referee Howard Webb was relieved of his fourth official duties at Wolves on Sunday. As senior refereeing official Dermot Gallagher said, it helped enormously that Webb and fourth official Chris Foy are police officers.

But the level of care Muamba received from medical staff owed much to the way the Premier League reacted to the Cech incident at Reading.

Jose Mourinho, then the Chelsea manager, criticised the Berkshire ambulance service by complaining of the delays in taking Cech to hospital when he had suffered a fractured skull.

‘There are some things that leave me in a very emotional situation,’ said Mourinho. ‘My goalkeeper was waiting for an ambulance for 30 minutes.

This is something English football has to think about. This is much more important than football.’

Chelsea made an official complaint that
led to a Premier League and FA review. As a result the following
measures were introduced:

Best possible care: Muamba was treated on the pitch before being rushed to hospital

Best possible care: Muamba was treated on the pitch before being rushed to hospital

An ambulance must be located at the ground for exclusive use of players.Each club must have their doctor at Premier League games. The doctor must be seated on the trainers’ bench. All doctors and physiotherapists must complete AREA (Advanced Resuscitation and Emergency Aid) training course. At least two paramedics must be available pitchside to deal with on-field emergencies. The home club must provide the away club with a medical information sheet containing key contact numbers and the location of nearest hospital. Home club must have available mandatory medical equipment as prescribed by Premier League. Annual medical examinations must be carried out on all players.
Lane of tears: Players and fans show their concern for Muamba's health

Lane of tears: Players and fans show their concern for Muamba's health

The Premier League declined the opportunity to comment on Sunday, rightly leaving it to officials at Bolton to provide updates on their ex-England Under 21 midfielder’s situation.

But after the incident Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: ‘We would like to praise the players, match officials, staff and medical teams of both clubs for their swift actions in attending to Fabrice.’

Six Nations 2011: Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole have score to settle in France

Driving force! England pair have score to settle in France

Redemption. That's the profound target for two members of the England pack in Paris a week on Sunday.

When Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole square up to France's renowned front row, they will be hell-bent on settling a score.

Rewind two years and the national team travelled across the Channel and won acclaim even though they lost 12-10.

In retreat: Cole faces the French in 2010

In retreat: Cole faces the French in 2010

That RBS Six Nations finale was seen as a watershed moment for Martin Johnson's side in playing with more attacking purpose, fired by the introduction of dangerous strike runners like Ben Foden and Chris Ashton.

But if the overview was positive, it was a negative night for Hartley and Cole. England were routed in a first-half scrum onslaught against a French pack anchored by mighty Perpignan tighthead prop Nicolas Mas.

At the interval, Hartley and Cole were cast as the scapegoats and suffered the indignity of being replaced with 40 minutes remaining, despite subsequent suggestions that Tim Payne, the experienced loosehead, had been particularly culpable.

Back then, the pair were raw rookies. Now Hartley, the 25-year-old Northampton hooker and captain, and his right-hand man, the 24-year-old Leicester prop, are more settled and street-wise.

They feel prepared for what awaits them and are suitably driven to make amends. Hartley won't be going through the video again – the episode is etched in his mind.

'I can still picture it – I can still see those scrums,' he said. 'A little bit of redemption would be nice this time. There are some demons to exorcise. It is inexcusable for an English pack to be pushed back on our own ball.

Bouncing back: England are hoping to put the defeat to Wales behind them

Bouncing back: England are hoping to put the defeat to Wales behind them

Bouncing back: England are hoping to put the defeat to Wales behind them

NEXT FIXTURES

Sunday: France v Ireland (3pm).

Saturday March 10: Wales v Italy
(2.30pm); Ireland v Scotland (5pm).

Sunday March 11: France v England (3pm).

'I remember being sat in the changing room in Paris after that game thinking, “Wow, you just don't get taken off at half-time”. It was my second Six Nations and myself and Dan have played a lot since then. I've played against Mas when we've played Perpignan in the Heineken Cup, too.

'I like to think we feel more equipped to cope now. Alex (Corbisiero) and Dan played against France last year – when they had Mas and Servat in there – and did a really good job.

'Before our games against Scotland and Italy there were question marks about us, with talk about caps and experience, about Euan Murray and (Martin) Castrogiovanni, but in both those games scrum penalties won us the final points of the game. I'd like to think we can look after ourselves.'

Cole was still finding his feet at Test level at the time of the setpiece setback in March 2010. Like Hartley, he feels ready for the impending re-match.

'Two years ago, they were on fire,' he said. 'It was only my fifth game for England and they dominated us. The French scrum attack teams, no matter who you are, but they probably looked at who was playing, targeted that area and got some success.

Allez! England were narrowly defeated by France at the Stade de France

Allez! England were narrowly defeated by France at the Stade de France

Allez! England were narrowly defeated by France at the Stade de France

'Now, they might have a bit more respect than before. I'm more pumped up for this game because of what happened there last time.

'That must be the toughest rugby experience I've had. We went backwards so I probably did deserve to come off. As the tighthead, if the scrum's going forward I'll take the credit for it, but if it's going backwards …that's how it works. You learn from it.

'Motivation-wise it's a good thing for next week. It's going to be hostile in Paris, without doubt. There's 22 of us against the whole stadium. It feels like us against the world. In a funny sort of way, you enjoy that.'

He and Hartley will enjoy it if they are both still on the pitch deep into the second half, and on the front foot. That would represent redemption.

Australian Open 2012: Ivan Lendl knows how to make Andy Murray champion

Now Lendl can see how to make Murray a champion… and he will

Inside the privacy of the locker room at Melbourne Park, Ivan Lendl placed a consoling hand on Andy Murray’s shoulders. ‘I’m proud of you,’ said Lendl. ‘You did a great job.’

While Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will dispute Sunday's Australian Open final, Lendl is convinced Murray is destined to end the 76-year search for a British player to fill the tennis shoes worn with such distinction by Fred Perry.

In just three weeks in Murray’s employ, Lendl has already worked wonders. Murray’s aggression here has been channelled exclusively through his racket, not through a need to spit malevolent abuse at his entourage as in days of old.

Reasons to be cheerful: Despite his defeat, the Andy Murray camp are looking out at a bright future

Reasons to be cheerful: Despite his defeat, the Andy Murray camp are looking out at a bright future

And in defeat against Djokovic, over five, pulsating sets spanning almost five hours, Murray won admiration and respect from all quarters of the game.

‘If anyone doesn’t think Andy can walk out of here with his head held high, they ought to have their head examined,’ said Lendl.

Former British Davis Cup captain John Lloyd, never afraid to criticise Murray’s on-court demeanour, greeted his behavioural change at the Australian Open as a watershed.

Knockout blow: Murray produced one of his best ever performances

Knockout blow: Murray produced one of his best ever performances

‘Andy became a man overnight,’ said Lloyd. ‘We never saw his old habit of whining, or shouting at his box, throughout this tournament. It’s as though he has grown up.

‘I have to give a lot of credit to Lendl. Andy’s mentality, as well as his game, has been as different here as night and day from when he made it to the final 12 months ago.

'I am convinced he is going to win a Grand Slam. That match with Djokovic was one of the best 10 matches I have ever seen.

‘Andy was playing some of his best tennis in the fifth set. He’s unlikely to be put under the amount of pressure that Djokovic applied too often yet Andy kept fighting to the end.

‘If he does that, he will be too strong for Federer in the future and I believe with that game he will be good enough to beat Nadal over five sets. Djokovic is going to have a day when his consistency level dips, so Andy should be optimistic for what lies ahead.’

Lendl , 51, has become hugely influential to Murray faster than either might have envisaged. As an eight-time major winner, Lendl never treated defeat lightly and, within the confines of the private debrief here this weekend, he will have gently identified areas for Murray to absorb lessons for the future.

Gentle persuasion is the man’s style. While everyone else on Rod Laver Arena thrilled to the excitement of a match that rocked first towards Djokovic, then rolled in the direction of Murray, Lendl never left his seat.

‘You have to keep your emotions level, whether in the stands or on court,’ he said as old friends stopped to shake hands outside the locker room. ‘Otherwise you can’t make good decisions. Andy did a fantastic job with that. The whole tournament he was incredibly strong, mentally.

Drained: Djokovic was as relieved as he was elated after the win

Drained: Djokovic was as relieved as he was elated after the win

'That’s as important as playing well.’

Inside the almost deserted players’ restaurant, Murray’s father, Will, on his first visit to Australia, shared a quiet word with his son’s girlfriend, Kim Sears. She was emotionally drained after Djokovic finally won 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5.

So might the gap between Djokovic and Murray be about to shrink Murray could genuinely take massive encouragement from the harshest defeat of his career.

He said: ‘You’re always going to have people that doubt me and say, “He’s not that good”. I’m aware I still need to prove things and win a match like this.

'It was so close, but I need to make that last jump. I don’t know how Novak can keep on improving. I think it’s because of him, and Rafa and Roger, that I am playing as well as I am. I want to get to No 1.’

Emotionally drained: Kim Sears hit every ball with Andy from courtside

Emotionally drained: Kim Sears hit every ball with Andy from courtside

When Murray made the previous two Australian Open finals, the impact of defeats by Federer, then Djokovic, was evident in his game more than two months later.

But Lendl said: ‘I am aware of what happened before and I am going to do my best to see it doesn’t happen again.’

With his next tournament, in Dubai a month away, Murray and Lendl are likely to reconvene their work in Florida before then.

‘Everyone has room for improvement, even Djokovic and Nadal,’ said Lendl. ‘What I have seen in Andy is a guy who is keen to learn and wants to work hard. He is a pleasure to be around.’

Better luck next time: Djokovic now faces Rafael Nadal in the final

Better luck next time: Djokovic now faces Rafael Nadal in the final

Djokovic noted a distinct increase of intent in Murray’s tennis.

‘Andy was taking his chances, he was being more aggressive,’ said Djokovic, who has been troubled in Australia by a pollen allergy which has affected his breathing.

Last year, the Serb raised the art of aggression on a tennis court to post-Nadal levels of violence. In six matches in 2011, three of them on the grand stages of Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York, Nadal won just four sets; and the sympathy of the watching world.

At 2am on Saturday, after Murray had been driven to his hotel, Djokovic thought about what he had to do to try to retain his dominance over Nadal today.

‘I will try to get as much sleep and recovery underway… and hope for the best,’ he said.

His coach, Marian Vajda, booked him a mere 15 minutes’ practice on the Rod Laver Arena for yesterday.

‘Andy took Novak to the edge,’ said Vajda. ‘Now we have to get him ready for Rafa, who has been running here like I have never seen before. All we can do with Novak is give him ice baths and go for a light walk before the final.’

In the meantime, Murray’s flight back to the other side of the world aroused the prospect of an exciting year ahead.