Babel lofted the clearance from deep inside Liverpool’s half. The ball somehow latched on to Torres’ homing beacon. The defender let it bounce. Torres ate it up like a starved Bengal tiger. He kept the other defender just at bay, picked his moment and flicked the ball over the sliding keeper. The ball went softly into the net. Liverpool were up 2-0.
Having looked away from the television for a moment, I missed Babel’s “service” and caught that part of it on the replay. For me, it was just Torres Torres Torres. I was slapped in the face with the pure joy of the moment while being perplexed by how can someone be THAT good? Here is a man who has finally switched back on after the injury problems. Against Portsmouth his spark was lit with the simple chance that created the first goal. Then it has been all out devastation for those who face him. It’s been four goals in two matches. His second against Pompey made a foregone conclusion result that much more foregone. But his two against Lille secured advancement against a side who only needed to score one away goal to make us need to score three. Torres saw that we got the three (adding two to Gerrard’s penalty) regardless of Pepe Reina’s clean sheet.
Truth is, until the 89th minute of Thursday’s fixture, any tuned-in Liverpool supporter remained in the grips of utter tension despite the great performance and the two-nil scoreline. In the last minutes, Lille were applying pressure and winning dead-ball chances, trying to get that goal that would see them through. But at the tail-end of regulation, Gerrard took a shot at goal, saw it blocked, and there was Torres… With two defenders and a keeper converging on him, with his body twisted away from goal, he pounced on the captain’s rebounded attempt and slotted it home, sending us through to the Europa Cup’s next round.
I could never honestly say that I forget how good Torres is when he’s in shape and in form. But I’m still knocked over by it when I see it culminate like this. In both the Portsmouth and Lille outings we saw him steam by multiple defenders from the wing, flicking the ball around opponents as if they were mounds of dirt instead of top-flight footballers. Neither of those runs happened to come to goals (although one bounced off the far post), but the movement was still mesmerizing like watching an uncorked hurricane spin into the penalty box.
Honestly, two weeks ago, my friends Jamie and Tim were talking about not watching tomorrow’s Manchester United at our pub. And I was ready to join them at Tim’s to watch on his new television, drinking beer hours before the State of Massachusetts will allow us to in a bar, and in a safe place where we can share our misery behind close doors. This would have been unheard of last season (not trekking down to our pub) but this talk was during the spell when Liverpool were losing to Wigan and Lille (first leg), when the Blackburn victory looked like a one off, and we felt certain that in-form United would steamroll us at Old Trafford. But with Torres playing like this… with Liverpool playing like this… fuck it: I’ll be at my pub. We all will. I certainly won’t put money on a win, but I also wouldn’t bet against Torres breaking through the lines and slapping the ball past Edwin van der Sar and giving us a clear advantage. If I faltered while Liverpool faltered in France, I am now full of the belief again. And that is enough. Even if we lose.
Ultimately, this is what being a football fan hinges on. No matter who you support, you’ve seen your side fall and or flail at one time or another. But believing they can bounce back is was makes you tune in to the next match, the next season, the next campaign. Whatever. So tomorrow, I’m going in with the belief that we can make it four in a row against United. Everybody will play outside themselves like they always do against the toughest opposition. Torres will give the centre backs more headaches than a chainsmoker on an overseas flight. Gerrard will be at his absolute hungriest. Our defenders will develop psychic powers and know where Rooney is going before he goes. (Okay, that last one might be the least likely scenario, but I still have to believe in it.) In the end it could well come down to how early or late in the match Vidic gets his ritual red card (c’mon, Nemanja, a streak is a streak: keep it going). And I will bet you at ten to one odds that I end up with a closing shift at the restaurant tonight and will be taking this all in on about five hours of sleep.
But the point is:
His armband said he was a red, Torres Torres!
You’ll Never Walk Alone, it said, Torres Torres!
We bought the lad from sunny Spain…
He gets the ball he scores again…
Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s Number 9!
And… (Wait for it)…