National tensions rise to the surface
Liverpool 1 Galatasaray 2: Liverpool's pre-season preparations descended into farce and fury last night, a bitter defeat by Galatasaray ending in a flurry of red cards and with the simmering discontent between England and Turkey exacerbated.
The legacy of the pair of late red cards will not haunt Gerard Houllier into the new campaign, because of an agreement with the tournament organisers that suspensions would not carry over into domestic competition, but there are other worries ahead. Steven Gerrard, the memory fresh of being punched by Galatasaray defender Bulent Korkmaz in the tunnel at England's Euro 2004 qualifier with Turkey in April, was so riled by a running feud with Hakan Unsal that he saw red for dissent near the end.
The sight of England's pivotal midfielder losing his head in the face of provocation from Unsal and Hakan Sukur hardly bodes well for the return international in Istanbul on October 11th. For all the protestations of Houllier and the Gala coach Fatih Terim that this spat bore little relevance in the long run, an already tense situation has been inflamed.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with England's game with Turkey," insisted Houllier, who had also seen Neil Mellor dismissed for a reckless foul on Gabriel Tamas only four minutes after his introduction. Most of that time had been spent chasing the Turks as they monopolised possession. Then, before the game had re-started, Gerrard's complaints saw him similarly dismissed.
"But what happened at the end showed my players wanted to win," Houllier argued. "The problem is that, when there is tiredness involved, frustration tends to come out like that."
There was certainly plenty to be frustrated about. Liverpool laboured badly in a tetchy mishmash of an encounter, with Harry Kewell meandering somewhat aimlessly from flank to flank and the midfield pairing of Igor Biscan and Bruno Cheyrou, from whom Houllier must pluck a first-teamer when Gerrard is suspended on the Premiership's opening day, distinctly unimpressive.
Galatasaray's opening goal rather punctured the mediocrity. Sukur's reverse pass cut out Biscan and John-Arne Riise and was collected by the galloping Portuguese Joao Batista, who belted a low shot across Chris Kirkland and into the far corner.
Liverpool rallied briefly, the excellent Vladimir Smicer crossing for Emile Heskey to nod in his fifth pre-season goal, only for Cesar Prates's vicious 25-yard free-kick to rip across and over Kirkland's dive to restore Galatasaray's lead in three minutes.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Kirkland; Babbel (Finnan, 61), Hyypia, Traore, Riise; Kewell (Gerrard, 64), Cheyrou, Biscan, Smicer (Le Tallec, 59); Owen (Sinama-Pongolle, 55), Heskey (Mellor, 81). Booked: Traore, Gerrard, Heskey. Sent off: Mellor, Gerrard.
GALATASARAY (4-4-1-1): Mondragon; Prates (Korkmaz, 81), Tamas, De Boer, Unsal; Pinto, Batista, Akman (Haspolatli, 81), Penbe; Goktan (Erdogan, 75); Sukur. Booked: Unsal.