Carragher a hero, not Suarez

Posted by Michael Yokhin

Fate can be extremely cruel sometimes. Jamie Carragher's 150th game in Europe proved to be his very last, mainly because of his own crucial lapse of concentration. But for the veteran's awful "assist" to Hulk, Liverpool would have smashed Zenit, who continued the long-standing Russian tradition of totally losing confidence under pressure.

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The Reds, on the other hand, are thriving when they smell drama. Liverpool might not always be possessing the mentality of the winners in the recent decades. Far from it. But history taught them that nothing is impossible, especially in Europe. Carragher knows that better than anyone.

Carra was there in May 2001, when an outrageous UEFA Cup final versus Spanish minnows Alaves ended in a 5-4 golden own-goal in the dying minutes of extra time. Carra was there in Istanbul in May 2005, when the most astonishing Champions League comeback against Milan took place. Carra was there, just as crucially, a few months earlier, when Liverpool trailed Olympiakos at Anfield on the final day of the group stage, needing three goals in the second half to progress - and scoring them. He will never forget the crazy scenes that followed the Steven Gerrard cracker.

Because of those memories, Liverpool are able to produce that never-say-die spirit when everything seems lost. Luis Suarez fits perfectly into that state of mind. He is Uruguayan, a proud star from the nation of fighters. They never gives up, even when Ghana seem to score the winner in the very last second of extra time at World Cup quarter-finals.

Their traditions go back to the comeback against Brazil at Maracana in 1950 that gave them their second world title. They were losing at half-time against Argentina in their first World Cup final in 1930 as well.

Suarez was absolutely outstanding against Zenit on Thursday. After wasting glorious chances last week in St. Petersburg, he more than made amends with stupendous work rate and two stunning free kicks. The second one was a work of art, the swerve even reminding slightly of the iconic Roberto Carlos strike against France, when the ball was going wide until taking the turn into the net.

But for all his brilliance, Suarez's play left a very sour taste.

The Uruguayans are famous not only for their fighting spirit, but also for pushing the boundaries on the pitch. Is it coincidental that the quickest red card at the World Cup belongs to Uruguay's Jose Batista, who kicked Scotland's Gordon Strachan in 1986. Rightly or wrongly, they have a reputation for playing dirty, and national team coach Oscar Tabarez tried long and hard to change that image. His task will be more difficult because of Suarez.

Never mind diving. Never mind the infamous incidents with Patrice Evra. Never mind the controversial handball against tiny Mansfield. They are all open to debate.

Kicking opponents without the ball is another matter entirely. That's what Suarez did when he hit Nicolas Lombaerts in the build-up to the Joe Allen goal.

He probably knew the Belgian centre-back was struggling for fitness ahead of the game. The Zenit star is immensely talented but tragically injury-prone. When the ball was still on the left flank, far from the penalty area, you could see Lombaerts suddenly falling after contact with Suarez.

He tried to get up to prevent the danger but couldn't really help. Luciano Spalletti then had to substitute his defensive stalwart. After the game, Lombaerts said: "Suarez hit me. If I did the same to him, the referee would have certainly awarded Liverpool a penalty. It is early to predict when I will be back, but I can assure you the pain is very strong."

By taking Lombaerts out, Suarez achieved a lot. He enabled his team to go 2-1 up, left the opponents without one of their most important players and further damaged their already extremely low confidence.

To be blunt, Zenit's performance was nothing short of pathetic. If they see themselves as the rising force in European football, they absolutely can't afford to be so defensive and panic-stricken when playing a team that doesn't splash €100 million in a matter of hours on two players. They quite simply deserved to go out. Liverpool deserved to come through victorious.

That would all be true, if we forget the nature of Suarez's foul and the unsavoury incident with Tomas Hubocan. When taking them into account, one must say justice has been done. Zenit are going to play Basel in the next round, while Liverpool are left to recall their amazing draw against the Swiss opponents in November 2002.

It was actually quite similar to their efforts against the Russians. Just like in Basel, they went 3-0 down, this time on aggregate. Just like in Basel, they came back to 3-3. Just like in Basel, it wasn't enough, and they crashed out.

Just like in Basel, Carragher was part of it. He is now departing the European scene but will never be forgotten as a real Liverpool legend. Carra might have looked like a villain against Zenit, but he was really a hero. Suarez might have looked like a hero, but he was really a villain.

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