Monterrey battled UEFA Champions League holders Liverpool to a standstill through 90 minutes but sub Roberto Firmino found a winner in added time.
Monterrey carried out coach Antonio Mohamed’s game plan to near perfection and if it hadn’t been for a handful of marvelous saves by Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker, the Rayados might have pulled off the upset of the decade.
The UEFA Champions League holders are heavily favored to win their first FIFA Club World Cup, but Monterrey made the Reds work to advance out of the semifinals in Doha, Qatar.
Naby Keita scored in minute 11, taking advantage of a nifty through ball from Mohamed Salah that sent him in alone on goalie Marcelo Barovero.
The Rayados answered less than 3 minutes later when Rogelio Funes Mori swept in a rebound from right in front of net. Right back Stefan Medina rose above his marker to head a long cross back near the top of the Liverpool box where César Montes nodded it out to Jesús Gallardo all alone in the left channel. Gallardo ripped a left-footer that Becker palmed aside but the Brazilian only knocked it right to the unmarked Funes Mori.
Liverpool dominated possession most of the match (69%) as Monterrey sat back, cutting off passing lanes and looking for long outlet passes when winning possession. Wingers Dorlan Pabón and Gallardo chased Liverpool’s fullbacks down the wings and midfielders Celso Ortiz and Charlie Rodríguez harassed anybody wearing a red shirt, trying to keep pressure off the back line.
Rayados exhibit tactical discipline
Coach Mohamed’s tactics nearly worked as Monterrey limited Liverpool to 12 shots, only 6 of which were on target. The Reds found space with runs through the Monterrey back line, but the Rayados recovered virtually every time. And when they didn’t, Barovero was there to make the save.
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Barovero came off his line in minute 23 to close down a James Milner effort near the edge of the 6-yard goalie box. The wiry Argentine keeper raced out to smother another 1-on-1 opportunity for Keita in minute 42 and denied Keita again in minute 57. In minute 81, Barovero made a splendid stop on Mo Salah who had gotten behind the defense, but the Egyptian was declared offside anyway.
Becker matched Barovero save-for-save, blocking a Pabón rocket in minute 26 and three minutes later he got his fingertips on a cross from Pabón that was headed for the unmarked Funes Mori at the back post. In minute 49, Becker made a diving save on a Pabón free kick and 18 minutes later he parried a long shot from Funes Mori.
With nearly 15 minutes to go, coaches Mohamed and Klopp got into a heated exchange with “El Turco” gesturing to the German to meet outside the stadium after the match. Both managers were shown yellow cards by ref Roberto Tobar.
Despite far less possession, the Rayados outshot Liverpool 16-12 and had more shots on goal (8-6). But as the game seem destined for overtime, late sub Firmino found the winner.
Mo Salah got to the touchline inside the box and survived a double team, found space and tapped a back pass to Trent Alexander-Arnold at the top of the box. The right back quickly sent a low center into the scrum in front of net and Firmino was there to redirect, the ball skidding just under Barovero’s right arm.
Liverpool advances to the final against Brazil’s Flamengo, while the Rayados must settle for the third-place game against Saudi club Al-Hilal on Saturday. Monterrey defeated Qatari club Al-Sadd to reach the semifinal.
Since Monterrey must fly back to Mexico and play the Liga MX Final (at home on Dec. 26 and at Estadio Azteca on Dec. 29), it would be no surprise of Mohamed prefers to rest his regulars and save them for the two-game championship series against América.