Sport Soccer

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Epic trek set to cloud Liverpool’s Eurovision

Rory Smith

LIVERPOOL have to take the blame for most of their trials and tribulations this season, but there have been occasions when they have the right to claim they have been victims of an Act of God.

Thanks to the cloud of ash emanating from an Icelandic volcano, what should have been a simple trip to Madrid for their Europa League semi-final first leg with Atletico has turned into a 48-hour odyssey, complete with a tour of two cities burned into the club's European consciousness.

Led from the front by Sotirios Kyrgiakos – employed in a polite batteringram role to put off 50 or so autograph-hunting fans – Liverpool disembarked their team coach at Runcorn at lunchtime yesterday, tramping straight into the first-class lounge at the station, ready for the journey ahead.

There would be trials, there would be tribulations, there would be a fair few complimentary sandwiches.

A brisk two-hour journey to London followed – their repose blissfully undisturbed thanks to a highly conspicuous security guard on the door of Coach G on the 13.04 to Euston – with the players watching films, chatting, reading or donning enormous headphones to listen to iPods. They were, it is fair to say, thoroughly unfazed by the experience.

LONG

“When I was younger, I had a few of these long trips,” recalled Lucas. “In Brazil, when I was playing for Gremio, I was living in Porto Alegre in the southeast but my family home was in Dourados, a city in the middle of the country. “I would make the journey there and back by coach quite often, and that was around 1,300 kilometres one-way. It would take 20 or 24 hours. It was the same with a lot of games, because when you are with a team not based in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, you always have to get connecting flights. There is nothing you can do when you have a long journey but try your best to enjoy it.”

The travel, in truth, was always going to be the easy bit. It was the transfers that posed a problem. The club's itinerary had been flashed around the world – footballers taking the train has provoked amusement and curiosity in equal measure – and fans turned out in droves to greet them at Euston and, after a brief coach transfer, at St Pancras.

For all the inconvenience, though, Liverpool were hardly roughing it, as they sought to leave the city where they won the European Cup against Brugge in 1978, for the French captital, scene of their 1981 triumph over Real Madrid. From the coach, they were whisked straight to the business class lounge and on to the 16.31 Eurostar, spirits among Rafael Benitez's side high, fears the long journey might impact on performance apparently unfounded.

“I am sure the players will be tired,” said the Liverpool manager. “But the journey so far has been good. They had a lot of carbohydrates, as well as ice baths, after the game on Monday and we decided it was more important to let them get a good night's sleep at home rather than travel early. We will see how the rest goes from here.”

Here, for the moment, is Paris, where the team decamped just before 7.0 local time, their progress to a waiting coach and on to their Champs Elysees hotel hampered by a huge throng of locals, accompanying the side from railway platform to bus, perhaps eager to see the only people from the other side of the English Channel who have spent the week plotting how to get across.

They were due to rise early today – a 6.0 departure to Gare Montparnasse – to travel to Bordeaux, where a flight to Madrid awaits. The journey, though, is not even half-finished. France's railway network has been hit by strikes in recent days, and Madrid's Barajas airport is close to breaking point as thousands of holidaymakers and businessmen try to travel home.

Then there is the issue of returning to England from the Vicente Calderon, something which club sources admit remains up in the air – forgive the pun – and which may yet force the postponement of their Premier League game with Burnley on Sunday. That is a matter for another day, though.

For now, rest. (© Daily Telegraph,

London)

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