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My favourite game: Michael Owen inspires Liverpool to FA Cup glory | Sport


The FA Cup final of 2001 was a final of firsts. Never before had two non-British managers met in the final (the French compatriots Gérard Houllier and Arsène Wenger) and, because of the Wembley renovations, the final was to be played outside England. The new setting: Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on a sunny May day. The kind of weather that splits the turf into high contrast ivy-green/lime-green.

I was 11 years old and Liverpool and Arsenal were stuffed with my heroes. I grew up on a diet of local loves: Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and, my king (in Liverpool’s gold strip), Michael Owen.

But Arsenal were – if Liverpool evaporated and I was forced to choose – my second favourites. The good looks and sharp cheekbones of Freddie Ljunberg (and opening scorer) stood out but more important was the genius of Dennis Bergkamp and the artfulness of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. The erudite frown of Wenger I found a refreshing change from the gum-chewing, hands-in-pockets style of other managers. (I felt this way about Houllier, too, of course).

Given the extravagant finals Liverpool have been involved in, the 2001 version often gets lost. Arsenal dominated throughout, which made it a frustrating watch for large periods, but it did have everything as a game: numerous goal-line clearances (Sami Hyypïa acting like a third goal post); a goal conceded because of a horrific goalkeeping mistake (Sander Westerveld passing straight to Arsenal, resulting in a Robert Pires through ball and a slick Ljungberg finish); a strong handball shout; and a two-goal swing to win the game. The artist? Owen, of course.





Michael Owen takes aim to give Liverpool a precious equaliser at the Millennium Stadium



Michael Owen takes aim to give Liverpool a precious equaliser at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty

Owen’s 83rd-minute equaliser was something he had become a specialist in, a virtual replica of his World Cup 98 goal against Romania. Owen planted on the edge of six-yard box; a high hook of the right foot on the spin to smash the ball diagonally across the goal; the ball ending up in the corner and Owen on his butt as a result of the gymnastics.

His winning goal, in the 88th minute, came from a Patrik Berger pass from Liverpool’s half that was mid-point between a punt and an intelligent ball. Owen had no business getting on the end of it but, given his pace was close to Concorde’s speed, he burst through the middle of two defenders and slotted the ball across David Seaman into the far corner.





Liverpool celebrate their FA Cup win which also made up part of their 2001 treble.



Liverpool celebrate their FA Cup win which also made up part of their 2001 treble. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

The angle was absurd; I would guess around 30 degrees. The pièce de résistance, his special celebration – the forward flip, upgraded from his rubbing-of-the-hands celebration. It was Owen’s eighth goal in four matches.

Pundits contrasted Owen’s efficiency with Henry’s profligacy and Owen felt his winning left-foot goal vindicated him: “It’s nice to prove people wrong when they say you haven’t got a left foot.”

MFG

Liverpool’s FA Cup win turned out to be the second part of a glittering treble – and after a six-year drought. Four days afterwards we beat Alavés 5-4 in an extraordinary final to claim the Uefa Cup. We had already won the League Cup (against Birmingham). Four days after beating Alavés, we finished third in the league, securing Champions League qualification. A great season all round.

As for the FA Cup final, Owen remembers it as “the best day of my career, the game I look back on more than any other and think it was the most exhilarating experience I ever had playing football”. His favourite game too, then.



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Written by sortiwa

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