Reds justice better late than never

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The Independent Football

Latecomers to the campaign to ensure that Liverpool are granted the right to defend their brilliantly achieved Champions' League title should not be scorned. As we know, to err is human and the capacity to see that you have been wrong can be divine.

Latecomers to the campaign to ensure that Liverpool are granted the right to defend their brilliantly achieved Champions' League title should not be scorned. As we know, to err is human and the capacity to see that you have been wrong can be divine.

What is still troubling, though, is the dogged theory that somehow Liverpool's triumph - and the defence of the title it demands - devalues the competition.

What was counterfeit about the victory in Istanbul? The fact that Liverpool had a poor Premiership season is quite irrelevant to the basic, classic point that champions have the right to defend their title.

When an English club last won the Champions' League - Manchester United in 1999 - they did not enter the competition as reigning English title holders. That posed no questions about the validity of their triumph. Why would it? Everyone knows that developments in the game have utterly changed the balance of the competition. When it was truly a champions' Cup, the challenge to reach the later stages was much less intense. It was, after all, rather easier to play the champions of Iceland than the fourth-placed team of Spain, England or Italy.

The purist view may rightly lament the fact that the current competition is Uefa's compromise in the face of the threat of a super-league breakaway, but the reality is that the decision made the challenge of winning it that much more difficult.

In the old days, the Uefa Cup was seen as the competition where new, and serious contenders for the big trophy announced themselves; they were often teams plainly on the rise.

That a rule change may be necessary for Liverpool to take their place should not cause dismay. When rules have been outstripped by events, have become capable of monstrous injustice and, as Liverpool's Rafael Benitez has pointed out, a breakdown in common sense, they have to be changed.

Another worry of some is that Liverpool won the trophy ultimately by default, that they merely benefited from a complete collapse by Milan. It is groundless, a fact confirmed by the briefest re-examination of events in Istanbul. At no time did Milan abandon the game that had given them a three-goal advantage. When Liverpool scored their goals, the Italians still had players behind the ball, they were not trapped in hubris, and when the storm had passed, Milan continued to play threatening football - indeed, they would have won but for the miraculous work of Jerzy Dudek.

Liverpool found a way to win, as they did earlier against the champions of Italy and England, Juventus and Chelsea, that was an extraordinary testament to their spirit. This, it seems, is now being recognised in Uefa headquarters.

Justice is best when it is promptly delivered, but on this occasion a little tardiness will be forgiven.

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