The messages started long before Liverpool’s Club World Cup semi-final victory over Monterrey kicked off in Doha, around 4,500 miles away on board a Qatar Airways plane de-icing its wings on the tarmac of Manchester Airport.
First, there was an advert for the next World Cup, serving up nonsensical soundbites like ‘Let’s Unstoppable’ and ‘Let’s Yeah’ as soon as you made a selection from the entertainment system.
Another prominent commercial featured Neymar promoting QNB Bank, while David Beckham posted about – checks notes – making bread in Doha on Instagram.
Then there was an interview with Xavi – Spain and Barcelona legend-turned-manager of Doha-based Al Sadd – which was the focal point of the in-flight magazine.
“Qatar does not underestimate the privilege World Cup Qatar 2022™ represents and it has been carefully planning for the opening day ever since it was awarded this tournament,” he said, copyright and all, apparently.
“Everything has been organised with so much care.”
That last line jars at Khalifa International Stadium, where the neon lights, ear-piercing PA system and over-the-top dazzle can be a distraction from the dark truth.
There was no care when Zac Cox died here in January 2017 after falling 40 metres when a catwalk he was helping to install collapsed, his lever hoist equipment failing.
The coroner at the inquest to the 40-year-old’s death, Veronica Hamilton-Deeley, described the conditions the Briton had to work under as “chaotic, unprofessional, unthinking and downright dangerous”.
This semi-final could have been played at the Education City Stadium, but the venue was deemed not match ready and also carries its own tales of disregard for those toiling to deliver facilities for the 2022 showpiece.
Rupchandra Rumba, operating as a scaffolder at the ground for two months, died while gasping for breath in a slum-like labour camp.
As with hundreds of other migrant workers who die in Qatar annually, the 24-year-old’s passing was put down to “acute cardio respiratory failure due to natural causes”.
Such deaths are not investigated and authorities do not usually carry out postmortem examinations. The most important messaging, then, is not from the flashy ads or advocacy from A-listers pocketing mega money and grandiose hospitality to be Team Qatar, but the unsaid.
Liverpool have supported calls for thorough investigations into all unexplained deaths, but nonetheless got on with the job at hand in Doha as they beat Monterrey 2-1 to take a step closer to becoming world champions.
Mohamed Salah was indisputably the main attraction on Wednesday night in the mammoth multi-purpose stadium. He contributed to the game’s first decisive moment, dividing Monterrey’s defence with a superb reverse pass behind Cesar Montes and Nicolas Sanchez, that Naby Keita collected and converted with a first-time finish.
Three minutes later, Liverpool failed to fully clear a free-kick and switched off on the second phase, with man-of-the-match Alisson making a save from Jesus Gallardo only for Rogelio Funes Mori to hit home the rebound.
Marcelo Barovero was quick to dart off his line and deny Keita from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s stellar slicing ball, thereby ending a first half that was more laboured than luminary.
Liverpool were fragile at the back, unsurprisingly so as they were down to their fourth-choice centre-back in Joe Gomez, who was partnered by midfielder Jordan Henderson.
Virgil van Dijk was missing through illness, while Joel Matip [knee] and Dejan Lovren [hamstring] will return in the New Year.
Injuries are hitting at a crucial juncture for the Premier League leaders, who looked jaded as Monterrey crafted the better openings in the second half.
The encounter as a whole was sleepy, with the entertainment painfully being supplied by a ‘half-time show’ in which an MC repeatedly screamed at the audience to turn on the lights of their phone while Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars played in the background.
There was a forced Mexican wave, too, completely ignored by the section of Monterrey fans that wonderfully bounced, clapped and chanted for the entirety of the match.
Jurgen Klopp and his counterpart Antonio Mohamed were both booked for arguing with each other, even though their technical areas were separated by about 30 yards.
There was finally a moment to quicken the pulse and thankfully avert extra time on 91 minutes.
Roberto Firmino, recently introduced into the action, produced a neat finish after Salah’s tenacity kept the play alive and Trent Alexander-Arnold threaded a clever ball through to him, sending Liverpool into Saturday’s final against Flamengo.
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