Peter Crouch has never been one to do things the easy way. The England striker earned his summer move to Liverpool only after enduring relegation with Southampton
He promptly took 19 appearances to register a first goal for his new club, a twice-deflected shot which was belatedly credited to him by the Premier League yesterday. In the circumstances, the fact that he has had to travel halfway round the world to be in with a chance of claiming the first major honour of his career is apt.
A First Division winners' medal earned almost by default while on loan at Norwich from Aston Villa in 2003-04 represents the sum of his accumulated silverware to date, injury having deprived him of a role in the Super Cup final against CSKA Moscow in August. "I rather nicked that medal with Norwich by playing 15 games, which just about sneaked me one," he said after his double here had smoothed a passage into Sunday's final against Sao Paulo. "You'd have to go back to when I was a kid for the last time I'd won anything before that, but I came to Liverpool for the chance to win trophies like this."
Rafael Benítez's side set a club record against the Costa Ricans of Deportivo Saprissa by recording an 11th consecutive clean sheet, spanning 1,014 minutes, though it was the fizz of their attacking play which caught the eye. Crouch might have scored six against sub-standard opposition. The two he did plunder ensured that, precisely a year after he scored for Southampton in a 5-1 thumping at Tottenham, he will trot out in the final of the Club World Championship.
"When I look back to what I was doing a year ago, there is a world of difference," Crouch said. "We were fighting for our lives at the bottom of the table back then. Now we're up near the top and, while there are pressures attached to both, I know which is more enjoyable. Just coming to a country like Japan and playing in the stadium that hosted the World Cup final a few years ago is a new experience for me. But when you come to a club like Liverpool, you hope you will have the chance to lift trophies.
"Scoring my first goal was a huge relief because, even if I was contributing in other ways, you need to be scoring goals as well when playing for a club like this. The other lads have been top class for me - I have settled in so quickly it's frightening. I want to do well for them. We didn't come this far to be second best." The Brazilians await.
Fifa will breathe a sigh of relief that their showpiece event will indeed feature the champions of Europe against their counterparts from South America, though the inadequacies of Concacaf's finest served to illustrate how the early rounds rather devalue this tournament.
The glorious arena seemed well over half full, yet the intermittent squeals emitted by the local fans still echoed around swaths of empty seats. Given the attendance problems with which the competition has been blighted in the past, the organisers have good reason to be thankful for Liverpool's progress.
That was never anything but smooth. Crouch's smart volley around the flustered centre-half Ronald González and a static, if unsighted, José Porras had eased them ahead after only 134 seconds. The early goal was an antidote to the jetlag, with John Arne Riise then supplying the cross which was magnificently battered in off the near post by the unmarked Steven Gerrard just after the half-hour.
In between, Liverpool survived the shock of conceding a chance - Walter Centeno slipping Alvaro Saborio between Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher, only for the striker to drag his attempt wide - though their dominance was not threatened even as they struggled to work up a sweat. When Victor Cordero, a gibbering wreck of a centre-half, obligingly allowed Crouch to meander beyond his sprawling challenge and convert easily past Porras, the mismatch was complete.
The flurry of late chances conceded merely reflected the reality that the English side had long since reorganised and relaxed, though José Reina was still able to muster a fine save from Centeno at the death to establish the new club record, the run of clean sheets stretching back to October. Saprissa were undeniably woeful, but the sight of Gerold Drummond miskicking so comically in front of goal suggests that Liverpool's reputation for sucking composure from opponents precedes them these days.
"History means a lot at a big club like Liverpool, so it's great for the whole team to have achieved something so significant," said Benítez. "They deserve to be in the history books." Beat Sao Paulo and claim this trophy for the first time and the record-breaking will continue.
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