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When a 0-0 game really was nil

Tottenham, Liverpool deal with heat, turf in scoreless tie

By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

6:21 PM EDT, July 28, 2012

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Maybe it was being unaccustomed to playing a preseason game in the sweltering summer heat. Or the fact that both teams were adjusting their tactics with new coaches. Or, perhaps, it was the reality that more than few soccer games end — in the sport's parlance — nil-nil.

A majority of the crowd of 42,763 that came to M&T Bank Stadium Saturday wanted to see Liverpool beat Tottenham. Even the most neutral fans didn't come to sit in the 90-plus degree heat to watch a scoreless draw that saw few scoring chances, most of them coming in the first half.

While the conservative styles of both teams seemed to suck any remaining air out of the stadium by game's end, this exercise in humidity did not disappoint the coaches and players of these two English Premier League teams.

Liverpool manager Andres Villas-Boas joked that he thought about asking the referee to shorten the game — something that appeared to happen when the three-whistle signal was blown a few seconds shy of 90:00 appearing on the scoreboard — but said that he thought the teams put on a good show under "extremely difficult" conditions.

The first half ended with Tottenham getting the game's best scoring opportunity — striker Aaron Lennon hitting the right goal post off a cross from midfielder Gareth Bale in the 42nd minute. Tottenham finished with only one shot on goal — a header by midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 44th minute — because a shot off the post doesn't count as a shot on goal.

Not that Liverpool tested Tottenham's 40-year-old goalkeeper, Brad Friedel, who finished with three saves. There were just nine shots total, four corner kicks, three fouls and one offside call.

"Both teams put on a very good spectacle," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "It's not basketball, so it's not going to be high-scoring. When you get two teams that are tactically organized, get top players, then they are always tight games. Of course they want goals. Everyone does. They always do. But whether it's a preseason game or a league game or a cup game, if you can't win it, make sure you don't lose it."

Said Villas-Boas, "In the end, you build up physically, you build on the way that you want to play. I think for us, it's an improvement from what we did against the (Los Angeles) Galaxy, what was going to be an opponent in better shape, a top opponent with one week more preparation than us. We are 18 days into our season, and to be fair, at the moment the signs are very good."

Sigurdsson, a 22-year-old from Iceland who signed this summer with Tottenham after being wooed by Rodgers, his former coach at Swansea, said the combination of the heat and the grass turf installed earlier in the week, helped contribute to the offensive stalemate.

"It was too hot," Sigurdsson said. "It was a lot slower also because of the pitch. Whereever you play, fans want to see goals."

Mark Norris, a Londoner who now lives in San Clemente, Calif., said that the fact that both coaches played a majority of those on their respective rosters led to it resembling an early NFL preseason game.

"Whenever you play your second and third-teamers, the game is very disjointed," said Norris, who described himself as a "50-year fan" of Tottenham. "But it's hard to play football at 1 in the afternoon in the middle of the summer. While it fell woefully short as a spectator, I think the boys held their own. They knocked the ball around and tried to get into the air conditioning as soon as possible. "

The most famous fan in the crowd could appreciate what the teams went through. NBA player Steve Nash, who grew up in Canada a Tottenham fan, knows how ugly preseason games can look.

"They're in the middle of two-a-days, and it's 90 degrees," Nash said afterwards, standing outside the Tottenham dressing room and wearing the team's new Under Armour jersey. "This isn't what they're going to look like in a month or so. They're all pretty tired, but I thought that they handled it well, and it had some great moments and some great stuff considering."

Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened Saturday — something that might affect Tottenham's season — was a hard foul on Bale by Charlie Adam in the first half. Bale came out briefly before departing in the second half and left the stadium with his right ankle encased in a protective boot. Adam had similarly injured Bale in aleague game in May 2011.

"You don't want to end up in a (preseason) game with Liverpool with 10 men," Villas-Boas said. "The last time he was off for three months, and in the end it's the premiership that suffers without Bale's talent on the pitch. You can never doubt Charlie's integrity, but it's a very nasty challenge."

Aside from Adam's tackle from behind, the game was played without incident.

"It was a proper friendly," Sigurdsson said.

And hot.

"Piping hot," Rodgers said.

As Norris was walking out of the stadium, the longtime Tottenham fan said he enjoyed the trip to Baltimore. That he bought a new jersey didn't make it a total loss. The nil-nil result didn't seem to bother him too much.

"There are a lot of great games that end nil-nil," he said.

Saturday wasn't one of them.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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