Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What A Fantastic Night

Liverpool Through To The Finals On Penalties

UEFA Champions League

Semi Final 2nd Leg

LIVERPOOL 1 - 0 Chelsea
Aggregate 1-1
(Liverpool win 4-1 on penalties)

LIV - Agger (22min);

LIV - Zenden, Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt
CHE - Robben(x), Lampard, Geremi(x)

Agger (22min):

Penalty Shootout:

What a night at Anfield.

Just as everyone has been hyping up the prospect of yet another great Anfield night, it came to past last night and it has once again given Chelsea the blues and Jose Mourinho the nightmare.

And for the past 2 seasons, Liverpool have always been Chelsea's nemesis in Cup competitions like last season's FA Cup Semi finals and also the Champions League semi final 2 years ago, at the same stage.

The Blues and the Reds are once again pipped again each other in a major cup semi finals and it's not much of a surprise now as to who's the real 'Special One' now. Jose Mourinho can go on with his verbal diarrhea every week and even claim that the better team lost last night but it is who won on the night that counts.

Rafa Benitez not once, twice but thrice beaten his fellow tactician from the Iberian peninsular to bring Liverpool to yet another high point in their illustrious history and already exhorted high by the Liverpool fans, the Spaniard has once again brought joy and delight to the Anfield faithfuls and also the new owners.

Whatever happens in the finals remain to be seen but what we saw last night was perhaps, how much Liverpool have improved and their constant and continuous challenge for the European crown. Domestic title might have slipped past by and the past decade has been a pale shadow of what Liverpool are supposed to be.

But this man has brought us up back to the upper echelon of European football.

Managers could only prepare and instruct but what's important is what those eleven players did on the pitch. They were simply awesome last night and it was a fantastic team effort that got the team through.

In a way, it was yet another comeback for the Reds as they go one-nil down in the first leg, only to hit back, hold on and winning it the tough way. It's has become a habit for Liverpool in recent years and it certainly hasn't help the fans from getting anxiety attacks but the joy and jubilation felt after everything that has happened made it even better.

This is what football is about and up to certain extent, in life. The opponents might be better in overall quality but with the right mentality, right attitude and the heart and desire, everything is possible. How many times have we seen this group of players creating miracles and making us belief even though on paper, they're not as good as their opponents?

The way they defended, ran, closing down of players, harrying and chasing after lost cause and with the backing of the Anfield crowd, a wall of noise that is impossible to simmer, everything was made possible.

Rafa and his men must have gone into the game, quietly confident despite the 1 goal deficit and with the knowledge that if Chelsea scores one more, it would be all but over for the Reds. He came out saying how we could even score 3 goals if circumstances allows and that was a huge boost to the players.

If the manager believe in them, they know they could do it.

Their confidence and poise were reflected much on the way they scored the goal through Daniel Agger, the man who got all the stick over last week's performance at Stamford Bridge. At only 22, the Danish defender made a rather seamless transfer of mantle from Sami Hyypia and he was in the perfect mold of the Finnish centre back.

His left foot is a weapon, we all know it. But Chelsea weren't aware of how potent he really is and caught off guard. In a game as big as this, it's usually one team's mistake that proves the difference.

Gerrard's freekick was straight out of Melwood. A deep cross was expected with everyone barging into the penalty area only for him to roll the pass over to Agger, who hit the ball sweetly past 2 defenders and left Cech dumbfounded.

It was a goal that would've made Maradona proud of.

Chelsea were stunned. It was rather clear that they have set out to hold on to their one goal lead and perhaps hit Liverpool on the break but it all backfired within 20minutes. They were made to pay for their negativity. They were made to pay for all their missed chances last week.

Liverpool were always in control despite Chelsea beginning to take hold of the game and carving out some chances. Didier Drogba, always the danger man, found spaces within the Liverpool penalty box but his shot was hit straight at Reina.

The hero from the first leg, has been colossus ever since that slump earlier this season. Minutes later, Lampard's free kick was heading towards his goal and the confident goalkeeper was able to use his trusted fist to punch it clear.

With Liverpool getting that all important first goal, they decide to grab hold of the game rather than going all out to search for the second goal. Tackles were flying in fast from the first whistle and you could tell some players were like men on mission.

As they game wore on, the anxiety within the stands started to build and a fear of a late Chelsea backlash could be felt, sitting right here in front of the TV. Shivering, like many other Reds fan in the world, held out breath as Chelsea constantly launch long balls into the penalty areas and bombarded Carragher and Agger.

But the two central defenders were at their finest. Letting nothing past them and even if it did, they made damn sure nothing is going in Reina's way. Carragher flung and threw himself into every shots and like a big brother avenging for his little brother who was bullied, he eyed Drogba and made him his target all night.

Chances did fall into the hands of both teams with Liverpool, perhaps, claiming to have the better ones but it was a masterpiece of a tactical battle between two excellent managers with European pedigree.

Pennant had a chance to volley him like he did in February but Essien was all that stood in his way. In fact, he was Chelsea's most effective player the whole night with some vital blocks and good positioning.

Drogba too could've scored another two, one being just 3 yards out but was a foot slower than Carragher, who miraculously cleared the ball over the bar from that sort of range. Shaun Wright-Phillips, a late substitute, put a ball across the goal only for Carragher to fend off Drogba.

And sympathy must've been poured out to Dutchman, Dirk Kuyt, who as usual ran his socks off all night and it was as if he ran all 20 kilometres in a single night, closing down and harrying defenders. He had a header that went off the woodwork, a goal disallowed and another one on one chances that was presented to him but was ruled offside.

And how he had the last laugh.

With Pepe Reina, reliving his FA Cup final glory, with two penalty saves, it was up to Kuyt to put Chelsea to bed and finish off the tie which looked never-ending. Up steps the man who deserved a goal the most and he nicely placed it in the bottom right corner of Cech's goal.

It effectively killed off Chelsea's Champions League dream once again and their dream of a quadruple went up in smokes at where else but Anfield. A huge sigh of relief around Anfield and it was time to celebrate. Fans letting their hair down, another heart tingling rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' resounded in the cauldron of noise, it was like we're back in 2005.

With a better team.

Mourinho can go on about his blinkered and deluded views on the game but Rafa has once again shown how things could be done even with a limited resource. His European pedigree was never in doubt and if he could get hold of the English game faster, he'll most likely be upheld as another Shankly or Paisely. Already a legend in the making.

And the players are now just a step away from European glory, forever leaving their footnote in football history, in Liverpool's annals.

The fans? Give yourself a pat on the back. Your reward is what we've gotten last night. Now bring on Athens!

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1 comment:

J said...

i don't understand why the other english teams are quick to point the finger and say "it's only the champions league, what about hte premiership?"
sure, it's ONLY the champions league. but you play in a KNOCKOUT competition against the best teams in europe. not just england.

i bet if man u or chelsea had gotten thru, there would be none of this talk.

a little infection from the green eyed monster eh?

p.s. i totally agree, chelsea came out for a draw. when agger shot taht to hell, htey couldn't do anythig about it coz they didn't have a plan. /

here's to anohter memorable MILAN LIVERPOOL FINAL!