Sunday, April 11, 2010
Liverpool V Benfica – Dr Joel Rookwood
The red half of Merseyside is finally beginning to warm to the Europa League. It may be the last competition Liverpool wanted to win when the campaign kicked off in August, but with all other possibilities severed, the consolation cup is looking an increasingly attractive proposition. Its Channel 5 broadcasting, Thursday matches, multiple officials, stupid kick off times and involvement of Everton have not done wonders for its reputation amongst the Premier League’s elite. Yet no team has won it four times, with three-time winners Liverpool now favourites to do just that in Hamburg on May 12th. Cue cheekily edited prophetic banner:
Following a dismal Champions League campaign, relegation to the Europa League saw forgettable ties against Hungarian minnows and French also-rans. But in Portuguese league leaders Benfica, the quarter-final presented Liverpool with a first real European test of 2010. Despite losing the away leg, the tie was evenly balanced at 2-1. The once legendary Lisbon outfit had annoyed Liverpool supporters with the manner of victory in the Stadium of Light however, and so when they travelled to the Ground of Noise, the away team and their supporters were dealt a lesson or two. Where eagles dare, Scousers drown. It was not simply off the pitch that Anfield impressed however. Benitez’s side were simply sublime on it. Benfica were the side Liverpool would have wanted to avoid in the draw, but having been pitted against a very good Portuguese side, Liverpool controlled the match throughout. A brave header from every blind girl’s pin-up hunk Dirk Kuyt gave Liverpool a deserved lead.
Kopites rubbed their eyes six minutes later as what can only be described as Lucas Leiva effortlessly rounded Julio Cesar to double Liverpool’s advantage. The second half however was all about one man: Fernando Torres. He finished off a move that began in the arms of Pepe Reina and featured the majestic Mascherano, the brilliant Benayoun and the Klipspringer Kuyt. Five passes from goal to goal. A subsequent Cardozo freekick threatened to alter the complexion of the tie but Torres’s second goal twelve minutes later rendered the Paraguayan’s effort consolatory, ensuring Liverpool’s passage to the semi-final in the process. Liverpool will now travel to the Vicente Calderon where Torres will face his boyhood heroes in the Spanish capital. It was not the Madrid fixture we dreamt of, but overcoming Athletico would secure a third European final in Benitez’s sixth season as Liverpool manager. Going one step further and beating probable opponents Hamburg in their own ground would make Liverpool the most successful UEFA Cup (sic) team in history. Domestic failures cannot be dismissed with this prospect, but it does at least demand a reframed perspective. Unfazed, Benitez walks on.