After The Match 

            


Liverpool-Benfica 0-2 (0-1)          08.03.06                         CL
Goals: Simao (36), Miccoli (89)
Team: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Traore, Warnock, Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso, Kewell, Morientes, Crouch
Subs: Cisse (Kewell 63), Fowler (Morientes 70),
Hamann (Warnock 70)
Not used: Dudek, Hyypia, Anderson, Barragan
Yellow: Crouch (31), Alonso (41), Gerrard (71)
Robert (1), Gomes (62), Fernandes (90)
Red: None
Referee: Massimo De Santis (Italy)
Attendance: 42,745
 
TEAM STATS
Shots on target: 7-3
Shots off target: 9-4
Possession: 59.3-40.7
Fouls conceded: 15-15
Corners: 13-2
Offsides: 2-4
Yellow: 3-3
Red:



 

0-0
HEADLINES "I had great confidence
in my side..."
     Rafael Benitez

0903: Misfiring front men outclassed by fans
0903: Finding hope, keeping faith
0903: Alonso thanks the fans
0903: Liverpool exit will heighten Benitez speculation
0803: Benitez bemoans striking difference
0803: Koeman: We rode our luck
0803: Gerrard: Confidence is low
0803: Champions crash out


MARCH 9
Misfiring front men outclassed by fans

Analysis by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo

The sound wasn't quite as loud as the explosion which rocked the Anfield Road End in the last minute.

But the thuds made by journalists' jaws hitting the ground a couple of hours earlier were still sizeable.

The arrival of the Liverpool team-sheet caused all the consternation.

No Hyypia, as feared, no Riise either, but, most perplexingly, the goal-shy firm of Crouch and Morientes up front.

With the Reds in need of a miracle, the presence of God had been anticipated in a Liverpool forward line, or maybe even Luis Garcia - allowing Steven Gerrard to rampage down the right and the eternally under-rated and criminally under-estimated Didi Hamann to sit and protect a makeshift back four.

Instead, a man who hasn't scored a goal of any description since December 10, and another who has managed one in 12 games this year were handed the task of scoring two.

They weren't up to it. Again.

Peter Crouch did get himself into a goalscoring position, but wasn't cute enough to beat Moretto, while Fernando Morientes managed one shot (which is being kind to his bobbling, scuffed 20 yard effort) all night.

One effort at goal in an entire match - and that's probably a typical return.

Rafael Benitez must surely have his reasons for keeping faith with Morientes, who has never looked anything more than an ordinary striker. But they are becoming less obvious with every performance the former Real Madrid striker produces in a red shirt.

Morientes used to be a top class goalscorer. But then so did Eusebio, and he got no further than the Anfield directors' box last night.

Djibril Cisse has numerous faults, but he does offer pace and a goal threat.

But Benitez refuses even to contemplate using the Frenchman in anything other than a wide right role, where his ability to constantly repeat the only trick he knows is highly effective at winning corners, but nothing else.

His exclusion is clearly part of a bigger picture, which will surely see him exit Anfield this summer and another pacy striker with more awareness and intelligent movement arrive. Michael Owen anyone?

Because the current crop of forwards at the club simply aren't good enough.

This isn't a recent conclusion.

Liverpool's last Champions League goal was scored before Bonfire Night - more than six hours ago.

The Premiership goal drought has already been well documented.

Liverpool are two-thirds of the way towards an outstanding team, but that last fraction could be the most difficult to fill.

But it wasn't all woe.

The classiest performance of the night came from the Kop.

Correctly condemned for the distasteful Alan Smith chants recently, the level-headed, magnanimous fans led the way last night.

Fabrizio Miccoli's acrobatic volley might have come like a dagger to the heart of Liverpool's Champions League ambitions, but it was met with instant and appreciative applause.

Then the loudest rendition yet of You'll Never Walk Alone was bellowed into the cold night air, closely followed by Benitez's name.

Miracles, it seems, take the Reds boss about 10 months to achieve.

The impossible dream of the Premiership may take just a little longer.

Certainly not until a top quality strikeforce is assembled.


MARCH 9
Finding hope, keeping faith

Sports View with Echo Sports Editor John Thompson

Heading into Anfield last night it was clear many fans felt like they were attending a critical hospital appointment with a loved one.

You knew all wasn't well. You knew the symptoms were deeply worrying. But you hoped the test results would end with the consultant giving up much better news than feared. And that it would yet end in smiles with a massive sense of relief.

The trepidation was tangible, fuelled by natural and statistical concerns Liverpool just don't have the quality up front to get the goals they need.

But somehow the Kop managed to overcome their anxiety with the rest of the faithful.

Struggling against their concerns, they still sang their hearts out and did all they could to drive Liverpool on and intimidate Benfica out of their stride. It didn't work this time.

But with hope gone and hearts aching, they ended the night with an astonishing display of support and sportsman-ship which no other club in this competition could ever match.

They lifted the players, pelting out the club's anthem. They hailed the manager, even though, this time, his tactics and team selection had not triumphed.

And, most impressively of all, they stayed to applaud Benfica off the pitch, then exchanged good luck gestures and scarves with the visitors.

Heartbroken they may have been, but they were utterly dignified in defeat last night and a credit to the club and themselves.

So where to now for Liverpool?

The club and the fans should not and will not waste time feeling sorry for themselves. Because there is nothing to be sorry about - and too much work now to do at Anfield.

Istanbul was the most wonderful, incredible ride for the Reds. But the reign is ending and a new era must now begin.

Of course today most fans will talk about a new dawn on the pitch. There is a clear need for significant refreshing of the team. And after what he saw and heard last night, it is surely a challenge Benitez will be desperate to lead.

But there remain massive challenges behind the scenes too.

The club must find the cash to fund the future, and it surely will not be long before Liverpool's board declare their strategy on new ownership or investment and the plans for a new stadium.

Many politicians and civil servants seem to believe Liverpool have failed and the stadium plan is dead in the water. Certainly some have done their best to place obstacles in the way of Liverpool. Impatient others insist Liverpool need to say something on their plans right now - reminding them a deadline for a 9m Objective One grant is looming at the end of this month.

Very kind of them to point it out. But Liverpool need no such reminding and simply won't be bullied into issuing statements until they are good and ready.

Anyone who believes all hope is lost on these matters is in real danger of underestimating David Moores, Rick Parry and the hierarchy of a unique football club which any manager in the world would surely dream of running?

In their despair last night, the Liverpool fans bellowed their belief and backing to the players and the manager. They showed again that however bleak things look on that pitch they will never let their spirits be crushed.

Today they should also keep their faith in those who take care of matters
off it.


MARCH 9
Alonso thanks the fans

Anfield-online

"The crowd was superb and you can't ask for more than this," said Alonso following defeat to Benfica.

"At 2-0 down they knew we were out of the Champions League, but they were still singing and making us feel their support. "It's been a disappointing night for Rafa but I know he's really focused and committed to the club.

"He realises how passionate this crowd is and how much they adore him. It would be impossible for him to find another crowd like this.

"Our crowd is so special because they react as well when we're feeling low as when we've had success.

"I'm not worried about the situation with Rafa and the rumours. I know how he feels about the club."

Liverpool paid their price for failing to convert several early chances, and now Alonso is hoping the FA Cup will ensure the club wins some silverware this season.

He added: "The first 20 minutes we had a lot of good chances to score. When they scored they put themselves in a really good situation.

"By the end it was impossible for us and we're really disappointed. We wanted to repeat our triumph of last season."We feel we have a better team than last season and could have won it again, but in the knockout anything can happen.

"It's like Charlton in that we created a lot of opportunities but couldn't score the goal.

"We have to be worried about this. To win games, obviously, you must score goals. This is something we'll have to analyse and work on.

"Scoring is not just the exclusive job of the strikers. The midfielders have responsibility, too.

"We have to look forward. We want to finish second and win the FA Cup."


MARCH 9
Liverpool exit will
heighten Benitez speculation


By Jeremy Butler - Reuters

Liverpool's shock defeat by Benfica has done more than just knock them out of the Champions League.

The 2-0 loss at Anfield on Wednesday that put the holders out 3-0 on aggregate will also raise fears that manager Rafael Benitez could be tempted to leave the club.

Benitez has grown frustrated that he cannot match the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona in the transfer market.

Benfica's crucial opening goal, furthermore, came from Simao Sabrosa, a player Benitez tried to sign but could not afford.

Real Madrid and Inter Milan are both widely reported to be keen on capturing Benitez, who confirmed his managerial credentials by winning the Champions League last season with a Liverpool side strong on desire if not world class talent.

Benitez is forcing the issue by insisting Liverpool need to spend more money to keep pace with Europe's leading clubs.

"We need to be stronger and think about the future. It will be important to buy new players," the Spaniard told reporters after Wednesday's defeat.

"We know we have to look for players. We have started now and the scouts are looking."

Benitez's initial targets are a strong commanding defender and a pacy right winger.

Liverpool's lack of cover in defence was exposed by Sami Hyypia's absence on Wednesday. Stand-in Djimi Traore was jittery and Jamie Carragher did not look as assured without the huge Finn alongside him.

Dane Daniel Agger was signed from Brondby in the January transfer window but is viewed as a player for the future.

Benitez, who could not afford to bring Michael Owen back to Anfield last August, must also feel a free-scoring striker is now his top priority after watching his forwards continuously waste excellent chances in recent games.

They failed to find the net in their last four Champions League matches.

Between them Liverpool's forwards, including Fernando Morientes and Djibril Cisse, have scored 23 times in 49 games this season, while midfielder Steven Gerrard has managed 17 on his own.

Benitez refuses to criticise his front players despite their obvious failings, saying: "It is not easy for the strikers. We are creating chances. The strikers need to take them. Maybe we need to create more chances."

Liverpool now only have the FA Cup to play for with Chelsea 17 points ahead of them at the top of the Premier League. Liverpool are third, two points behind Manchester United.

However, anything less than Champions League qualification for next season could leave Liverpool facing a fight to stop Benitez improving his impressive reputation elsewhere.


MARCH 8
Benitez bemoans striking difference

By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admitted that his side had paid the price for failing to take their chances as they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League to Benfica.

The Portuguese champions struck twice on the break to secure a 2-0 win at Anfield and a 3-0 aggregate victory to book their place in the quarter finals.

Benitez, who led Liverpool to their fifth success in the competition 10 months ago, felt there was not much to choose between the teams, except perhaps the quality of their finishing.

"If you analyse the game you can see the chances we created in the first 20 minutes," Benitez told Sky Sports.

"Then we conceded the goal, and we leave more space. In the second half we played with three defenders to try to go forward, and they played good counter-attack. For me, the key was the first 20 minutes.

"I had confidence because we were creating chances; then we made a mistake, and everything changed.

"We had to score a goal before the other team - and if we didn't it would be more difficult."

Liverpool missed a number of good opportunities before Simao Sabrosa's brilliant opener for Benfica, with Peter Crouch squandering the best of them.

Nevertheless, Benitez insisted his whole team has to take responsibility for their exit, not just the strikers.

"What happened was clear. We started well, made chances and then made a bad mistake and conceded a goal. From then on the game changed," he said.

"But I will not blame my strikers. Mistakes were made at the back, and that is why we lost.

"Once we had conceded that first-half goal, we tried to come forward but left gaps and failed to control midfield.

"For the first 20 minutes we were better than them - but when the goals didn't come Benfica improved and played very well.

"I had great confidence in my side and I know how much they wanted to retain the trophy. You could look at their faces beforehand and know they also believed they could win this time - but their faces now show their hurt.

"I told them that they had the best fans in the world behind them and they owed them a top-class performance.

"I cannot criticise their effort - and I will not criticise individual players, because mistakes were made by the team."


MARCH 8
Koeman: We rode our luck

By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports

Benfica coach Ronald Koeman felt his side rode their luck as they won 2-0 against Liverpool at Anfield to move into the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

The Portuguese champions scored through Simao Sabrosa and Fabrizio Miccoli to oust the holders, after Liverpool had missed a string of good goalscoring opportunities.

That has been the story of Liverpool's year so far and Koeman believes the Premiership club's troubles are down to a mental problem.

Koeman said: "In the first 30 minutes they played well and had two or three big chances to score - but after that they were less confident.

"We scored the goal from Simao and we played better. In the second half they tried again - but they did not have the opportunities they had in the first half.

"We needed to be lucky. If you are not lucky you cannot beat a team like Liverpool.

"Not only today, but they have a problem to score - maybe it is a mental problem."

Benfica have already knocked out Manchester United in the group stages and Koeman believes his side's latest success will alert their rivals in the quarter finals to their qualities.

"We can still surprise big teams - but maybe after today the rest of the teams will be more attentive of Benfica," said the former Holland international.


MARCH 8
Gerrard: Confidence is low

By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports

Captain Steven Gerrard revealed that Liverpool's lack of confidence in front of goal was the chief cause of their early exit from the UEFA Champions League.

The defending champions were beaten 2-0 by Benfica at Anfield, to complete a 3-0 aggregate victory for the Lisbon club.

Gerrard praised the efforts of The Reds' supporters who got behind the team as they looked to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg a fortnight ago.

But as chances came and went in the early stages, Liverpool began to look more and more edgy in front of goal, and they were left with a mountain to climb when Simao Sabrosa put the visitors ahead in the 36th minute.

"The fans were superb tonight and got behind us - but when you are 1-0 down it is important to get a goal," Gerrard told Sky Sports.

"We created two or three chances in the first 20 minutes - and when they don't go in and they score you start to worry.

"Good luck to them, but it is very frustrating. We never took our chances - we could not put them away.

"It is a lack of confidence, and I think we need to work on it - extra shooting sessions in training, I think.

"We need to pick ourselves up. The FA cup becomes even more important now; we need a trophy."


MARCH 8
Champions crash out

BBC Sport Online

Liverpool's dream of retaining their European crown was ended with a frustrating defeat at home to Benfica.

The Merseysiders had early chances to overturn their 1-0 first-leg deficit, with Peter Crouch, Jamie Carragher and Luis Garcia the most guilty.

They were made to pay when Carragher dithered and ex-Reds target Sabrosa Simao produced a stunning strike.

Fabrizio Miccoli completed Liverpool's misery when he grabbed a second in the dying minutes with an overhead kick.

It was always likely to be a tough task after their failure to score in Portugal.

And it was made even harder when John Arne Riise and Sami Hyypia were ruled out through injury.

But Liverpool started brightly with Rafael Benitez's decision to opt for the combination of Fernando Morientes and Peter Crouch up front paying dividends.

The pair's aerial dominance helped the Reds to regularly carve a fragile Benfica backline apart.

After 10 minutes Crouch's shot took a deflection off Cleber Beraldo Anderson on to the outside of the post with Benfica keeper Marcelo Moretto well beaten.

From the corner Garcia's volley was cleared off the line and Carragher produced a defender's finish in firing the rebound into the side netting from just a few yards out.

With goals needed Liverpool seemed determined to cast aside their usual cautious approach, with Steve Finnan bursting into box but with the goal at his mercy Anderson charged his shot down.

Garcia wasted another chance when he took a long, diagonal ball on his chest before exchanging passes with Morientes.

But with just the keeper to beat he blazed his shot wildly over the bar.

Minutes later Steven Gerrard drove into the box and slipped a perfect pass for Crouch but, after taking a good first touch, he produced a poor finish straight at the keeper.

There was a huge let-off on the half-hour when Geovanni controlled a difficult ball on his chest before firing in a first-time effort that beat Jose Reina but came back into play off the bar only for Simao to shoot at Reina.

Crouch had a decent shout for a penalty after being body checked, but the referee instead opted to book him for diving.

Liverpool had survived some nervous moments at the back, with both Finnan and Djimi Traore almost being caught out.

And it proved to be third time unlucky when Carragher failed to clear and it eventually fell to Simao who took one touch, faked to shoot before unleashing an unstoppable drive into the top corner.

Liverpool were almost given a helping hand when Beto almost sliced the ball into the top corner from a bizarre attempt at a clearance.

Carragher came close to making some amends for his earlier error with a header that hit the outside of the post.

But Liverpool were unable to get a goal back before the break so they found themselves in the same situation as last season's final: needing three second-half goals.

Xabi Alonso almost got one back with a wonderfully struck shot only for Moretto to produce a fine save.

The chances continued to come with Carragher heading over, but even the introduction of Robbie Fowler failed to inspire them to another famous European victory.

With Liverpool piling forward Benfica broke and Miccoli, who was left completely unmarked in the box, scissor-kicked Liverpool out of the Champions League at the second attempt.


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Thor Zakariassen