Torres celebrates with Ngog and Kuyt after
scoring against Benfica. (Photo: Reuters)
Benitez has made mistakes
but Liverpool FC progress
Comment by Ian Doyle - Liverpool Daily Post
By his own admission, Rafael Benitez has
made mistakes this season. And he was guilty of another last
After all, the Spaniard's claim he has taken his Liverpool
side as far as he can was proven to be not quite accurate as
they progressed to the semi-finals of the Europa League on a
night of high tension at Anfield.
With co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks watching on from
the directors' box, Benitez's men overturned a first-leg
deficit in thrilling fashion with a resounding triumph over
Benfica to keep alive hopes of a silver lining to a tortuous
While accepting his share of the blame for this season's
failings, Benitez had chosen before the game to launch his
latest broadside at the American duo over the lack of fresh
investment the Anfield manager believes will see the club
stagnate if not addressed this summer.
On this evidence, Hicks and Gillett might well wonder
whether an influx of new players is required given the
scintillating manner in which Liverpool brought Benfica's
27-game unbeaten run to a shuddering halt.
But the fact remains Benitez is right. Certainly, the
American duo were left in no doubt the manager's fear is
echoed by many Liverpool followers given the half-time
chants against the pair and a demonstration outside the Main
Stand after the game.
Benfica had ended Liverpool's reign as European champions
with a 2-0 win here four years ago, but the Anfield outfit
marked their 100th game in this competition with perhaps
their best performance of the campaign to put Europe's
in-form team through the shredder in devastating fashion.
First-half goals from Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva wiped out
defeat in Lisbon a week earlier with Fernando Torres
extending the advantage in the second half before securing
Liverpool's passage after Oscar Cardozo's deflected
free-kick frayed home nerves.
Torres is now the first Liverpool player to score two goals
in four consecutive home games, enough to earn a standing
ovation on being substituted four minutes from time last
night – a somewhat different response to that on his
withdrawal at Birmingham City on Sunday.
The striker now faces a reunion with former club Atletico
Madrid later this month for a place in the final in Hamburg
on May 12.
For once, though, Torres had to cede man-of-the-match
honours to his fellow goalscorers. Lucas will probably never
be a favourite with the home crowd but this was arguably his
finest performance in a Liverpool shirt, the Brazilian
taking his goal with aplomb and again prospering a more
Kuyt, meanwhile, had spoken beforehand of Liverpool's hunger
for silverware this season, and he epitomised their desire
with a typically industrious display allied to a neat touch
that saw him poach the first goal and lay on another for
But there were heroes throughout Benitez's side; Yossi
Benayoun buzzing with intent, Javier Mascherano at his
destructive best and Daniel Agger solving Liverpool's
left-back conundrum with a composed performance in the
The Anfield outfit felt hard done by after last week's 2-1
defeat at Lisbon, and the controversy that has dogged this
tie continued in the 27th minute when Liverpool went ahead
on the night.
It seemed a pretty straightforward affair when Steven
Gerrard swung a corner in from the left and Kuyt, in a
strike similar to that against Everton earlier in the
season, stepped away from goalkeeper Julio Cesar and headed
home from inside the six-yard box.
The referee and extra official stood barely yards away
awarded the goal, but the assistant running the line on the
far side somehow decided the strike should be chalked off
Not surprisingly, Benitez was briefly apoplectic at the
prospect of a flagrant disregard of the basic rules of
football before sense prevailed and the goal stood.
UEFA have experimented with two extra officials in the
Europa League this season, but this was most definitely a
case of too many cooks.
There was no debate, however, about Liverpool's second goal
seven minutes later, a brilliantly-worked effort that cut
straight through the heart of the Benfica defence.
After Mascherano almost lost possession when dallying too
long, the ball was fed by the Argentine through Benayoun to
Gerrard, whose sliderule pass released the onrushing Lucas
to cleverly take the ball around Julio Cesar and tap into
the empty net.
Despite the quickfire double, Benfica remained undeterred
following a bright opening quarter and Liverpool had a
fortunate escape two minutes before the break when, after a
Benfica free-kick caused confusion in the penalty area,
Lucas cleared Sidnei's low shot against Benayoun and the
ball flew wide with Cardozo loitering at the far post.
The home side almost netted in similar fashion shortly after
the interval when Luisao's clearance from a Gerrard cross
struck a team-mate and solicited a fine save from Julio
But the third came on 58 minutes with a classic breakaway
goal. After a Benfica corner came to nothing, Johnson
released Benayoun to run at pace at the retreating defence.
The Israeli's ball wide to Kuyt seemed a touch overhit, but
the Dutchman stretched superbly to deliver an inch-perfect
low cross for Torres to sidefoot beyond Julio Cesar.
There was another contentious moment on 70 minutes when Kuyt
was harshly adjudged to have brought down Ramires, and
Cardozo struck a powerful free-kick from 20 yards that
deflected off Gerrard and went in to Reina's left.
Benfica now only needed to score once to progress, and
moments later Cardozo was almost the beneficiary of another
fortunate deflection from a free-kick, the ball this time
diverted narrowly wide.
But home nerves were eased eight minutes from time. After a
strong challenge by Lucas won possession, Mascherano played
the ball over the top for Torres to break the offside trap
and chip delightfully over Moreira, who only seconds earlier
had replaced the injured Julio Cesar in goal.
In 2001, Liverpool beat Portuguese opposition in
quarter-final en route to winning the UEFA Cup. Judging by
this performance, they will take some stopping this year –
in this competition at least.
By Al Campbell Friday - LFC Online
Dirk Kuyt praised record breaker Fernando
Torres after his latest double strike.
Torres became the first Liverpool player in the club's
history to score a brace in four successive home games and
the latest, against Benfica last night saw the Reds through
to the semi-finals of the Europa League. After the game Kuyt
was quick to praise his fellow goalscorer.
"It was a great home performance and a massive result for us
against a very good side," said the Dutch international, who
got the Reds underway last night with his 27th minute
"Almost every goal was of the highest quality. Fernando's
first goal was absolutely superb and for me one of the best
goals of the season. We had a corner against us which ended
with a great counter attack.
"It was a good pass from Yossi and I was able to cross the
ball for Fernando to score as he does always. I was happy to
play a part in the goal and it gave me almost the same
feeling as if I'd scored the goal myself.
"When we play well as a team and work hard for each other
you can see we are a very good team and a tough side to
"When they scored we knew they would have to push hard so
there would be a lot of space for us to try and take
advantage of, so we tried to stay focus, but when you've got
Fernando in your side you don't worry because you know he
will always do something special.
"He is just a a very special player and this was a great
night for us."
success on all fronts
Rafael Benitez will not lose sight of his
top-four aim as he targets Europa League glory following
Liverpool's aggreagate win over Benfica.
Benitez's side produced a stunning attacking performance to
overturn a first-leg deficit and sweep into the semi-finals
of the European competition on Thursday night.
Liverpool had trailed 2-1 after the first leg in Lisbon but
Fernando Torres hit two goals in an emphatic 4-1 success on
a pulsating night at Anfield.
It was a performance in marked contrast to the team's
struggles in the Premier League, where fourth place is
starting to look out of reach.
Benitez, whose side return to league action against fellow
semi-finalists Fulham on Sunday, said: "Any win is
important, especially at this stage of a competition.
"Hopefully we can play well, score goals, get closer to the
top four and get to the final.
"We will try to win every game. We will try to do it against
Fulham and try to get close to the top four.
"If we can get to the final and win the final we will be
very pleased. We have two targets now and we will try to do
Benitez hailed the performances of Torres and Lucas. Torres'
double earned him a place in club history as the first
player to score twice in four successive games at Anfield.
The often-maligned Lucas produced one of his best displays
for the Reds, capped by a fine second goal.
Benitez said: "We have some very good players and the value
of the squad is much greater than in the past.
"Torres has a big value because he is a good player, still
young and I think he can improve.
"Lucas was very hard-working. I am really pleased with him
in terms of effort in every game and today he and (Javier)
Mascherano were key players."
By Chris Burton - Sky Sports
Liverpool were able to make light of their
first leg deficit as they saw off Benfica 4-1 to reach the
semi-finals of the Europa League.
Dirk Kuyt, Lucas Leiva and Fernando Torres did the damage
for Rafa Benitez's side, who will now face Atletico Madrid
in the last four, while Oscar Cardozo replied for the
Benfica started brightly, pushing the Reds back early on,
but they were undone by a controversial goal on 28 minutes
which turned the tide in favour of the hosts.
Kuyt nodded home a Steven Gerrard corner from right in front
of the keeper, but saw the assistant referee raise his flag.
Much discussion followed, as both sides argued their case,
and in the end Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers awarded his
countryman a goal.
Buoyed after taking control of the tie, Liverpool then made
it two six minutes later when Lucas raced onto a
through-ball from Gerrard and calmly rounded the keeper
before slotting into an empty net.
The Reds then notched a third on 58 minutes when Torres
rounded off a flowing counter attack to fire home from close
Cardozo briefly gave Benfica hope when he drilled a low
free-kick past Pepe Reina on 70 minutes, but it was not
enough for the Portuguese giants.
Fittingly, Torres had the last word on the night as he
calmly chipped in a fourth for the hosts eight minutes from
time, securing a 5-3 aggregate success and booking a date
with his former employers.
Torres, who was controversially substituted at Birmingham at
the weekend to rest a knee injury, showed worrying signs of
discomfort in the early stages.
His mobility was not helped by a crude early challenge from
Rechel Sidnei and that set the tone for a night of rough
treatment for the Spaniard, who had clearly been identified
as the dangerman.
Benfica actually started the stronger and had an early
opportunity after Jamie Carragher pushed the charging Pablo
Aimar over on the edge of the box.
Angel Di Maria's free-kick went straight into the wall and
was put behind for a corner.
Liverpool took time to find their stride and it was not
until the 15th minute that they worried Benfica as Gerrard's
whipped free-kick was headed behind by Ruben Amorim.
Gerrard then fired in a cross for Torres but the striker,
who headed straight at Julio Cesar anyway, was offside.
Torres had another chance from a Glen Johnson cross but his
glancing header went wide.
The Reds were taking charge and although Benfica continued
to look dangerous on the break, they carried the greater
They levelled the tie in the 27th minute after Yossi
Benayoun won a corner on the left.
Gerrard delivered a perfect cross for Kuyt from the
resulting set-piece and the Dutchman firmly headed home from
A moment of confusion followed as the goal initially
appeared to have been disallowed as the assistant referee on
the far side flagged for offside.
Liverpool protested and the referee and additional assistant
behind the goal agreed the goal should stand.
With an away goal in the bank, that gave the Reds the edge
overall but they had the momentum and wanted more.
They followed up with a second goal six minutes later as
Gerrard slipped the often-maligned Lucas in on goal with a
The Brazilian showed great composure to swerve around Cesar
and tap in his first goal in 11 months.
The job was far from done, however, and Liverpool survived a
couple of scares before the break as Cardozo fired a
free-kick at Reina and Sidnei had a shot deflected for a
But Benfica captain Luisao almost handed Liverpool another
goal early in the second half.
Kuyt won possession on the right and fed Gerrard, who
delivered a low ball across the box.
Luisao slid in to make the interception but lost control and
needed Cesar to palm it away.
Liverpool's deserved third arrived just before the hour from
a swift counter-attack.
Lucas was struck between the legs as the Reds defended a
free-kick inside their own half and left their colleague in
pain as they charged downfield.
Benayoun raced into the Benfica half and spread the ball
wide for Kuyt, whose first-time cross was swept in by the
The atmosphere at this point was raucous, but anxiety soon
set in as Benfica pulled one back on 70 minutes after Kuyt
fouled Ramires on the edge of the area.
Cardozo, who scored two penalties in the first leg, blasted
in a low shot through a gap in the wall.
Benayoun conceded another free-kick in a similar position
for tripping the same player four minutes later but this
time Cardozo's curling effort flew narrowly wide.
The Reds battled on and showed the resolve to kill off the
tie eight minutes from time.
Lucas won the ball in midfield with a powerful challenge and
Javier Mascherano sent Torres clear with a brilliant pass.
Torres made no mistake as he raced into the area and clipped
the ball over substitute goalkeeper Jose Moreira, a
replacement for the injured Cesar just moments earlier, with
Liverpool could at last breathe easily and took off Torres,
Gerrard and Benayoun in the closing minutes.