Gerrard - the matchwinner. (Photo: EPA)
Benitez out to keep Gerrard
Rafael Benitez has told his ambitious skipper Steven
Gerrard that he can achieve all of his dreams at
The Anfield manager understands fully Gerrard's dilemma
as the England midfielder contemplates the future path
of his career and the need to be playing for a club who
can compete among Europe's elite as well as be
consistent challengers for the Premiership crown.
Gerrard, only 25 by the end of the season, already feels
the passing of time as he waits for Liverpool's rebirth
under Benitez to give him the chance to achieve his
But, after his stunning match-winning performance
against Olympiakos that sent Liverpool into the last 16
of the Champions League on a memorable Anfield night,
Gerrard has been told by Benitez that he does not have
Benitez insisted: "Steven can win all he wants with us
and we need him. He has seen that we have a good team
and we can do more things in the future. But if we want
to win more games, important games, we need Steven in
"We need his strength, the strong mentality he has and
his quality. I think he likes and wants the
responsibility of leading this team.
"And it is important for our future, although I
understand him when he says, 'OK, I want to win things.'
"But I have said to him I want him to win those things
with us, I believe he can win all he wants with us."
Liverpool's delirious fans would certainly echo
Benitez's plea after witnessing Gerrard's part in one of
the most uplifting nights of their long European
The match was their 105th in the European Cup and 226th
in all European competitions and is being compared to
their finest ever performances.
Three previous astonishing comebacks spring to mind. The
remarkable victory over St Etienne in 1977 when supersub
David Fairclough stole the show in a 3-1 win that
overcame a 1-0 first leg away defeat.
Then there was the UEFA Cup comeback in 1991 against
Auxerre, when they recovered from a 2-0 away defeat to
win the second leg 3-0, a triumph inspired by Jan Molby.
And there is also the Champions League 2-0 victory at
home to Roma in 2002 when another two goal margin was
required to reach the quarter finals, Jari Litmanen and
Emile Heskey scoring on the night Gerard Houllier
returned from his serious illness for the first time.
Liverpool fans now have the triumph over Olympiacos to
add to that list, inspired by Gerrard.
And the player said: "Great credit to the two subs who
came on, Pongolle and Mellor are just kids but they
changed the game for us. It was a terrific team
"We played well early on but then gave away a silly goal
from a free-kick, and maybe we thought it was over. I
would be a liar if I said it had not crossed my mind, I
felt that to get three goals against a team who were
spoiling the game and defending very well was a tough
"At half-time I did feel that we had a mountain to climb
and it was made worse by the fact that we knew Monaco
were coasting it against Deportivo. But we have climbed
that mountain and achieved a great result.
"We knew Monaco were 3-0 up at the break so even if we
had won the game 2-1, it wouldn't have been enough, and
I felt that to get three was a big task. Thank God for
that strike at the end."
Benitez also praised the Pongolle and Mellor double act,
adding: "The two youngsters came on and did all we
asked. I told Pongolle beforehand that he may only get
20 minutes but he had all the right qualities and needed
to show them all in a short time.
"It was the same for Mellor, when you change players you
have to produce something different and both of them
understood what was needed.
"I was so pleased with them because they had listened to
what we wanted and tried everything to achieve it.
"We know Mellor is a good finisher and we know that
there are things he must improve on. But you can see
that he is trying to be a better player, to improve the
way we want.
"He is listening and learning, it is easy for managers
to be good with a blackboard but in the end it has to be
the players who show the improvement and we know that
Neil is doing that."
Liverpool can be drawn against Inter Milan, Juventus, AC
Milan, Lyon or Bayer Leverkusen in the next round and
will be at home in the first leg in late February, with
the second leg a fortnight later.
Benitez says: "We are in with the best teams in Europe,
we will wait to see who we get next but we can at least
enjoy the moment and what we have achieved.
"Now we have qualified we believe that we are a match
for any of the other teams left in the competition.
"The result was important for the money and also for the
confidence it will give us as we face other big matches.
It will improve our confidence in everything else we
still looking for improvement
Steven Gerrard maintains he wants to be winning
trophies with Liverpool, not any other club.
But in the aftermath of his decisive display against
Olympiakos, the Anfield skipper underlined his desire to
see the club build on that success and be challenging in
Europe and on the home front regularly.
If Liverpool can achieve that quickly it will give
Gerrard the platform for the future he craves and end
fears he could be forced to leave to further his own
Gerrard made his ambitions clear before the clash with
the Greeks and believes he is only stating what the
club's fans also believe should be the club's targets.
"I am a fan as well and I think what I have said the
supporters will agree with," said the England
"The main point I have made is I want to be in a
Liverpool side which challenges for the Champions League
and the title all the time.
"That is where the club needs to be. I want to be
winning things with Liverpool, not somewhere else. That
is the most important thing.
"We have to build on wins like this, not just settle for
a great win and then not progress any further.
"My goal against the Greeks is one of the most important
I have ever scored and I hope it turns out to be one of
the most important for the club for a long time,
especially in terms of what it means financially."
He added in the Liverpool Echo: "I know I put a lot of
pressure on myself because of what I said, and I felt I
needed a big performance, [but] I am not going to go
around telling lies about how I feel."
Anfield's high octane night to remember
By John Thompson - Liverpool Echo
"You want to see it down there," said an overjoyed
Liverpudlian in one of Anfield's lounges minutes after
the final whistle sounded.
"There's John Toshack, Ian Rush and Gary Gillespie all
singing Fields of Anfield Road at the top of their
This was the greatest night Anfield has known since St
Etienne in 1977.
At half time, with Liverpool needing three goals without
conceding another, this was never going to happen.
Everyone just knew it was too much to ask. Including
poor old Robin.
The lifelong Liverpudlian had come over from his home in
Majorca, excitedly visiting Anfield for the first time
in more than a decade. All I could tell him was: "Well,
it will be a great night to be here if they do pull it
off!" It was said in consolation more than hope.
Then someone decided to play You'll Never Walk Alone at
the start of the second half to try and raise the Kop's
spirits and a moment later the match was level as
Suddenly, you could hear fans everywhere saying 'Game
on!' The magnificent Olympiakos fans, who spent the
first half singing their hearts out, wobbled. We'd heard
the last of Jingle Bells in Greek.
But as half an hour went by with no sign of another
breakthrough, they sensed Rivaldo and co had weathered
Cue Neil Mellor. He appeared with just 12 minutes left
and pounced.The stadium erupted in a deafening
earthquake of expectancy. At 2-1, you sensed you were
about to witness Anfield history.
Gone was the gloom. Anfield's stage was - somehow - set
for Mission Impossible's successful delivery. Players
and fans were now in that rare, high octane harmony
which elevates football to something much more than a
Amid the din, Steve Gerrard threw up his arms calling
for an infield pass from Pongolle. He looked downcast as
the youngster instead curled in a short cross to Mellor.
But Mellor picked out his captain with a perfect header
Gerrard rose, as if in slow motion, to the moment.
He himself said these shots often end up in the stands.
But he'd centred himself in that moment of
disappointment, and we sensed his concentration as he
found the perfect mix of power and precision to send
fans as wild as they have been since that David
Fair-clough stunner in 1977.
Radio commentators John Aldridge, Alan Kennedy and Gary
Gillespie totally forgot themselves, leaping to their
feet in the press box to embark on high fives at the
reds resurgence. Even Andy Gray screamed down his mike
upon Gerrard's strike.
Where Liverpool go from here remains uncertain. But the
stagnacy of last season has gone and we have just
witnessed Anfield's dramatic night in almost 30 years.
hails Reds hero Gerrard
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool legend Phil Thompson hailed Steven Gerrard
and said the Reds skipper was responsible for one of the
club's greatest ever European nights.
Gerrard's late screamer at Anfield on Wednesday earned a
3-1 win over Greeks Olympiakos and booked Liverpool's
place in the Champions League last 16.
Thompson told BBC Radio Five Live: "It was a truly
wonderful night that brought back so many great
"Stevie is a fantastic footballer and you just knew he
had to score."
Thompson, who won seven league titles, two European
Cups, a Uefa Cup, an FA Cup and two League Cups at
Anfield, admitted it rolled back the years in front of
He added: "I remember as a kid I watched Liverpool beat
the great Inter Milan side of the 1960s, and then there
was St Etienne, which was probably the greatest night in
the club's European history.
"Then Gerard Houllier and I had our Roma game a couple
of years ago which we needed to win 2-0, that was a
"But last night was brilliant for a lot of the young
lads and particularly Rafael Benitez and some of the
Spanish lads to realise the history of Liverpool.
"I think the most important goal was Florent Sinama
Pongolle's, the first one, it just seemed to give
everyone the belief that they could go on and do it."
Thompson, assistant at Anfield until the summer,
admitted Gerrard's future may still lie away from
Liverpool but hoped he would stay to bring back the
glory days under Benitez.
"It was such an important result, not least because of
Stevie's comments during the day and also the AGM last
week," Thompson said.
"I'm sure he looks at things and sees how well Chelsea
are playing and sees Michael Owen at a club like Real
Madrid, but I hope he can realise his dreams at
"The January transfer window and their performance next
summer in the market will have a big say in what Steven
"He's captain of the football club, a scouser, a
fantastic footballer and I hope he stays."
Liverpool deserved their win
By Paul Eaton - LFC Official Website
Olympiacos boss Dusan Bajevic admitted his team had
no answer to Liverpool's second half performance at
Anfield last night.
The Greeks held the lead at the break thanks to
Rivaldo's free kick, but second half strikes from
Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Neil Mellor and Steven Gerrard
turned the game around and took the Reds into the
knockout phase of the competition.
"When you are watching a game like that you do not
believe you can lose in that way," said Bajevic. "But we
brought the problems on ourselves, we did not create a
chance from open play during the match.
"Liverpool were faster, stronger and better than us and
when we conceded so early in the second half there was
always the fear that they could come back at us. If we
had held the lead a little longer maybe we could have
"But this was the worst we have played for a very long
time. We had very little up front and the pressure told
on us in the end.
"Liverpool were just better on the night, we were under
so much pressure and were not able to get out of our
half to really turn the pressure on them.
"We are bitter, with ten points we have still not
progressed in the
tournament. We did not give up but we did not lift the
pressure on us.
"Liverpool's winner was a very good goal scored by a
quality player who is one of the best players around
Europe at the moment.
"I know we will be heavily criticised now, people will
hold me responsible. If people think that it is my
fault, then it is my fault. I never dodge my
laughing all way to bank
Rafael Benitez was ecstatic after masterminding one
of the greatest comebacks in Liverpool's history to
achieve a 3-1 victory over Olympiacos and ensure
progress into the money-spinning second stage of the
Liverpool, £21.9million in debt and with speculation
growing that skipper Steven Gerrard will leave if his
boyhood club fail to compete with the big boys in
Europe, needed this result desperately. Benitez's clever
substitutions and half-time rallying call did the trick
and saw Liverpool hit back from a goal down at the break
to secure the three goals they needed to progress, a job
made more difficult by Monaco's comprehensive victory
against Deportivo in the other Group A match.
Benitez said: "It is one of the proudest nights of my
career. The players ran hard all the time and you see
how much it means to the supporters, it is a great
night. We knew before the game that it was very
important for the club to gain these extra finances. Now
we have a gap between the next stage and we can fight
for other things, but for the club this result is very,
Liverpool will pick up another £5million for reaching
the second phase, after goals from Florent
Sinama-Pongolle, Neil Mellor and Gerrard negated
Rivaldo's free-kick opener, and that money has already
been earmarked for Benitez to spend in the transfer
window next month.
Gerrard had spoken before the game of the need for
Liverpool to compete with the best to keep him at the
club, and for some new faces to be brought in during
January. He will now get his wish on the second of those
demands, at least.
Benitez added: "As a manager I have had a lot of luck,
and I have been in very good clubs with good supporters.
At Valencia it was fantastic but it is the same here,
and I hope that it continues for the five years of my
"I have never experienced a result like this in the
Champions League, and this result is very special to me
and the whole club. We talked about what to do at
half-time and the decisions on who to change, we needed
something different and I had decided to put on Pongolle
as the first-half finished.
"We knew that Monaco had scored three and they were
going to win so we needed three goals, but I told the
players we had done that at Fulham so we could do it
feared Champions League woe
Steven Gerrard admitted even he thought Liverpool
might be going out of the Champions League - before he
produced the late goal to carry them into the last 16 at
the expense of Olympiacos.
Gerrard and co conceded a first-half goal to the Greeks
and knew they needed to hit back with three of their own
after the break to progress by the narrowest of margins.
It finally fell to the captain to strike with a 20-yard
half-volley only three minutes from full-time to
complete the 3-1 win required to take the Reds into the
Asked afterwards if he had thought Liverpool were going
out, Gerrard told Sky Sports: "I would be a liar if I
"At half-time I thought it was a mountain to climb. But
we have climbed it - and credit to everyone here."
Events elsewhere - Monaco beating Deportivo La Coruna
5-0 in Spain - meant Liverpool had to beat Olympiacos by
two clear goals, and Gerrard knew the equation at
"We heard whispers that Monaco were three up. We thought
maybe we could score two but knew that would not be
enough," he added.
Substitutes Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor each
scored, before Gerrard completed the job - with a shot
he feared could make him a Reds villain rather than
"The ball was taking ages to come down and was spinning,
and I thought 'this one is going into the stands'," he
"It was about time I caught one sweet - and I have not
caught one as sweet as that for a long time."
Gerrard, who insisted credit was due to Pongolle and
Mellor too, added: "It was a massive night for me.
"My performance over 90 minutes was not one of my best -
but that was one of the best goals I have scored.
"Credit to the subs. Sinama and Neil came on and have
helped change the game.
"It was a terrific team performance in the second half.
We played well in the first 30 minutes too but were
unlucky to concede a silly free-kick."
after magical night
Liverpool staged a miracle comeback to beat
Olympiakos 3-1 and qualify for the last 16 of the
Things looked bleak when they trailed 1-0 at half-time
needing to win by two clear goals.
But three memorable strikes in a special second half
ensured a fairytale finish for the Reds and a place
among the elite in the knockout stages.
Liverpool almost got the perfect start when Milan Baros
had the ball in the net after just two minutes.
But referee Manuel Gonzalez ruled it out for a push on
the covering defender.
Three minutes later, an unmarked Sami Hyypia headed a
Steven Gerrard corner inches wide of Antonios
Nikopolidis' post as the Reds started the match in top
Rivaldo eased the pressure on the Turkish defence when
he won a free kick 35 yards from goal.
But then he wasted the position with an over-ambitious
shot that flew high into the crowd.
Liverpool came even closer after 20 minutes when
Gerrard's wickedly bending free kick was touched on by
Baros' outstretched leg and flew against a post before
the Greeks hammered it clear.
Minutes later Baros was inches away from turning in Xabi
Alonso's low cross and Liverpool pressed relentlessly
for the crucial goal.
But totally against the run of play, Liverpool went
behind after 26 minutes.
Rivaldo slalomed his way past two tackles before being
tripped by Hyypia and the Brazilian World Cup winner
stepped up to curl a 25-yard through a small gap in the
wall and past a stranded Chris Kirkland.
Liverpool badly needed an early reponse in the second
half and they got it from substitute Florent
Kewell did the ground work with a foraging run to the
byline and the French striker side-footed home the
cut-back from six yards.
Unlucky Baros was again responsible for a second goal
being disallowed just after the hour mark for illegal
use of the arm in the build-up to Gerrard's firing past
Liverpool withdrew a tried Milan Baros and his
replacement Neil Mellor set up a grandstand when he put
Liverpool ahead nine minutes from time.
Mellor had a shout for a penalty and Kewell should have
done better when Nikopolidis spilled a Gerrard cross.
But Gerrad had the final word drilling a stunning
half-volley past Nikoplidis from 25 yards as time ticked