After The Match 


Real Betis-Liverpool 1-2 (0-2)        13.09.05                       CL
Goals: Pongolle (2), Garcia (13)                 Arzu (51)
Team: Reina, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Luis Garcia, Sissoko, Alonso, Zenden, Sinama-Pongolle, Crouch
Subs: Cisse (Crouch), Riise (Zenden), Gerrard (Pongolle)
Not used: Carson, Finnan, Warnock, Hamann
Yellow: Carragher (48), Reina (90)
Red: None
Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria)

Shots on target:
Shots off target:
Fouls conceded:



HEADLINES "I think we
have done
a good job tonight..."

      Rafael Benitez

1609: Benitez proving the Real deal once again
1509: Benitez: Sinama can be right man for Reds
1409: Gerrard happy with rotation policy
1409: Slick Reds had Betis rocking
1309: Rafa: We're off to a good start
1309: Liverpool's dream start


Garcia in focus after Reds's second goal. (Photo: AP)

Benitez proving the Real deal once again

By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo

There were loud clunks heard all around Seville on Tuesday night. It was the noise of jaws hitting the ground after Rafa Benitez had handed in his teamsheet.

But while some supporters grimly recalled the ghosts of Burnley past, and others feared another Goodison derby debacle, those sounds had turned to gulps . . . from large portions of humble pie being swallowed.

The Reds' boss had shuffled his pack, cut the cards, done that irritating trick with half-a-pack in each hand, then mixed them up again - and still came up with a winning hand.

But to label Benitez a gambler would be wrong.

That would be to under-estimate his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Spanish game, the flaws he spotted in Real Betis' line--up which allowed him to leave out Steve Finnan, Steven Warnock, Djibril Cisse and, mind numbingly, Steven Gerrard.

Benitez selected horses for courses. More than half of his team had either been signed from, or had played regularly, in La Liga. They were perfectly equipped to deal with a hostile reception on a sweltering night in Seville.

The remaining players came in fresh and desperate to make an early season impression.

Florent-Sinama Pongolle and Djimi Traore were two of those beneficiaries - both criminally implicated in Benitez's last wholesale shake-up at Burnley. Both flourished.

Pongolle was surely only included in Spain for the nuisance value his pace and persistence offered? One clinically lofted lob 88 seconds later suggested otherwise.

And hadn't Djimi Traore spun an early end to his Anfield career on the mud of Turf Moor? Not if subsequent performances, or the superb sliding intervention to deny Oliveira on Tuesday was anything to go by.

It is still far too early to make predictions over Liverpool's season, especially with Manchester United and Chelsea next up.

With the Londoners at Anfield again only five days after their Champions League visit, expect some more jawdropping selections.

Just don't be too quick to criticise.

Benitez: Sinama can be
right man for Reds

By Chris Bascombe - Liverpool Echo

Florent Sinama-Pongolle hopes his midweek Champions League performance has provided Liverpool with an answer to their right sided problems.

The French youngster's claims to the role have the backing of manager Rafa Benitez following his goal-scoring return against Real Betis.

Sinama struck his first European goal since the famous victory over Olympiakos in last season's competition, and Benitez says the 20-year-old can expect to feature in the role more in the months to come.

"We've been looking for different solutions on the right hand side because we wanted to use Luis Garcia between midfield and attack, where I feel he played very well on Tuesday," said Benitez.

"Flo has the pace and intelligence to play there. He gives us a good option. I remember he played in the position very well against Arsenal last season. He played really well that day, as well as in the first half on Tuesday.

"There is an opportunity for him to learn the position."

For Sinama, Tuesday's goal was particularly special as it was his first senior start and goal since recovering from cruciate knee surgery.

"It's the first time I've started a game in the Champions League during my career so I was very happy to score," said Sinama.

"The manager told me he needed someone to play wide and I've told him this is a job I want to learn if it means I'll be in the team.

"I'm comfortable there because you get a chance to go one against one with the defender and I feel I can do well. I can cross and get opportunities to score.

"Maybe I'm the solution for the right side, but that's for the manager to decide.

"My last goal in the Champions League was against Olympiakos, so after such a long injury it means a lot for me to play and score."

Gerrard happy with rotation policy

Sporting Life

Steven Gerrard has confirmed he is fully supportive of manager Rafael Benitez's policy to rest him as Liverpool's season
hots up.

There was shock when the Anfield skipper was left on the bench for Liverpool's Champions League clash with Real Betis.

Gerrard only played the last 19 minutes as Betis were battling to recover from the visitors' early two-goal salvo, his involvement ensuring the European Cup holders clung on to a critical 2-1 victory in Group G.

The win also further improved Liverpool's remarkable away record in Europe which now stands at only three defeats in their last 22 matches, with 13 of those being victories.

Benitez claimed Gerrard was tired and vowed to carefully control the amount of matches the England midfielder plays in what could be a demanding season which could see the 25-year-old playing in more than 70 games for club and country.

"After my calf injury I hadn't had much training and I was really tired after the two England games in such a short space of time," Gerrard admitted.

"I think the idea was to use all of the squad, and I have no problem with that. It is not about me, we have got a big squad of fantastic players and I think you will see the manager use them throughout the season."

In fact, despite fears Gerrard could be overused this term, Benitez has been quietly exercising his own control over the situation, starting from the very first friendly on July 9.

Since then Gerrard has been involved in 17 matches but has only completed 90 minutes on four occasions.

He has been substituted in the second half of games 10 times, missed two through injury and played only the first half of one of Liverpool's three friendlies.

Gerrard also got a two-week rest when he picked up the calf injury which ruled him out of two Liverpool matches in Europe - including the Super Cup - and meant he had a fortnight of inactivity before England's two recent World Cup matches.

Benitez said: "Of course some of the players don't like not playing, I expect that, but there is no way they can play in every match, it is not possible.

"And they do understand the reasons. We have got more players now even if we still have some of our original problems over cover in certain areas.

"It is not possible to play every game. We have a bigger squad now, and I believe we have a much better squad than we did when we started last season. Everybody will be used and players will be given breaks."

Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse, Stephen Warnock, Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise were all treated in the same way as Gerrard in Seville. Of those five, only Hamann had not been involved in a fortnight of tiring World Cup activity for their countries.

And Benitez will continue with his plans to rest star men regardless of whether the players like it or not. He added: "I will make decisions for the benefit of the entire squad."

Slick Reds had Betis rocking

By Tommy Smith - Liverpool Echo

There were times when they had us on the edge of our seats again last night, but what an excellent result for Liverpool in Spain.

Any away game is tricky, so you are looking to settle quickly and try to take control.

Rafa Benitez's side did just that. They had a purpose about them from the start as they looked to make an impressive start to their Champions League defence.

But by making such a dream start with two goals in the first quarter they dominated to such an extent that Real Betis were rocking.

I was surprised at the manager's team selection, especially with Steven Gerrard, John Arne Riise and Djibril Cisse on the bench.

But you couldn't argue with it during a first 45 minutes in which Florent Sinama Pongolle gave his team and himself a terrific confidence boost with his early strike, followed by the now familiar Luis Garcia goal - and didn't he take it well!

Both strikes proved a real injection of adrenalin and it allowed the Reds to dictate in midfield and silence the home fans, who didn't have a great deal to cheer from their shell-shocked side.

The second half was totally different, though.

Instead of trying to push on to score a third and kill the game off, the Reds seemed to sit back and allow the Spaniards space to attack them - and they did just that.

Betis looked a far different proposition in the second half, scored a goal that could have been prevented, and then put some tremendous pressure on the visitors' defence.

It was all hands to the pump as the Reds fought to protect their lead. One or two free kicks may have caused problems, but Pepe Reina dealt with them adequately, while the main danger came from the flanks.

That highlighted what the Reds are missing at the moment - and what the boss will be hoping to rectify come January - because with all the pressure on them they needed an outlet in the second period to create a threat for the Reds, who rarely troubled the home keeper during that hectic second half.

But Rafa's boys held firm and deserved the points.

Peter Crouch gave a good display up front, being able to hold the ball up and lay it off, while Momo Sissoko was particularly impressive.

His ability to break up attacks and tackle effectively was the main reason the team was so dominant in the first half, and he looks to be a terrific asset.

Gerrard and Risse brought more of a solidity to the midfield when they came on as late replacements but, if there was one criticism, it was that the Reds did not show that killer touch to finish it off rather than endure some frantic moments.

Nevertheless, a brilliant start.

Rafa: We're off to a good start

By Steve Hunter in Seville - LFC Official Website

Rafael Benitez watched his side kick off the defence of their Champions League with a win and declared : "We're off to a good start."

Early strikes from Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Luis Garcia gave the Reds a dream start, but when Arzu pulled one back for the home side six minutes into the second period Liverpool were made to work hard for their crucial victory.

Benitez said: "I think we have done a good job tonight and we did well to win the game.

"Betis are a good side and we knew it would be difficult, but we had a clear idea about what we wanted to do and we did well, especially in the first half.

"We controlled the match in the first period and scored two good goals. After the break we had more problems because Betis scored too soon. I would say we dominated the first period and they controlled the second.

"But in football you have to score goals to win games and we managed to get one more than they did."

Benitez also revealed why he made wholesale changes to his side for this game, including the decision to leave both Steven Gerrard and Djibril Cisse on the bench.

He added: "We had a few tired players and so I decided to make some changes. We have a big squad and so I can bring different players in if I think it's necessary.

"We've another big game in the Premier League at the weekend and some of the players who started tonight on the bench could well come back for that game."

Liverpool's dream start

By Simon Baskett - Reuters

European champions Liverpool began the defence of their crown with an authoritative 2-1 win away to debutants Real Betis in their opening Group G match on Tuesday.

The Merseysiders, who had to come through three qualifying rounds to earn the right to defend the trophy they won in dramatic fashion against AC Milan last season, stunned the Spaniards with two quick-fire goals in the first 14 minutes.

French striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle opened with a delightful lob just two minutes into the game and Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia squeezed a first-time shot in at the near post to make it 2-0 before Betis had time to react.

King's Cup winners Betis finally found their rhythm towards the end of the first half and pulled a goal back when midfielder Arzu steered the ball past keeper Pepe Reina six minutes after the break, but Liverpool weathered the storm to hold on for an important away win.

"We began really well and started controlling the game with good counter attacks and scored two quick goals. After that, we tried to keep the ball but it was difficult," said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

"We controlled the tempo in the first half but after we conceded the goal it was difficult."

Benitez sprang a surprise by leaving inspirational captain Steven Gerrard on the bench and deciding to play Sinama-Pongolle in preference to Djibril Cisse alongside Peter Crouch up front.

However, Benitez's selection gamble paid off immediately when Sinama-Pongolle put his side ahead with less than two minutes on the clock.

The Frenchman received the ball on the edge of the area, looked up to see Toni Doblas off his line and lobbed the ball over the Betis keeper and inside the far post.

Betis almost manufactured an equaliser five minutes later when winger Joaquin found Fernando with a through ball but the striker took too long over his shot and was closed down by Djimi Traore and Reina.

The 50,000 Betis fans who had come to roar on their side's first participation in Europe's elite club competition were momentarily silenced, though, when one of Liverpool's Spanish exiles Garcia made it 2-0 in the 15th minute.

The former Barcelona player drilled in at the near post from 15 metres out after Boudewijn Zenden had cut a fine pass into his path from the left.

Betis appeared stunned by the double set-back and struggled to cope with Liverpool's high pressure play in midfield.

It was not until midway through the half that they managed a response with a sharp shot from Ricardo Oliveira, but the Brazilian's effort was blocked brilliantly by Reina.

The Liverpool keeper, who had an outstanding match, frustrated Betis once again when he snapped the ball off the feet of Juanito on the goal line a few minutes later.

Betis eventually found their rhythm towards the end of the first half and put Benitez's side under intense pressure just before the break.

Reina produced another great reflex save to fend away a firm shot from defender Fernando Varela and midfielder Arzu was denied by the woodwork when he saw his dipping drive hit the top of the bar.

The Andalucians finally got the reward for their pressure when Arzu pulled a goal back six minutes into the second half after live-wire substitute Dani had threaded a pass through the Liverpool back four.

The goal gave Betis a new lease of life and they proceeded to surge forward in search of an equaliser, but Liverpool held firm to inflict a second home defeat in 15 European games for the Primera Liga side.

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Thor Zakariassen