Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Inter Milan 0 - 1 LiverpooL

Fernando Torres struck yet again for Liverpool to send them into the Champions League quarter-finals.

Seven days ago Arsenal beat the holders AC Milan here, and Liverpool ended Inter's hopes thanks to Torres' 26th goal of the season to join the Gunners, Manchester United and Chelsea in Friday's quarter-final draw.

Liverpool needed to defend stoutly in the first half but when Nicolas Burdisso was sent off after 50 minutes the visitors took control and got the goal they needed to make the Italians' task of recovering from a 2-0 first-leg deficit an impossible task.

But Rafael Benitez's side have been the better team in both legs and received an ovation not only from their own fans but the home supporters too.

Jamie Carragher played his 100th European match - a new Liverpool record - at right-back to allow Sami Hyypia to return in the centre alongside Martin Skrtel.

Lucas Leiva played in central midfield in place of Xabi Alonso, who stayed on Merseyside to be with his pregnant girlfriend who had gone into labour, with Javier Mascherano also back after a groin problem and the pair turned in an outstanding defensive display.

For a while the gratitude Inter fans feel towards Liverpool shone through this vibrant, passionate occasion as a huge banner was hung above the 5,000 visiting contingent saying "Whatever happens, Istanbul 2005, thank you Liverpool", in reference to that famous victory over hated rivals AC Milan.

But once the banner was taken down the real battle began in an electric atmosphere amid deafening noise.

Inter were desperate for an early breakthrough and it almost came after eight minutes when Jose Reina made a fine save at full stretch from Julio Cruz's drive from just outside the penalty area.

Crosses flew in, while a string of free-kicks were conceded too close to the box making Liverpool's task even more difficult.

Javier Zanetti was a constant threat down the left while Esteban Cambiasso followed Gerrard everywhere and still had time to keep Inter's play moving relentlessly forward.

Liverpool had their moments, though. One outstanding ball from deep by Fabio Aurelio sent Ryan Babel away behind Inter's defence and keeper Julio Cesar needed to rush out of his box to intervene.

Then a mistake by Cambiasso in his own box let in Torres, who side-stepped one defender and forced Cesar into a crucial block at his near post.

But Cruz should have scored after 30 minutes, racing on to an Ibrahimovic pass only to fire an angled shot just wide of the far post.

Maicon's error from a poor crossfield ball let in Kuyt but his low drive bounced back to him off Nelson Rivas and ricocheted behind.

It was left to Reina to end the first half with another fine save, diving backwards to hold a Cruz flick from Maicon's cross.

Gerrard was booked for a foul on Cambiasso but after 50 minutes Inter were reduced to 10 men when Burdisso received a second booking for a high tackle on Lucas.

Inter, who had Materazzi dismissed at Anfield, had to move Cristian Chivu into a central defensive role and push Zanetti back.

The tension was racked up and Aurelio was next into the book as Inter urged referee Tom Henning Ovrebo to produce cards for seemingly every Liverpool tackle.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have scored after an Aurelio error before Rivas was cautioned for body-checking Babel, who was soon to be replaced by Yossi Benayoun.

Inter were being stretched and after 63 minutes Liverpool scored the goal that effectively killed off the tie.

Aurelio won possession on the left and surged forward, feeding Torres on the edge of the box. The Spaniard turned to fire a stunning shot inches inside Cesar's right-hand post to send the Red hordes behind the goal wild.

Dejan Stankovic and then Benayoun found themselves in the referee's book with former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira taken off after 76 minutes and replaced by Pele, the Portuguese 20-year-old.

John Arne Riise and Jermaine Pennant took over from Kuyt and Mascherano as Liverpool saw out time to claim the 12th European Cup quarter-final place in their history.

Gerrard Hails 'Magnificent' Carragher Ahead Of Euro Century

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has claimed team-mate Jamie Carragher is one of the club's greatest-ever players ahead of tonight's clash with Inter.

The 30-year-old defender will be making his 100th European appearance in tonight's Champions League match at the San Siro - the first Reds player to achieve the landmark.

And Gerrard, who is only 13 games behind his team-mate, believes it puts Carragher among the club's greatest ever players in continental competition.

"To play 100 games in Europe is a magnificent achievement," the skipper said.

"It's a wonderful record for Carra to have and I'm sure he will go on to break even more records in the future because he is a top professional who always looks after himself and who always gives 100 per cent in every game."

Gerrard also claimed Carragher's European record is as much about quality as quantity.

"If you look back on those 100 games you would be doing well to recall many bad ones," he continued.

"So it's not just the number of games he's played, it's the way he's played in them.

"We're going to need another big performance from Carra tonight as well because Inter Milan are a very good side."

Liverpool have travelled to Milan with a 2-0 advantage from the first leg at Anfield three weeks ago.

Two late goals from Dirk Kuyt and Gerrard put the Reds in charge against the visitors, who were reduced to ten men after Marco Materazzi's sending off in the first half.

Rafael Benitez Trying To Keep Mind On The Game Amid Instability

As the arch strategist of European football, Rafael BenÍtez is in the uncomfortable position of knowing that it will take at least one false move to send Liverpool out of the Champions League at the San Siro this evening. Having seemingly done the hard work at Anfield, running up a 2-0 lead over Inter Milan, they are in a commanding position in the tie, but, at this point, does BenÍtez opt to stick or to twist?

In his pre-match press conference last night, BenÍtez emphasised the importance of scoring an away goal, which would leave Inter needing to score four times, but he is also acutely aware of the need to keep Roberto Mancini’s team at bay for as long as possible and to deny them the comfort that an early goal would bring.

The obvious game plan would be to strike a cautious balance between defending and counter-attacking, but that plan is going to require a rethink, given that Xabi Alonso, a player whose intelligence and eye for a pass makes him integral to such a strategy, is at his girlfriend’s side in a maternity ward 800 miles away on Merseyside.

Perhaps that is why BenÍtez sounded unhappy with Alonso as he explained his stance last night. Perhaps it is simply because the Liverpool manager, who stayed in Japan when his father died during the Club World Championship tournament in December 2005, is a football obsessive.

Perhaps it is because his relationship with Alonso, which his players once likened to that between father and son, has been severely strained over the past two months and might be close to breaking point.

BenÍtez did not condemn Alonso’s choice outright, but nor, when asked whether he understood the player’s point of view, did he express the slightest empathy with the father-to-be, whose pleas to fly out today, if the situation allowed, were firmly rejected. “We were talking, but he had a clear idea,” the manager said. “He wanted to come if everything was OK, but we can’t wait and wait and wait. The most important thing is to think about what to do with the other players.”

The answer is likely to include an important role for Lucas Leiva, the 21-year-old Brazil midfield player, who has already been preferred to Alonso in several matches since the turn of the year. Lucas cannot match Alonso’s passing ability - nor can anyone at Anfield, not even Steven Gerrard - but he will offer a more mobile and dogged presence in central midfield alongside Javier Mascherano, who, to BenÍtez’s immense relief, has been passed fit after missing the weekend victory over Newcastle United because of a dead leg.

BenÍtez has also had to contend with the latest twist in the Anfield takeover saga, but is unlikely to be unsettled by last night’s developments, news of which reached him shortly before he arrived at the San Siro for his prematch press conference.

Asked for his reaction, BenÍtez said: “We are just thinking about the game.”

It is just as well. Inter, for all their problems in the first leg at Anfield, are a quality side, with a six-point lead at the top of Serie A, and eager to restore a little local pride after Arsenal, one of three English quarter-finalists already confirmed, knocked out AC Milan in the San Siro last week. That may have been a spectacular victory, but BenÍtez, with the hard work done in the first leg, will simply hope for a straightforward passage this evening.

Capello Warns Inter Of Liverpool Threat

Fabio Capello has warned Inter Milan to be wary of Liverpool's lethal counter-attacks when the two sides meet in tonight's Champions League showdown. Rafa Benitez's side hold a 2-0 advantage from the first leg at Anfield ahead of the San Siro clash.

"Liverpool are in good form," Capello, the England manager, said. "I watched them play on Saturday and they have taken three consecutive positive results, which has given them a boost in confidence.

"Inter will have to be careful not to concede a goal and not to be hit by their rival's counter-attacks because when Liverpool are given space they are lethal."

Capello believes Inter have a mighty challenge on their hands but has not ruled out their chances of progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals.

"In Inter I see the right spirit," he said. "There's the will to play a great game, but then of course you must be able to do this and always consider that you could give away a goal at any time."

However, the former Real Madrid manager will not be surprised if Liverpool become the fourth Barclays Premier League side to reach the last eight of Europe's elite club competition.

"The Premier League is a very rich tournament," he added. "It's full of star players, the best strikers such as Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Dimitar Berbatov and Emmanuel Adebayor play here.

"The top four clubs, and I would also include Tottenham in there, play a different type of football from the rest with a winning formula."

DIC Refuse To Give Up On Goal Of Running Liverpool FC

Dubai’s ruling family have not given up hope of buying a stake in Liverpool despite the club’s co-owner Tom Hicks breaking off negotiations.

The Texan threw the future of the club back into turmoil after he terminated discussions with Dubai International Capital (DIC).

Hicks said he was not prepared to manage the club jointly with DIC “by committee” and vetoed their proposal to buy out 49% of co-owner George Gillett’s 50% stake.

DIC said they had no comment to make, but sources close to the deal say the company, the investment arm of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, are keen to revive a deal.

Hicks’ statement read: “I have decided to terminate any further discussions with DIC regarding their possible purchase of a minority stake in Kop (Holdings) and, in turn, in the club.

“DIC made it clear that if they invested in the club, they would want it to be managed by committee.

“Based on my 13 years of successful experience as an owner of professional sports teams, and based in particular on the situation at Liverpool Football Club over the past year, it is clear to me that such a committee approach would not be in the best interest of Kop, of the club or of the club’s loyal and passionate supporters.

“Accordingly, I have decided to exercise my right under the Kop Football (Holdings) Limited partnership agreement to veto any sale of any portion of Kop and the club to DIC.”

As far as Liverpool are concerned, it is now back to square one with Hicks and Gillett at loggerheads - even more so now the Texan has vetoed the sale - and there are only 17 months until the £350million loan the Americans took out in January has to be refinanced again.

Furthermore, another loan of around £300million will have to be taken out to finance the building of the new stadium at Stanley Park.