Wednesday, April 23, 2008

LiverpooL 1 - 1 Chelsea

John Arne Riise scored a dramatic own goal in stoppage time as Chelsea earned a 1-1 draw with Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final.

Dirk Kuyt thought he had given his troops a 1-0 first-leg lead to take back to Stamford Bridge, having slotted from close range on 43 minutes at Anfield.

His goal came after Frank Lampard dithered in defence and was robbed of possession, allowing Javier Mascherano's mis-hit shot to loop into the path of Kuyt, who kept his cool to beat Petr Cech.

Rafa Benitez's Reds have proved to be Chelsea's nemesis in this competition, having ended their bid at the last-four stage twice before in recent seasons.

And it looked like it was going to be their night once again.

But sub Salomon Kalou's cross into the Reds' 18-yard box in the dying seconds was headed into his own net by Riise, meaning the battle to reach this season's final in Moscow is wide open ahead of the second leg in London.

The visitors made the brighter start to the encounter, with Didier Drogba's dangerous 20-yard free-kick hitting the home side's wall.

Kuyt and Joe Cole then spurned good chances at either end following poor first touches, and after Drogba was denied a penalty after going down in the box under a challenge by Jamie Carragher, Fernando Torres had the first clear-cut chance on 30 minutes but was denied by a brave Cech block.

Some clumsy defending by the Blues allowed Kuyt to break the deadlock just before the interval, and after the break Xabi Alonso's shot was deflected wide.

Ryan Babel then whistled a fierce 25-yard volley inches wide of the upright as Tom Hicks watched from the stands, but the Blues responded on 66 when Michael Ballack headed a Lampard free-kick straight at Jose Reina.

Florent Malouda's goalbound shot was deflected wide by Mascherano a minute later, but Cech twice kept his team in the tie late on, first tipping Steven Gerrard's thunderbolt volley over the crossbar on 85 and then stopping Torres' close-range strike in the dying minutes.

Those saves proved even more vital when Kalou sent a hopeful cross into the hosts' box in the fifth minute of stoppage time and saw Riise inexplicably head the ball past Reina into his own net.

Afterwards Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez hit out at the officials for the amount of second-half stoppage-time.

"At the end, you must be really disappointed," he said.

"One minute in the first half, four minutes in the second half."

The Spaniard insisted Liverpool would have been deserved winners, adding: "We had the better chances."

But Avram Grant believes Chelsea took a "big step" towards the Champions League final.

He said: "I do not concern myself with what people say, I am just doing my job to get results.

"And I know that 1-1 away from home in Europe is good result. It is a big step now towards our goal."

He added: "We have conceded a lot of late goals this season so it was good to see one go in our favour."

Xabi: Draw Wasn't A Fair Result

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was clearly frustrated after his side could only afford a 1-1 draw against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg in Anfield.

Xabi Alonso thought that Liverpool deserved much more from the match that saw them put a late leveller through their own net.

"A draw isn't a good result, and it isn't a fair one either," said the Spanish international.

The former Real Sociedad man explained that he was "frustrated" with the draw, because he felt Liverpool could easily have put the tie out of Chelsea's reach with another goal, but ended up suffering an unexpected injury time equalizer.

"I'm frustrated by this because I know we could have made the score 2-0 in the play right before their equalizer," he stated.

"It was unfortunate that we couldn't record a better result at home, we have to do our best to improve looking ahead to the return leg."

His compatriot, Alvaro Arbeloa, thought likewise, because Chelsea are now in a better position to advance to the final after the first leg result.

"Riise's own goal was very unfortunate. But they are things that can't be controlled. We had bad luck," he said.

Arbeloa, who played very well after being given a rare start, explained that Liverpool were in a commanding position, but affirms "we couldn't take advantage of our goal scoring opportunities."

Despite the negative result, Arbeloa believes that his side have what it takes to reach the final, where they will meet the winner of Barcelona and Manchester United.

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea - CL Semifinal Video Highlights

Liverpool players scored both goals with Dirk Kuyt giving the Kops the lead. Riise scored a shocker own goal which beat Reina all the way. Advantage Chelsea!

Benitez Set To Mediate At Peace Summmit With Liverpool's Feuding Owners

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has a new job - peacemaker.

The Spaniard wants to end the internal strife his club and help American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. resolve their standoff.

There is added urgency after Liverpool was held 1-1 by Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of the European Champions League semifinal with Hicks at Anfield for the first time since December.

But the meeting is unlikely to happen before next Wednesday's second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez wants the pair to end their public feuding as his players bid for a third European Cup final in four years.

"We must be positive,'' Benitez said.

Benitez, who earlier this season learned that Juergen Klinsmann was being courted as his possible replacement, met with Hicks at Liverpool's training ground before Tuesday's match.

"We were talking about maybe having a meeting with the owners and bringing everyone together,'' Benitez said. "It think it will be positive if we are all together.''

Hicks is feeling the wrath of fans after foiling a Dubai oil consortium from taking control of the club.

Before kickoff, fans flicked abusive hand signals at Hicks as he appeared to join in the five-time European champion's anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone'' while his son Tom Hicks Jr. - a club director - waved a Liverpool scarf in the air. Chelsea fans bellowed taunts of "USA! USA!'' during the early stages of the match.

Despite the result, the Hicks family emerged from Anfield in a congenial mood after emerging mostly unscathed.

Gillett had been planning to also attend the first leg, but he didn't travel to northern England on doctors' advice.

That didn't lessen the tension after the owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team invited officials from Dubai International Capital to sit in the director's area.

Hicks has threatened to block Gillett from selling his 50 percent stake in the Premier League club to DIC, which has pledged to restore stability.

Representing the Gillett family were DIC chief executive Samir Al-Ansari, a Liverpool fan who arrived from the United Arab Emirates to join chief negotiator Amanda Staveley.

Staveley furthered her work Monday in preparing for a DIC takeover by meeting the most organized and vocal fans' group, Spirit of Shankly.

Police warned the club about the fans potentially targeting Hicks and Gillett.

"Security advice was provided to the club based on standard ongoing risk assessments,'' Merseyside Police said. "As with any other event, the safety of all those attending has been considered.''

Tensions at Liverpool were inflamed by Hicks earlier this month when he called on Reds CEO Rick Parry to resign and the two came face-to-face for the first time since the letter was sent.

Hicks blamed Parry for the club's failure to compete commercially against global rivals.

And in the matchday program, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez echoed Hicks, appearing to prioritize the financial rewards of Champions League success over ending the club's 18-year wait for an English title.

"Success in the competition is the main thing,'' Benitez said. "But financially it is clear the money is in the Champions League and so progression is vital to our long-term plans and ambitions also.''

Every Decision Went Against Us, Moans Baffled Benítez

Rafael Benítez accused the referee Konrad Plautz of bias and poor timekeeping last night after John Arne Riise's stoppage-time own-goal cost Liverpool a precious lead in their Champions League semi-final first leg with Chelsea. The Liverpool manager criticised the award of four minutes' injury-time and a display from Plautz that, he claimed, had favoured Chelsea throughout.

The disgruntled Spaniard said: "It's difficult to understand. There were 94 or 95 minutes and every decision went against us. All the corners, free-kicks and fouls. But, in the end, it was an own-goal. It's not the first time. We knew before the game it was going to be difficult [with this referee]. Against Marseille it was more or less the same. You can't blame the referee for the own-goal at the end but the time? One minute in the first half, four in the second. It's difficult to explain."

Benítez also had cause to bemoan the referee for a push by Ashley Cole on the goalscorer Dirk Kuyt inside the Chelsea penalty area, an offence that went unpunished by Plautz. "The first four fouls against us were for pushing," he added. "I saw one of their players pushing with two hands in the penalty area and nothing given. I've seen too many things tonight but I don't want to say too much."

The Liverpool manager admitted his own side were culpable for failing to convert more chances on the night, with Chelsea's goalkeeper, Petr Cech, in outstanding form to deny Kuyt, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard among others. He said: "We had three clear chances. In these kind of games it's not easy to create too many chances. We had three clear chances and we needed to take them. The body language was clear. If you concede a goal at the end, you must be really disappointed. But we need to go to Stamford Bridge to win. We had our chances. If we have them again there, we'll take them. We have enough confidence in ourselves even if it is going to be difficult."

Liverpool have not scored in eight visits to Stamford Bridge under Benítez and have won there only once in the last 19 years. Benítez, however, insisted: "We will change the statistics right now. Watching the team today, especially in the first 30 minutes of the second half, I have confidence. We can do it if we work as we did today and have a bit of luck. Look at the chances we had and the chances they had. There was a massive difference in the numbers and how clear things were."

Gerrard was positive afterwards. "Chelsea realise they are in for a tough game at Stamford Bridge," Liverpool's captain said. "We've done it so many times before in these sort of ties. We never say die, that's something we've got within us."

Jamie Carragher was equally defiant. "Yes, we're disappointed but it's only half- time. I'm sure we can score down there, I'm sure we'll take our chances."

Chelsea's Frank Lampard hailed Cech as "the best keeper in the world" after his late save to deny Gerrard and said that Didier Drogba should have been awarded a penalty after being felled by Carragher in the first half. "Hopefully if something like that happens again at Stamford Bridge it will get given," he said.

Hicks Makes His Presence Felt But Is Confined To Margins

A smooth procession ruined by an inexplicable decision to stick one's neck out; the parallels between Tom Hicks' Liverpool reign and John Arne Riise's own goal were unavoidable at Anfield. For months the Liverpool co-owner has sought common ground with the club's disgruntled supporters and while both were united in disbelief last night, it may be the Texan who ultimately has cause to rue the Norwegian's aberration more than most.

Without the distraction of a Champions League final appearance in Moscow, the focus of Liverpool's season will turn on Hicks' inability to resolve his ownership stand-off with co-owner George Gillett. Without additional riches from Russia, his ability to support Rafael Benítez in the transfer market will also be reduced this summer unless a breakthrough with Gillett or Dubai International Capital is forthcoming. No wonder he took the opportunity to hasten that process yesterday.

Before ignoring the advice of Merseyside Police and attending last night's semi-final, taking a front row seat in the directors' box instead, Hicks visited Benítez at Liverpool's Melwood training complex to discuss a possible meeting between all the warring Anfield factions. "I spoke with Mr Hicks. We spoke about maybe having a meeting together, the owners and everyone," said the Liverpool manager. "It was positive and just to say hello and to arrange to meet. That will be a positive meeting. We will all be together. The idea is to meet with everyone."

Post-Melwood, Hicks was ushered into Anfield by Liverpool security staff shortly after 5pm and, mercifully, remained only a prelude to a Champions League story and not the headline itself. Not one song that resonated from the Kop last night related to the club's torrid politics as supporters focused on further European glory.

Hicks took his place three rows in front of the man whose head he has requested on a plate recently, the club's chief executive Rick Parry. Adding to the intrigue was the sight of Samir Al-Ansari, the chief executive of Dubai International Capital and Liverpool fan, taking a seat two rows behind the co-owner he would love to oust.

The attention lavished on the sideshow underlined the ludicrousness of Liverpool's season but it was apt that Hicks and representatives of Gillett should be here to witness the club's third semi-final in four years. The competition has been integral to their involvement with Liverpool.

It was victory in the Champions League in 2005 that revived Liverpool's search for new investment, and the commercial "disaster" that Hicks insists Parry has overseen would have been greater but for the triumph and the trappings of Istanbul. Passage to last season's final enabled the Americans to ride into Anfield on a wave of optimism and minus the organised antagonism that greeted the Glazers' entry at Manchester United. To think it was only 12 months ago that Hicks and Gillett were sat together for this corresponding fixture.

After Hicks confirmed he and Gillett had approached Jürgen Klinsmann about Benítez's job they were besieged with pleas to quit. Within 15 minutes of the kick off a police constable and steward had moved into the seats in front of Hicks to instruct a supporter to direct his passions towards the pitch. That isolated moment apart, it was reaffirming that directors were ignored and a capacity crowd looked for drama and controversy on the pitch.

Hicks and his entourage were on their feet, red scarves aloft, when Dirk Kuyt swept Liverpool ahead and were in no rush to vacate their seats at full or half-time. In keeping with his Texan front, the Liverpool co-chairman appeared determined to make his presence felt at Anfield, the first time he has visited the premises since December 16 last year. He remains determined to adopt a similar policy towards DIC.

Despite their proximity there were no talks scheduled last night between the American and the Arab investment company which has, through its advisor Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners, been spelling out its intentions for the club to supporters groups in recent days.

Gillett's invitation to Staveley and Al-Ansari has raised hope among the club's support that a breakthrough is in sight and yet the absent American has still not agreed a price for his 50% stake with DIC. The ownership saga, like Liverpool's passage in the Champions League, remains far from certain.

Reina Will Leave Reds If Benítez Is Forced Out Of Anfield

Liverpool's goalkeeper Jose Reina has said he would consider leaving Liverpool if Rafael Benítez departs in the summer. "I can't imagine being at Liverpool without Rafael Benítez," Reina said.

He added that, although his contract was with Liverpool, he owed "a lot to Rafa because he was the one who trusted me, brought me to Liverpool and supported me, and of course the mutual affection is there. We will have to wait. Like I say, my contract is with Liverpool but, if the coach moves and there is the possibility of me joining him, if he coaches another team, of course I would think about that."

The manager's future has been in doubt since it was revealed that meetings were held with the former Germany coach Jürgen Klinsmann with a view to him replacing Benítez at the end of the season. The situation worsened recently when Benítez, who arrived at the club in 2003, discovered that Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, had been involved in what he believed were meetings held behind his back.

Reina joined Liverpool in 2005 from Villarreal and helped the club win the FA Cup that season. He atoned for earlier errors in the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to deny West Ham United a winner in the 119th minute. His effort took the match, which ended 3-3, to a penalty shoot-out which Liverpool won 3-1 with Reina making three saves.

Reina added that Benítez should remain at Anfield as he was building something big, proved by the fact that the club are fighting to play in their third Champions League final in four years.

"The Liverpool project is based upon the way of working of the coach," he said. "Rafa is building something that is growing each year and the results are there. We will have reached three finals in four years if we are lucky against Chelsea, which is very impressive. Every year we have a better team and are more competitive. With an idea and philosophy of the game he has tried to find the best players. It is a project for the medium or long term."