Liverpool beat Arsenal in thriller to reach semi-finals

April 9th, 2008 - 11:52 am ICT by admin  

Liverpool, April 9 (DPA) Liverpool beat Arsenal 4-2 in a pulsating second-leg match at Anfield to reach the semi-finals on a 5-3 aggregate victory of the Champions League for the third time in four years. When Emmanuel Adebayor levelled at 2-2 Tuesday night with seven minutes to go, the Gunners stood to go through on the away goals rule, but a penalty from Steven Gerrard and a last-minute goal from Ryan Babel sealed a 4-2 win on the night and a 5-3 aggregate victory.

“At times today they passed us off the pitch but we stayed together, we never lacked belief and it was a great team performance tonight,” Gerrard said.

“That’s possibly one of the worst performances I’ve ever put in in a Liverpool shirt but I was confident I could score the penalty. But it wasn’t about the goal scorers tonight, it was a fantastic team performance.”

Liverpool will now play Chelsea in the semi-finals, as they did in 2005 and 2007 when they won the title and reached the final.

“I was delighted with the belief, particularly in the second half,” said coach Rafael Benitez.

“When we went to 2-2 so near the end, my players showed tremendous character and desire to get up off the ground to win the tie.

“We had been so poor before the break, but so much better in the second half.”

Benitez sprung a surprise before kick-off, recalling Peter Crouch to the starting line-up in place of Babel, playing Gerrard on the left behind Torres and Crouch, but the plan did not seem to work as Arsenal dominated the first half hour.

Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were overrun in midfield and Arsenal took the lead after 13 minutes when Abu Diaby got himself on the end of a neat passing move to rifle a shot off Jose Reina in the Liverpool goal.

Arsenal continued to dominate and had chances to increase their lead but Liverpool got back into the match almost with their first chance on 29 minutes.

Philippe Senderos let Sam Hyypia go in the penalty box and the defender hammered in a bullet header to level, the third time he has scored ay this stage in the competition.

Liverpool had the momentum after the break and with 22 minutes to go, a Crouch flick-on found Torres, who turned and rifled in an unstoppable shot into the top corner.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger immediately brought on Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott as they pressed for the equaliser on the night that would have put them through.

Adebayor had a great chance on 72 minutes when a long ball from the left was allowed to go through only for him to stab it wide.

Liverpool brought on Babel to replace Crouch and reinforce the midfield but with seven minutes to go, Arsenal were level.

Walcott broke from his own penalty area and his pace left Liverpool for dead. The young England forward evaded all the challenges and pulled the ball back for Adebayor to make amends with a cool finish.

But one minute later, Kolo Toure pulled down Babel in the box and Gerrard stepped up to hammer the ball past Manuel Almunia to make it 3-2 on the night.

Arsenal chased the equaliser again but as they committed almost everyone forward, Babel broke clear in injury time and held off Cesc Fabregas to slip the ball past Almunia for the fourth and seal the victory.

Wenger was left bemoaning the penalty decision, and blaming poor refereeing decisions for his side’s exit.

“I felt the game was over at 2-2. Then there was a dodgy penalty and we started to lose concentration,” he said.

“Over the two games this is hard to swallow. The big decisions over penalties have gone against us.

“It is difficult to take, the players in the dressing room are very down because they believe week after week the decisions are going against them.”

“It was not a penalty,” Wenger added. “I have seen the replay but we were denied a clear penalty last week. That was a real penalty, this one wasn’t.”

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