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quinta-feira, março 09, 2006

Liverpool endure long night of frustration as chances go begging

The Times
March 09, 2006

Liverpool endure long night of frustration as chances go begging
By Oliver Kay
Liverpool 0 Benfica 2 (Benfica win 3-0 on agg): It was too much to ask Liverpool to defy the odds again this year
THE European Cup will remain under lock and key at Anfield after Liverpool won it for a fifth time in Istanbul last May, but this was always designated as the week their reign would end. Win or lose last night, Steven Gerrard had been booked on a flight to Paris tomorrow to take part in an official handover ceremony before the quarter-final draw, but, under the circumstances, his journey to the French capital will now assume a highly symbolic feel.
Rafael Benítez will conduct his inquest in the knowledge that Real Madrid and Inter Milan are waiting to pounce if he concludes that his Anfield revolution has run its course, but, while questions will rightly be asked about his forwards, who again wasted every opportunity that came their way, perhaps it is time for a reality check. Liverpool defied the odds and their own expectations last season and, although they are a better side this year, it was too much to ask for such an incomplete team to do so again.
The frustration was that they fell to a Benfica team who, like Liverpool’s overachievers last season, cannot claim to belong to Europe’s elite. They have now added the scalp of the European champions to that of Manchester United, but the Portuguese team were 95 per cent perspiration and five per cent inspiration.
How ironic that the latter should be provided by Simão, who was due to move to Anfield on transfer-deadline day last August for £10 million. He scored a fabulous first-half goal to put his team 2-0 ahead in the tie, before Fabrizio Miccoli twisted the knife two minutes from time.
It is a matter of conjecture just how close Simão came to joining Liverpool last August. Rick Parry, the chief executive, claims that the Benfica captain was “on the tarmac” at Lisbon airport when Benfica’s management had a change of heart. All that mattered last night, though, was that his dipping, swerving shot in the 36th minute, after some uncertain defending from Djimi Traoré and Jamie Carragher left Liverpool on the canvas.
After that, there was no way back. Liverpool had scored three times in quick succession to defeat Olympiacos in the group stages and, even more memorably, AC Milan in the final last season, but this time there would be no such heroics. By that stage their best chances had been and gone, with Peter Crouch, Luis García and Carragher each squandering two. Ronald Koeman, the Benfica coach, suggested that scoring goals had become a “mental problem” for Liverpool ’s forwards.
Unwelcome as his comments may have been, the Dutchman was right. Liverpool paid a total of £28 million for Crouch, Fernando Morientes and Djibril Cissé, but none of the trio can buy a goal. Crouch hit the post early on before wasting a clear opportunity when put through by Gerrard, while Morientes posed no goal threat. Other players missed chances — notably Carragher, who scuffed his shot into the side-netting from six yards before heading against a post from Gerrard’s corner — but, in the final analysis, discussion of the forwards is inevitable.
Carragher will be more disappointed by his contribution to Simão’s strike. In truth, the rot set in the moment Traoré, a nervous stand-in for the half-fit Sami Hyypia, lost possession, but Carragher, as he tried to dig his team-mate out of trouble, was barged off the ball by Geovanni. It was then switched at pace by Laurent Robert via Nuno Gomes to Simão, who, cutting in on to his right foot, sent a beautiful shot curling beyond José Manuel Reina.
As in Istanbul, You’ll Never Walk Alone echoed around the stadium during the interval, but, on the pitch, inspiration was proving elusive. Gerrard struck a volley wide, while the admirable Xabi Alonso tested Moretto, but both efforts came from distance.
Crouch and Morientes were being thwarted by the dogged defending of Anderson and Luisão. It was time for something different, with Cissé and Robbie Fowler sent on in quick succession. Fowler, at least, found the net, but, for the third time since his return in January, his effort was disallowed, this time because Alonso’s corner was deemed to have gone out of play before he bundled it past Moretto.
It was clear by this stage that the goals were not going to come. Instead, as they pushed forward, Liverpool were caught on the counter-attack, Miccoli finding the net at the second attempt with a spectacular overhead kick. It was as much as Liverpool’s supporters could do to applaud and now it is somebody else’s turn. Benfica’s? Underestimate them at your peril, as Manchester United, as well as Liverpool, can testify.

1 comentário:

RUA 7 disse...

Que dizer quando o ego está ao rubro? - Até o meu está inchado ora bem.