Liverpool beats Chelsea, advances to Champions League final

May 2, 2007 - 12:26 AM By PA SportsTicker

Liverpool's Jose Reina stopped Chelsea from moving into the Champions League final.

Reina made two saves in the penalty round Tuesday, lifting Liverpool into the championship of European club soccer.

The second leg at Anfield ended 1-0 after Liverpool's defender Daniel Agger produced the game's only goal in the 22nd minute.

With the semifinal level at 1-1 on aggregate following extra time, Liverpool won 4-1 on penalties, advancing to the final for the second time in three years.

Bolo Zenden, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt all scored from the spot while Arjen Robben and Geremi saw their efforts denied by Reina, sending Liverpool on and delighting the home fans.

"I could not have asked for more," Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said. "It was very hard, they have some great attacking players and it was hard to keep them under control and keep a clean sheet. But we did that, we played with great passion and skill, and our fans helped us through."

In the final at Athens, Greece on May 23, Liverpool will meet either Premiership rival Manchester United or Italian Serie A powerhouse AC Milan.

Benitez refused to fire any verbal barbs at long-time antagonist and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

"I would just prefer to enjoy this moment, to enjoy the thought of the final again and just praise my team without saying anything else," he said. "I will just enjoy this, the atmosphere was fantastic."

It was the third Champions League semifinal loss in four years for Mourinho, and perhaps this one was the toughest of all.

"As far as my management career goes, that was the most heartbreaking night," he said. "To lose a Champions League semifinal on penalties is hard to take."

After enduring a 1-0 loss at Chelsea in the first leg last week, Liverpool came out aggressively with an intent on tying the match. The early attack by the home side paid off when Agger stroked home Gerrard's clever free kick, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Continuing to press the attack early in the second half, Liverpool saw Kuyt unceremoniously dumped on the floor by Paulo Ferreira when he tried to make progress down the left side.

Moments later, Gerrard found his way blocked by Ashley Cole as he attempted to work his way into the penalty area.

Chelsea slowly began to control more possession, nearly tying the match and taking back the lead in the semifinal in the 54th minute through Frank Lampard, whose free kick sailed high.

In the 56th minute, Chelsea had goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank after he pulled off a superb save at the far post. Pennant turned Claude Makelele inside out before crossing to the far post, where England striker Peter Crouch's downward header was saved by Cech's legs.

Kuyt nearly increased the lead moments later, putting a powerful header off the crossbar.

Chelsea came close to equalizing in the 75th minute when Cole got clear on the left flank and crossed into the six-yard box where Drogba somehow managed to send the ball over the crossbar.

In the 97th minute, Mourinho made his first change of the night when he replaced Joe Cole with Dutch winger Arjen Robben. Three minutes later, Kuyt was called offside when he converted the rebound after Cech had failed to hold a ferocious drive from Xabi Alonso.

"But in five, 10, 20 years, nobody will remember that Chelsea were the better team in the first leg of the semifinal and I feel deserved to win the second," Mourinho said. "Nobody will remember that Chelsea were the best team in extra time. That is the history of football."

On Wednesday, Manchester United will stick to its attacking principles regardless of the score or status of their second-leg match with Milan, manager Sir Alex Ferguson promised.

Last week, Wayne Rooney's injury-time strike gave United a 3-2 victory at Old Trafford, allowing the Red Devils to use a simple scoreless draw to seal the first all-English final.

Had it been Chelsea or Liverpool heading to Italy in such a position, the smart money would have been for them to advance on the back of a stalemate. But for United, sitting back is not an option - even if Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are declared fit.

Instead, Ferguson will place his trust in Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs to storm Milan's defenses as they did last week and return clutching a prized ticket for Athens.

"If we are realistic, we know Milan, on their own ground, will be huge favorites to score," Ferguson admitted. "We hope we can avoid that, but the safety net is to score ourselves. That is why we will have an attacking emphasis.

"I don't think sitting on the edge of our box would do me, the team or the fans any good. If we are going to do it, we will do it our way. If we are going to lose, we will do it our way. Hopefully, it will be good enough."

Although Vidic and Ferdinand are deemed fit enough to start, it would represent a huge gamble on Ferguson's part to name both his first-choice central defenders with key Premiership matches to come.

"It is a matter of how much risk we put into the game," he said. "We have decisions to make about both but it is important to speak to them and gauge their own confidence about playing. I would be delighted to play both but I don't know if that is possible."

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti stressed the importance of a win for Italy.

"We are very honored to represent Italian football in this competition and more so considering our nation are world champions," he said. "My team is a very Italian side, with an Italian soul and I believe we are best able to represent Italian football."

Ancelotti believes his team is up for the challenge. With a 1-0 win assuring a trip to the final, he is looking for more.

"If we were to concede a goal, it will be no tragedy," he said. "We have to play for 90 minutes and I believe we can score more than one goal."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!