Cardozo 59 (pen) 79 (pen)
To describe last night as an up and down game would be an understatement. Goals, controversial decisions, firecrackers cr*p referees, it had it all. Oh for a quiet sedate goalless draw.
In fairness this tie could have been over by half time but we dug in got a vital away goal and kept Benfica at arms length and thus away from inflicting any permanent damage. I can’t really fathom how we are still in it. But it we are and Benfica, for all their chances, their one man advantage for most of the game, must feel that they may have missed an opportunity, much of this was self inflicted but we should also take a lot of credit?
As expected Rafa bourght in Lucas for the cup tied Maxi. Gerrard was moved forward. Otherwise it was the same line up as the one we fielded against Sunderland. Benfica went into this tie boasting a record of only two goals conceded in last eleven games. However, this cut not ice with us. After eight minutes Gerrard was bought down by Pereira just outside the area. One assumed the free kick would be the usual lofted ball into the area for someone to get a head on. However Gerrard’s low grass cutter of a centre took everyone by surprise except an unmarked Daniel Agger who guided it home via an audacious back flick of his heel.
It was just deserts for the Dane who kept bombing forward during the game against Sunderland but didn’t get any joy. Agger brings an offensive option to the side that his fellow centre backs lack. There is no way Srktel would have scored a goal like that and if Jamie had the world would have stopped spinning on its axis!
Agger was at it again the other end denying Cardozo with a timely interception. This was one of many attempts from the Portuguese to try and carve something out but thankfully Reina, a poor final pass or poor finishing kept things at bay.
On the half hour we saw an incident that highlights just why Torres loses it occasionally and what is wrong with officialdom in football these days. Luisao introduced himself to Torres with an uncouth scything hack from behind which surely would have “earned” him a red card in the Premiership? Babel then charged into defend his team mate and put his hand on Luisao’s face but not before further provocation from the full back. Could it be regarded as self defence as Luisao seemed intent on giving Babel more than just his opinion over the incident which also included shoving him hard in the chest, however we saw no second yellow card.
Clearly Babel was wrong to get involved and to put his hand on Luisao’s face. I stress “put” his hand on his face in what seemed like an almost passive gesture as if to say “keep quiet you’re in enough trouble”. It was certainly not a punch or a smack or a slap. However Luisao, despite the tackle, remained on the pitch whereas Babel walked for having “caressed” the Benfica player’s face an action which, in the eyes of the referee, was more deserving of red than Luisao’s “caress” on the back of Torres’ legs.
What a stupid sense of priorities football has. Torres undergoes a potentially career threatening tackle yet the perpetrator stays whilst Babel goes of for what is termed “violent conduct” even though it was for a mildest bout of wimpy handbags at thirty paces. People will say Babel should know the law but they are there to be interpreted in conjunction with common sense? The whole incident sadly was more of statement about the referee’s inability to do just that rather than anything Babel or indeed Luisao did. Surely that is wrong?
Inevitably with an extra man Benfica had more chances. Garcia hooked over from Luiz’s long throw. Insua got himself booked meaning he will miss the second leg. However for all the shenanigans we were still in front as the referee blew for the break which we needed so we could refocus. The incident notwithstanding you always felt Benfica were going to score and with ten men that likelihood had been increased, they would surely come at us even more?
The start of the second half saw more of the same as Benfica turned the screw. The inevitable happened when Agger conceded a free kick on the edge of the area. Cordoza’s free kick smacked against the post and in the ensuing panic Insua tried to hack the ball clear but Aimar’s thigh got in the way. Cardozo made no mistake from the spot to give Benfica their just deserts.
On 75 minutes Torres, who had ploughed loan, bruising furrow up front since the sending off, had his chance. Kuyt broke and set him up for a one on one with Cesar but his shot was put badly wide. Before that Reina was booked for time wasting he, according to the TV, had the ball for six seconds! This is not the first time this referee has attracted controversy however his governance wasn’t helped by his assistant who had to put up with a barrage of firecrackers thrown by the Benfica fans, whatever happened to toilet rolls? I’ve always though this type of activity rather cowardly and silly as this can only land the team they are supporting in trouble, it doesn’t make sense but what can you do when your fans don’t have any!
Amid all the hullaballoo we continued to hold out but on 77 minutes Demaria and Carragher tussled in the box and the ball hit Jamie’s hand. Gardoza beat Reina again. The smoke from the fire crackers increased or was it steam coming from Rafa’s ears?
Rafa tried to ring the changes and bought in Ngog for Torres which would, had there not been so much incident, probably attracted some talk however, I guess with work to do at Anfield and Torres one booking away from a suspension it was an understandable move.
Gerrard nearly silenced the crowds crowing by nearly beating Cesar at his near post but it was not to be. It would have been a dramatic end to a stern test against a solid, if less than cynical, Benfica side and a bizarre referee. The sending off, and at least one of the penalites, was unlucky however we also had a bit of luck and above showed resolve. We deserved the away goal and our chance at Anfield.
Benfica: Julio Cesar, Luisao, Pereira (Nuno Gomes 66), David Luiz, Javi Garcia, Ramires, Aimar (Airton 86), Carlos Martins (Ruben Amorim 72), Fabio Coentrao, Di Maria, Cardozo Substitutes: Moreira, Luis Filipe, Sidnei, Airton, Ruben Amorim, Nuno Gomes, Alan Kardec
Liverpool: </strong>Reina, Johnson, Agger, Insua, Carragher, Gerrard (Benayoun 90+1), Mascherano, Lucas, Torres (Ngog 82), Kuyt, Babel Substitutes: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Benayoun, Plessis, Ngog,
El Zhar, Pacheco