Aquilani 44, Benayoun 95
After extra time. Agg 2-2 Atletico Madrid win on away goals
This season Atletico Madrid have only won five times away from home and most of these victories have been against substandard opposition. As it turned out they didn’t need to win this one. However a goal, ironically from of our most hated rivals ex players, was enough. Victory in defeat never tasted better but for us, after a decent performance, it was a bitter pill to swallow
Semi finals are always the hardest defeats to take and although many have given the UEFA Cup short shrift, it is still disappointing. As extra time unravelled and Atletico’s star rose one had that old familiar feeling of dread and foreboding that has been experienced so often this season. Two more games to go and still the prospect of further grief by possibly, albeit by default, of handing The Mancs a record nineteenth title? Can it end soon enough?
Rafa felt he needed to go for experience in defence but because of shortages named Mascherano at right back. Aquilani and Babel were bought in with Gerrard in a more advanced role. For Atletico Madrid the most notable point was the return of Aquero.
Right from the kick off we went for Madrid. Benayoun’s cross shot was well saved. Three corners before two minutes were up followed. The next chance came ten minutes later with a low grass cutter from Aquilani. Even at this stage Atletico seemed intent on slowing the game taking their time with throws and set pieces however, we tried to compensate by keeping the pace up. Garcia from distance tested Reina who had to get low to dig it out and shepherd it around the post. We replied with a great move involving intricate one touch play on the edge of the area between Gerrard, Kuyt and Aquilani. The ball went wide to Mascherano but Kuyt failed to finish what would have been a brilliant goal. We had the ball in the net by more conventional means via Agger’s header from Gerrard’s free kick, however it was deemed offside. Disappointing but good signs that we were cranking up the pressure. Minutes later Gerrard, from wide on the left, cut out the middle man went for goal himself only for De Gea to beat his kick away. Gerrard had started well peppering the Atletico defence with a series of swopping, low crosses however he was to once more fade into anonymity as the game went on but not before we got breakthrough we deserved.
Kuyt’s cross from the right found Aquilani how, before you could blink, produced a great low volley which threaded pass at least two Atletico defenders who perhaps thought it was going wide? However, it kept arrow straight and sneaked in inside the post. A great, no a class, finish and a deserved outcome for both player and team and signs from the Italian, albeit frustratingly late in the season, of what we’ve missed and might enjoy in the future?
The second half began in a more cagey fashion as if both sides were pausing for breath to contemplate their next moves. Madrid seemed to settle more and forced a few more corners without testing us to much or ruffling our defences. It took the best part of the half before a real effort on goal, via Benayoun’s skied effort on the break. However, the visitors continued to make small inroads moving us around and trying to find an opening. Both Lille and Benfica did something similar only to have their ambitions punctured by Torres however, no such luxury tonight. Johnson tried to make a name for himself by cutting inside and making De Gea punch over the bar. Nonetheless it was a more even affair and hats off to our defence for withstanding the pressure and, above all, keeping cool heads etc. Extra time and anyone’s game?
The “afters” began in fine style. Gerrard tried to fashion a trademark shot from outside the area but ran out of space. The ball, via Mascherano, found Lucas who produced a brilliant pass over three defenders to find Benayoun who fired home across the goal even though the keeper managed to get a hand to it. However, job not done and more tension as Madrid still needed a goal and now they knew they had to go for it.
Reyes produced a hard shot that Reina hesitantly got his body in front of. Jurado then shaved the post with a dangerous effort that served away at the last minute with Reina beaten. However the majority of the stadiums fears became a reality as Reyes beat Johnson to a long ball on the right. The full back’s attempts to retrieve the situation failed and Forlan was found in the centre. He made no mistake firing into the roof of the net with Carragher vainly appealing for offside, it was a goal that had been coming. Now is not the time to appraise Johnson’s contribution to it but yet again he was arguably culpable, adding to recent gaffs in Madrid and at St Andrews.
Although there was still time to turn things around our response was resigned and tired as if we had punched ourselves out. Madrid nearly finished it off as Simao found the roof of the net with our defence badly stretched. Madrid’s composure did seem to leave them as they resorted to hacking the ball away at every opportunity Rafa vainly tried to capitalise by shuffling the pack bringing of El Zhar and Pecheco. However we couldn’t make it count and it always a sign that things aren’t going well when your keeper comes out to play football. It was no surprise that the game, like our season, from a situation that had promised so much, slipped away.
Many, many congratulations to Fulham.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Aquilani (El Zhar 89), Gerrard, Benayoun (Pacheco 113), Mascherano (Degen 110), Lucas, Kuyt, Babel Substitutes: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Degen, Ayala, Ngog, El Zhar, Pacheco
Atletico Madrid: De Gea, Antonio Lopez, Dominguez, Perea, Valera, Raul Garcia, Paulo Assuncao (Jurado 99), Simao, Forlan (Camacho 117), Aguero (Eduardo Salvio 120+1) Reyes Substitutes: Sergio Asenjo, Juanito, Ujfalusi, Leandro Cabrera, Camacho, Jurado, Eduardo Salvio