Fernando Torres inspired Liverpool to victory in the
Europa League again as the Kop bounced in honour
of their favourite son.
The Reds overwhelmed a confident Benfica side amidst a raucous atmosphere at Anfield, running out 4-1 winners on the night, and 5-3 on aggregate.
After Dirk Kuyt headed Liverpool in front from a corner, despite confusion amongst the officials, and Lucas had doubled the advantage shortly after, Torres scored two sumptuous goals to seal the side’s progression to the semi-finals. Torres can now look forward to facing his beloved former club, Atletico Madrid, away on April 22 and back at Anfield in the second leg a week later.
His first came after a clinical counter-attack which saw Yossi Benayoun feed Kuyt, who picked out Torres to finish. The Spaniard’s second was reminiscent of his goal in the previous round against Lille, as he latched onto a ball over the top and lured the goalkeeper before delicately dinking the ball into the net.
Manager Rafa Benitez admitted in the build-up to the game that he had made mistakes this season but he made the right decisions against Benfica. Daniel Agger was influential despite being asked to play at left-back and Torres looked sharp after being given a rest against Birmingham City.
Reds fans were shocked to see Torres substituted an hour into that match, despite the need for a winning goal, but Benitez will point to the eight goals the striker has scored in his last four games at Anfield as proof that he can bring the best out of his forward.
Speaking after the game, Benitez explained: “Torres
was fit, not tired. It is a question to rest players, if we
can manage. Today he was a very important player for
us; he makes a big difference in terms of the team
Benfica had shown their quality many times in this
competition, beating Everton home and away in the
group stage, including a 5-0 win at the Estadio Da Luz,
as well as defeating Marseille and Hertha Berlin in the
The Reds entered the second leg of the tie with a vital
away goal but trailing 2-1 after a troublesome second
half in Portugal following Ryan Babel’s red card. After a slow start against the technically-gifted visitors, Liverpool took control.
Oscar Cardozo gave the home side a brief scare when his low free-kick beat Pepe Reina to make the score 3-1 and leave Benfica needing just one more goal to win the tie. But Liverpool’s on-fire forward killed the game with his second and his team’s fourth.
Benitez said: “Now we have to go to Madrid, it will be more exciting for Torres than me. We know Spanish teams are very good so it will be tough, it will be difficult.”
The Europa League offers a chance of some success for Liverpool after a season full of disappointment. The Reds are also refusing to give up on fourth place in the Premier League, earning qualification for next season’s Champions League.
There also remains the possibility of an all-English final in Hamburg next month against Liverpool's next domestic opponents, Fulham, who progressed to the semi-finals to play the hosts.
Benitez said: “Every single win is important but a win at this stage of the competition is very important. We try to win every game. If we can win the final we will be really pleased but we have two targets now and we will try to do both.”
By Chris Shaw
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