Liverpool v Benfica Anfield
4 - 1
Liverpool v Benfica
8 Apr 2010 20:05
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Selector Fernando Torres struck a record-breaking double as Liverpool produced a stunning second-leg performance to secure a 4-1 triumph over Benfica and book a place in the last four of the Europa League on Thursday night.
Dirk Kuyt got the Reds off to a flyer with a close range header before Lucas Leiva doubled the advantage when he outfoxed Julio Cesar and coolly converted on 33 minutes.
Torres then ensured it would be a night of celebration in L4, with a stylish double either side of an Oscar Cardozo free-kick. It saw the forward become the first player in the club's history to net four successive braces on home turf.
It was the icing on the cake to a result which means Liverpool have booked a semi-final meeting with Atletico Madrid following a 5-3 aggregate success.
Ahead of the contest the boss was posed with a dilemma regarding who to play at left-back in the absence of the suspended Emiliano Insua and the injured Fabio Aurelio.
Various options were mooted in the build up to the clash, but despite suggestions Glen Johnson could switch flanks, it was Daniel Agger - a goalscorer in the first-leg in Lisbon - who shifted to the left with Sotirios Kyrgiakos coming in to partner Jamie Carragher at the heart of the defence.
A European quarter-final at Anfield inevitably conjures up memories of the glories of yesteryear and the Kop responded with the type of spine-tingling pre-match chorus that has become the norm on such occasions.
However, when the side tagged as the best Benfica XI in a generation are your opposition, it can take more than the efforts of the 12th man to inspire a supercharged start.
Indeed it was the visitors, protecting the 2-1 lead they secured in the Estadio Da Luz seven days earlier, who had the better of the early exchanges, with Angel Di Maria looking particularly threatening on the left flank.
As the minutes edged b y the scoreboard read 18 minutes and the only effort Liverpool had registered was a tame header from the offside Fernando Torres.
Two minutes later and the forward was again in the mix, but he glanced Johnson's right-wing centre wide of Julio Cesar's right-hand post.
It had been a sluggish opening for the hosts, but slowly they began to gain a foothold in the game as they pressed for the goal that would change the course of the tie in their favour.
A neat exchange between Kuyt and Steven Gerrard almost carved out an opening, but the Dutchman could only manage an effort on the stretch that was easily blocked by a Benfica leg.
Frustration soon became jubilation for the no. 18, however, when he opened the scoring on 27 minutes.
A left-wing corner from Gerrard was arrowed into the heart of the six yard box, where Kuyt rose to nod beyond the stunned Cesar. There was some initial confusion over whether the goal actually stood, but after some consideration, referee Bjorn Kuipers ignored his assistant's flag and pointed to the centre circle.
The goal knocked the swagger out of the away side's approach and on 33 minutes they found themselves two behind.
A delightful break gave Gerrard the space to latch onto a ball from Yossi Benayoun 50 yards from goal. The skipper slid a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the marauding Lucas, who drew the 'keeper before nonchalantly skipping his challenge and tucking the ball into an empty net.
Suddenly Liverpool were well and truly in the driving seat, but Benfica gave a warning of the threat they can pose when Cardozo crashed a venomous 25 yard free-kick towards goal that Pepe Reina did well to hold at the first attempt.
Carlos Martins then gave a measure of the visitors' frustration when he smashed a 35 yard shot high into the Kop end.
As the whistle blew for half-time, there was certainly an air of satisfaction brimming within Anfield, but it could easily have been one of apprehension had Javier Mascherano not touched a drilled effort across the six yard box off his own line on 44 minutes.
There was no doubt that there was still some serious hard work ahead for Benitez's charges, but with the two goal advantage optimism was high they could turn around a first-leg deficit in the return at Anfield for the 12th time in 26 attempts.
A lively start saw Liverpool almost snatch a third on 55 minutes, with Luisao grateful to the outstretched arm of Cesar after the Brazilian had threatened to turn Gerrard's teasing right-wing cross into his own net.
However, the 'keeper was picking the ball out of the net just two minutes shy of the hour mark when the Reds put together a magnificent counter attack that was brilliantly finished by Torres.
Mascherano led the charge after intercepting a poor free-kick delivery into the Liverpool area. The Argentine picked out Yossi Benayoun, who raced over the halfway line before finding Kuyt. The Holland international sent a delicious first-time centre into El Nino, who gleefully tucked home.
It was looking like being a rout at this stage, but the away side are not top of the Portuguese league for nothing, and they rallied to pull a goal back on 71 minutes.
A free-kick was awarded just outside the Liverpool penalty area, allowing Cardozo to step up and drill a shot under the wall and beyond the stunned Reina.
It set up a nervy finale, with Cardozo almost turning the tie back Benfica's way with a whipped free-kick that curled into the side netting.
The Reds were forced to dig deep in the closing moments, but with seven minutes remaining Torres broke free to race in on goal and clip a delightful effort over the onrushing substitute stopper Moreira and send the Kop into raptures.