Liverpool dare to believe they can win European Cup again
LIVERPOOL, England, March 7 (Reuters) - Liverpool preceded Barcelona as European champions in 2005 and after knocking the holders out of the Champions League at Anfield the Merseyside club believe they can succeed them as champions this year.
Although Liverpool lost Tuesday's first knockout round, second leg match 1-0 they deservedly won the tie on away goals after a 2-1 win at the Nou Camp two weeks ago.
Rarely can a Liverpool defeat at Anfield have been greeted by such a victorious roar as the one bellowed out by the Kop.
Rarely too can any victory have felt as hollow for Barcelona. Substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen scored the only goal after 75 minutes but Barca's players left the field utterly devastated at the end of a pulsating game.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez deflected the credit from himself to his players, saying he might have set up his tactics "nicely" but they had done the hard work to earn the victory.
Jamie Carragher, who equalled Phil Neal's club record of 57 European Cup appearances, had an outstanding match at the heart of the Liverpool defence and said it was even better than their 2005 Champions League final win over AC Milan.
"I feel this is the greatest victory this club has ever had in Europe. Even though we have knocked them out they are still the best club side in the world so beating them is a remarkable achievement over two legs," he said. "We were very unlucky to lose tonight, but there is no reason we cannot go all the way and repeat what we did in Istanbul in 2005 and win this competition again."
Captain Steven Gerrard agreed they had proved to the rest of the teams in the competition that they could go all the way and lift the European Cup for the sixth time.
"We've laid down a marker. We've beaten the reigning European champions over two legs which proves we can beat anyone on our day."
Liverpool's new American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks were in the directors box at Anfield for the first time.
"It was my first time at Anfield and everything I'd heard was true," said Hicks. "It was a special night and an incredible occasion. I have seen a lot of sporting events all around the world but nothing that comes close to that."
Liverpool dominated the early exchanges and had 10 shots in the first 23 minutes whereas Barcelona did not have one effort on target in the opening half. Liverpool expected Barca to come at them with all guns blazing as coach Frank Rijkaard employed a three-man forward line of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. But the visitors had little impact until Eto'o came into the centre from wide on the left and Ronaldinho dropped back to create space to display his unique brand of creative skills.
Barcelona could rarely find a way through the Liverpool defence where Carragher was an awesome obstacle. They went close when Ronaldinho hit the post with Reina well beaten after 53 minutes and did score the only goal, although Liverpool hit the bar twice in the first half through John Arne Riise after 11 minutes and Momo Sissoko in the 32nd.
Although this defeat came just four days after Manchester United won by the same score at Anfield in the Premier League, it was Liverpool's players and fans who were wildly celebrating at the end of a memorable match.
Benitez may have played down his role in the victory but he proved himself a master tactician in Europe again.
Liverpool might not be able to get it quite right in the Premier League, but no-one will want to be paired with them when the draw for the quarter-finals is made on Friday.
Copyright - The Guardian