Penalties are supposed to be fickle but they have turned into Liverpool's steadfast ally. Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League in that fashion and go to Athens on May 23 by the same method. The sturdy victors will not go to Greece bearing gifts in their seventh final. Manchester United or Milan beware. It would be misleading to refer to the luck of a shoot-out.
Only four were needed by Rafael Benítez's men here, with Dirk Kuyt converting the decisive kick after Arjen Robben and Geremi had been thwarted by Pepe Reina as Chelsea nerves succumbed to the animosity of Anfield in this second leg. With the Premiership slipping from them, Jose Mourinho's players have only an FA Cup final to raise their spirits.
Such an occasion, with a Carling Cup already in the trophy room, would once have made for a heady campaign at Chelsea. That is no longer the case and as the dejection lingers there will be renewed questions about Roman Abramovich's commitment to retaining his manager.
All that Liverpool need reflect upon, with joy, is the way in which they thrive in this form of football. It looked as if there could be nothing problematic about a takeover by Americans when George Gillett, the co-owner, was shaking hands with fans in front of the directors' box at full-time.
It cannot be said with complete conviction that either club deserved to edge the semi-final. Chelsea could have settled the tie in London but were restricted to a 1-0 win. Considering that Benítez has not enjoyed such investment in his squad as Mourinho, there is good cause to respect Liverpool for the way in which they have denied Chelsea, just as they did two years ago in the Champions League last four.
Mourinho may almost suspect that an adversary has his measure in one competition at least. Liverpool levelled the tie on aggregate with Daniel Agger's goal in the 22nd minute. Outstanding as the back four marshalled by Jamie Carragher were against the visitors, there was a shortfall in creativity for a side with Chelsea's aspirations.
They had no outstanding chance and Liverpool came the closer to devising the second goal of the night when Kuyt hit the bar. The two sides resemble each other, but Benítez has little option but to be pragmatic. This outcome, on the other hand, showed Chelsea that flair is not some kind of decadent luxury. Creativity was essential if Chelsea were to ward off the shoot-out and they displayed too little of it.
At least their resolve is never to be doubted. These sides grappled with each other so fiercely that it was as if neither would ever let the other go to the final. Agger's goal was the first composed piece of play and even then it had required the pause of a free-kick for thoughts to be gathered.
Joe Cole, a booking short of suspension, may have been relieved when the referee Manuel Mejuto González did not wag a yellow card for his foul on Steven Gerrard, but the clemency ceased there. Liverpool's punishment was draconian. With Chelsea, in the absence of the injured Ricardo Carvalho, steeling themselves for a high ball to the head of Peter Crouch, Liverpool's sucker punch caught them flush on the chin.
Gerrard pulled the free-kick back low and the onrushing Agger swept a shot low into the net at the near post with a sweet swing of his left foot. The centre-half had suffered at Stamford Bridge and this was an ideal reprisal. His anxieties, all the same, were not at an immediate end.
Didier Drogba was around once more to keep him anxious. After 32 minutes, a pass from Mikel John Obi slipped the Ivorian striker in behind Agger but his drive was hit from an angle and, strong as it was, there was no hope of getting it past Reina.
Andriy Shevchenko sat watching from the stands, the conjecture still swirling about the seriousness of the groin injury that had kept him out of the game. It would be glib, none the less, to say that Chelsea missed their Ukraine striker. The Premiership champions never quite mustered the slickness to provide the service all forwards crave.
Benítez's players, in the opening phase of the second half, were conscious that it was by attacking that they could best disrupt Chelsea. Jermaine Pennant, up against a resourceful left-back in Ashley Cole, did get a deep, testing cross over after 56 minutes and Crouch leapt above Paulo Ferreira for a header which was blocked by the legs of Petr Cech.
With 59 minutes gone, John Arne Riise delivered from the left and a Kuyt header smacked the crossbar. Chelsea's alarm was great and that sort of incident gnawed at them. In the 71st minute, John Terry misjudged a long ball which skidded off his head and Pennant's drive ricocheted from the makeshift centre-back Michael Essien for a corner.
Carragher had to come up with the means of putting an Ashley Cole cut-back over his own crossbar after 76 minutes. Liverpool always produced whatever was needed to survive and, ultimately, to prevail.
How the penalties played out
Zenden Scored. He sends Cech the wrong way. (Liverpool 1 - 0 Chelsea)
Robben Missed. Reina saves, diving to his left. (Liverpool 1 - 0 Chelsea)
Alonso Scored. Cech guesses correctly, but can't quite reach the low shot. (Liverpool 2 - 0 Chelsea)
Lampard Scored. He smashes it down the middle. (Liverpool 2 - 1 Chelsea)
Gerrard Scored. He coolly slots it to Cech's left. (Liverpool 3 - 1 Chelsea)
Geremi Missed. Reina saves to his right. (Liverpool 3 - 1 Chelsea)
Kuyt Scored. He drills it low to Cech's right. (Liverpool 4 - 1 Chelsea)
22' Agger 1-0
Jose Manuel Reina, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano (Robbie Fowler), Jermaine Pennant (Xabi Alonso), Boudewijn Zenden, Peter Crouch (Craig Bellamy), Dirk Kuyt
Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Renato Paulo Ferreira, John Terry, Joe Cole (Arjen Robben), Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele (Ndjitap Geremi), John Obi Mikel, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou (Shaun Wright-Phillips)
Referee: Gonzalez, M E M
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