Blues shot down as Liverpool lift cup
Liverpool emerged from the lottery of a penalty shoot-out to end six years without a trophy and beat Birmingham City in The Worthington Cup final in Cardiff.
Goalkeeper Sander Westerveld was Liverpool's spot-kick hero as he saved from Martin Grainger and Andy Johnson to cap a dramatic encounter in The Millennium Stadium
Birmingham boss Trevor Francis was in tears as he embraced youngster Johnson after he missed the crucial spot kick that left the gallant First Division underdogs in agony.
Liverpool looked destined to claim the trophy after Robbie Fowler's brilliant first half goal - but magnificent Birmingham simply refused to lie down.
And when Stephane Henchoz fouled Martin O'Connor in the second minute of injury time, Purse showed remarkable courage and coolness to score from the spot.
Extra-time produced chances for both sides to claim the cup as the tension mounted - but it was left to the lottery of penalties to decide the winners.
Birmingham got better as the game went on, but in the end Lady Luck smiled on Liverpool as they celebrated emerging from their years in the wilderness.
Liverpool clinched the win with successful penalties from Gary McAllister, Nick Barmby, Christian Ziege, Fowler and Jamie Carragher.
Birmingham scored through Darren Purse, Marcelo, Stan Lazaridis and Bryan Hughes.
Dietmar Hamann missed for Liverpool - but Westerveld's saves from Grainger and Johnson tipped the balance back in favour of the Merseysiders.
Liverpool boss Houllier shuffled his side in customary fashion - making four changes from the side which scraped into the Uefa Cup quarter-final after their controversial meeting with AS Roma.
Steven Gerrard was the surprise choice, named in Liverpool's starting line up despite being ruled out of the England squad with a groin injury.
Birmingham needed to make a solid start, but they were almost undone in the seventh minute when Vladimir Smicer's cross found Fowler unmarked at the near post.
He looked certain to score, but failed to make a solid contact and the opportunity was lost.
Birmingham enjoyed plenty of possession, with the strength of Geoff Horsfield and Lazaridis the main threat, but they failed to create any clear cut opportunities.
And Liverpool showed the cutting edge to break the deadlock in the 29th minute, courtesy of a brilliant strike by Fowler, the only survivor of the Anfield giants' last brush with silverware in the 1995 Coca Cola Cup Final.
Liverpool took the direct route to goal, with Stephane Henchoz's long clearance knocked on by Emile Heskey for Fowler to strike an instant finish over Birmingham goalkeeper Ian Bennett from 25 yards.
Bennett was off his line, but credit has to go to Fowler for an instinctive strike that demonstrated his class.
Smicer was guilty of missing an opening that could have given Liverpool a two-goal cushion on the stroke of half time.
Heskey's power in the air again troubled Birmingham, but the Czech Republic star could only steer his finish wide.
Birmingham boss Francis made a half-time change, sending on youngster Andy Johnson for Dele Adebola.
And it almost brought instant results for Birmingham, with Johnson turning Nicky Eaden's cross inches wide just seconds after the restart.
Liverpool's response was instant, and it took a desperate saving tackle from Darren Purse to block Fowler after a rare foray forward by Markus Babbel.
Birmingham were full of energy, but Liverpool still looked more likely to add to Fowler's goal.
Smicer's cross found Heskey unmarked, but he blazed wildly over the top - and then Smicer himself was denied by Bennett after a brilliant flick by Fowler.
Birmingham were running out of time, and boss Francis held his head in anguish on the touchline as Purse headed wide when unmarked at a corner.
Liverpool made changes to protect their lead, with Barmby and McAllister replacing the tiring Gerrard and Smicer.
But Birmingham were thrown an unlikely lifeline deep into injury time when O'Connor was flattened by a reckless Henchoz tackle.
Referee David Elleray rightly pointed to the spot and Purse, limping heavily from cramp minutes earlier, showed tremendous courage to step forward after a lengthy delay to beat Sander Westerveld.
Liverpool took only five minutes of extra-time to make another change, sending on Christian Ziege for the struggling Biscan.
Birmingham substitute Bryan Hughes - a boyhood Everton fan - almost scored his dream goal after 99 minutes with a brilliant chip from 30 yards that brought an equally outstanding save from Westerveld.
Liverpool had an amazing escape when Johnson was clearly hauled down by Henchoz, but this time referee Elleray waved away the penalty appeals.
Fowler was back on the prowl with nine minutes left, forcing Bennett into a brilliant save from a close range header.
Bennett was Birmingham's hero again seconds later, plunging low to his right to clutch another header from Sami Hyypia.
In the mounting tension and drama, Liverpool were building up a head of steam, and Hamann rattled an upright from fully 30 yards.
Then came penalties - and the agony for Birmingham and ectasy for Liverpool.
Copyright - BBC