Liverpool rise to Heskey
Liverpool are in the quarter- finals of the European Cup for the first time since 1985. It is a magnificent, historic achievement, at the first time of asking in the Champions League. Yet such was the drama and emotion here last night that it almost had the feel of a beautiful afterthought. That was because it was achieved in front of Liverpool's cherished manager Gérard Houllier, back at Anfield for the first time in nearly six months.
With Houllier sitting beside Phil Thompson in the dug-out, Liverpool produced the performance of 70s-style sustained class which had been demanded of them. The crowd did its bit too - rousing and roaring - provoking the Tannoy announcer to implore those present never to forget the night they had just experienced. It hardly needed saying.
Houllier chose not to speak publicly but a thrilled Thompson concurred. "This was one of the greatest nights in this football club's history," he said. Then he went further. "We can go to the final, there is that much confidence in this team and this squad. There is a belief that we can win the European Cup."
By finishing second to Barcelona Liverpool will get a group winner other than Barça in Friday's draw. It could be Manchester United. Liverpool may have won only one group game but on this evidence they have no reason to fear anyone.
Fear was certainly an absentee last night. Liverpool had needed goals - two at least - as many as they had scored in the previous five matches in the group, and this against Roma, the Italian champions who again lead Serie A.
But Liverpool managed it. With Vladimir Smicer pushed forward to play alongside the prodigious Emile Heskey and the deft Jari Litmanen, the goalscorers on the night, Houllier surprised his opposite number Fabio Capello with Liverpool's adventure. "I've never seen Liverpool play like this," said Capello afterwards.
The combined effect was that Roma were swept aside at times by Liverpool's verve. At an early stage their goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli looked a terrified character when compared with Jerzy Dudek at the other end and, even though Roma rallied in those anxious last 20 minutes, Dudek emerged without having made a direct save from Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio or Vincenzo Montella.
That awesome quartet illustrated Roma's commitment to force the equaliser at 1-0 that would have put them through. But Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz defended defiantly and Roma are out. Again there is no Italian club in the last eight, as last year. "We have technical and tactical problems," Capello said of Italian football. But he did not wish to elaborate for he knew it was not his night.
Smicer had already worried Roma once, stinging Antonioli with a 20-yard shot, when Danny Murphy won a penalty, his kicking foot taken from under him by Marcos Assuncao. No Roma player argued and Litmanen coolly converted the spot-kick.
The game had barely begun and the job was half done. Michael Owen may have been missing again - he should be back for Chelsea on Sunday- but Smicer's intelligence and Heskey's muscularity had Roma back-pedalling.
Briefly, as Assuncao and Emerson gave Roma a midfield platform, the Italians threatened but the determination within this Liverpool side is formidable. John Arne Riise had scared Antonioli with a diagonal blast in the first half and, as Liverpool surged toward the Kop at the start of the second, Riise sent in another.
Then Heskey, showing skill, pace and steel, raised the volume further with another right-wing run. The night was reach- ing boiling point and, when Damiano Tomassi conceded a free-kick 35 yards out on Liverpool's left, Murphy clipped the ball in. Heskey climbed highest and glanced his downward header past Antonioli. Anfield exploded.
About the same time the news came through that Barcelona were winning away at Galatasary. But that did not matter. Nothing did but the final whistle. And the last man off? Gérard Houllier.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Dudek; Xavier, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher; Murphy, Gerrard, Riise; Litmanen (Biscan, 88), Heskey, Smicer (McAllister, 90).
Roma (3-5-1-1): Antonioli; Panucci, Samuel, Aldair; Tomassi, Assuncao (Cassano, 69), Emerson, Lima (Delvecchio, h-t), Candela; Totti; Batistuta (Montella, h-t).
Referee: R Pedersen (Norway).
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