Liverpool leave it late
A late Liverpool show ensured Rafa Benitez's side can still qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 28/11/07 11:00pm
A late Liverpool show ensured Rafa Benitez's side can still qualify for the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League.
Fernando Torres struck twice, while Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch made sure of the points as Liverpool defeated Porto 4-1 at Anfield to ensure the Reds travel to Marseille in two weeks' time knowing a win would see them progress from Group A.
Liverpool took the lead in the 19th minute when Torres headed in unmarked from a Gerrard corner.
The Reds were then cruising, but Porto shocked Anfield on 33 minutes as Przemyslaw Kazmierczak out muscled Javier Mascherano to cross for Lisandro Lopez to superbly head home in front of the Kop.
However, on 78 minutes Torres skipped inside the challenge of Milan Stepanov to calmly slot past Da Helton in the Porto goal to restore Liverpool's lead.
Gerrard then added a third when he hit home from the penalty spot on 84 minutes after Stepanov was adjudged to have handled in the 18-yard area and substitute Crouch ensured Liverpool's hopes of qualification are still alive ahead of their trip to the south of France as he headed in from another Gerrard corner on 87 minutes.
Following the recent stand-off between Benitez and club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, there was a groundswell of support for the manager.
Most of the fans' songs made it perfectly clear they saw Benitez, who has led them to two Champions League finals without getting close to ending a near 20-year title drought, as the long-term future.
For Benitez, the requirement is two-fold; keep winning matches and prove his previous expenditure has been worth the investment. Already, the £26million paid to Atletico Madrid for Torres looks like a shrewd deal.
The opener, a firm downward header after Gerrard had picked him out, completely unmarked, with a right-wing corner, was his ninth goal in 16 games for Liverpool, although strangely his first in Europe.
Such a statistic begs an obvious question over why Benitez has repeatedly left him out of his starting line-up. The answer is in the Spaniard's cherished, if controversial, rotation policy, which Benitez is convinced will bear fruit come the spring.
For the period around Torres' goal, it all looked entirely plausible.
The Spain forward might have scored already but Helton got behind his powerful 20-yard drive and Andriy Voronin was also making a nuisance of himself as the Porto defence creaked.
Everything changed just after the half-hour mark though as Liverpool's passing suddenly became sloppy and Porto seized their chance.
Alvaro Arbeloa completely misread the flight of Kazmierczak's cross and as it drifted over the full-back's head, Lopez arrived with perfect timing to power home.
Gerrard and the previously excellent Mascherano became hesitant and but for half an inch, Liverpool would have been behind as the excellent Lucho Gonzalez lifted a sublime pass to Lopez whose flicked finish bounced agonisingly wide of Pepe Reina's goal.
Marek Cech then saw his piledriver flick off Mascherano and fly just over with Reina beaten.
The interval at least allowed Benitez to generate some self-belief into his players, which had the desired effect as Liverpool attacked with some gusto immediately after the restart.
Yossi Benayoun had a gilt-edged chance to relieve the pressure when he was set up by Torres, who himself had been found by Reina's amazingly accurate 70-yard clearance.
All it needed was a firm strike. Instead, Benayoun scuffed his shot which bobbled horrendously wide.
The miss induced even more nervousness in Liverpool ranks, which only the arrival of Harry Kewell alleviated.
Helton then cut out Mascherano's low cross in unconventional feet-first fashion as Ryan Babel closed in.
A close thing it may have been but it was enough to raise the rafters once more.
Kewell went close twice, Sami Hyypia had a shot blocked and Stepanov booted Babel's curling effort off the line.
It needed a master craftsman to unpick the Porto defence. Thankfully for Liverpool, in Torres they had one. And, after collecting Kewell's through ball, the 23-year-old retained the calmest head in the stadium to finish superbly.
For the first time Porto's heads dropped, their spirit deflated by the knowledge they have another chance to go through against Besiktas in a fortnight.
Liverpool ploughed on regardless and when Stepanov handled Gerrard's free-kick, the Reds skipper ignored the fact Torres was on a hat-trick to stroke home the spot-kick himself.
Substitute Crouch added a fourth three minutes from time.
"Rafa's going nowhere" chanted the Kop as he shook every player by the hand and then left the pitch on his own with the support of the crowd ringing in his ears. Benitez will hope they get their wish.
|Liverpool||Team Statistics||FC Porto|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|9||Shots on Target||1|
|3||Shots off Target||9|