The Reds' euro dream is over for this season after a 2-0 home defeat to Benfica. This is a game the Reds really should have won for all their chances but yet again they failed to take them and were hit by sucker punches. This had all the potential to be a great European night - the fans were in great voice on the night and in the ground early. Two flags were passed around the Kop as the singing started to get louder. That singing continued even in defeat as the fans backed the players all the way despite the missed chances.
Benfica got the game underway attacking the Kop end and had taken a sizeable set of fans with them as well. Pre match one of the Benfica fans threw a flare on to the pitch and was greeted by large scale booing from the Anfield crowd. Sadly the events on the pitch were ultimately lit by Benfica also. Inside the first minute Laurent Robert was booked for a poor tackle on Warnock. Warnock was one of five changes in the Reds line up, which also saw Traore deputise for Hyypia who was still carrying a knock.
The Reds started fast as you would expect them to as they went in search of their two goals without reply to take them through. They looked like they could really get at Benfica as well. On four minutes Morientes had a shot straight at the keeper. Six minutes later and Crouch went closer still as his shot was deflected on to the post. A minute later and somehow Carragher missed from about two yards out. The ball came down for Carragher but he somehow put the ball the wrong side of the post when under pressure. The chances were certainly coming.
On fifteen minutes Finnan went in to the area but his shot on goal was well blocked by a desperate Benfica lunge. The danger though at the other end was evident as Benfica looked to use pace on the counter attack. Players like Nuno Gomes and Simao looked a threat all the time as they tried to get that away goal. They underlined that threat when they won a corner on seventeen minutes but the Reds were able to deal with it. The Reds broke from that corner but Garcia saw his eventual shot blocked. A minute later and Garcia had a glorious chance but his shot flew over the bar. Either the defender just flicked this ball up or it took a bobble as he hit the shot as it sat up just as he was about to strike the ball.
On twenty five minutes came an absolute pearler of a chance for the Reds. This is possibly the one chance that you prayed to come. Steven Gerrard opened up the Benfica defence to give Crouch a one on one with the keeper. With one side of the goal looking wide open Crouch kicked the ball straight at the keeper and the chance was gone. It these types of chance that turn you from a good side to one that will march on to later rounds.
Just before the half hour the Reds were so nearly behind when Geovanni volleyed over Reina only to see his shot come back off the cross bar and then he grabbed the follow up header from Simao. Two minutes later and Peter Crouch picked up a yellow card for a dive in the area. It was a rather pitiful attempt to get a penalty really and the linesman flagged the offence to the referee who duly booked Crouch.
Benfica got the opening goal on thirty six minutes. It was a class goal but the build up to it was comical from the Reds. The move came down their right and as the ball was played Traore fell over which allowed the first part of the move to continue. Carragher got in but allowed himself to be tackled on the ball. Benfica then moved the ball across to Simao who cut inside before shooting high past Reina in to the top corner. Now the Reds needed three to go through. It was still possible though to get back in to it and the Reds tried to get one back before half time.
The Reds did get a glorious chance just before half time to equalise on the night but Carragher hit the post with his header from a corner. This was going to be a big team talk in the second half. The Reds were out and ready for action. The crowd turned up the volume as You'll Never Walk Alone was aired from the whole ground to inspire the players. George played Ring of fire over the tannoy which got the crowd going even more. Sadly though the second half just didn't quite happen.
The Reds huffed and puffed their way their way forward but just didn't create clear openings. Yes they had the odd pop shot from distance but we just didn't work the keeper enough. The Reds tried to push forward in numbers which inevitably left gaps at the back. Just after the hour Nuno Gomes went clean through but was rightly flagged offside. Gomes did continue his run after the whistle and was promptly booked. The Reds made their first change on sixty three minutes when Cisse replaced Kewell. Garcia moved to the left and Cisse went down the right. Fowler replaced Morientes six minutes later and then Hamann replaced Warnock who seemed to have pulled a hamstring.
It was starting to get desperate now for the Reds as they poured forward in waves without creating much. Benfica were looking to pick the Reds off at will on the counter attack. Carragher headed over the bar on seventy six minutes but the longer time went on the more desperate we became and the less chances we created. We did get the ball in to the back of the net just before the end and once again it was Fowler. Yet again it was disallowed though as the ball from the corner went out before coming back in. In fairness the linesman flagged straight away and the chance didn't count.
Benfica doubled their goal tally on the night with a minute left on the clock in a fast breakaway which finally saw Miccoli scoring from six yards out. It was a gutting blow and 2-0 certainly didn't reflect the Reds' possession of the game. Ultimately though its about putting the ball in the back of the net and we simply don't look like doing it.
Going out of the European cup is depressing it has to be said but even in the final minutes of the game we still managed to sing You'll Never Walk Alone and chant Rafa's name. This if nothing else gives the players a lift with more games to come. This just has to be put to bed and we have to get on with football for the rest of the season. Keep the heads up now and move on.
MotM : Steve Finnan - a really difficult game for anyone to shine as it turned out but Finnan supported the team well and was one of the few who rarely lost the ball dithering in defence.