We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Wed 20 Feb 2008 06:52 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Benitez relief after Liverpool late show

Rafa Benitez insisted he had been vindicated after Liverpool's 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan.

Rafa Benitez insisted he had been vindicated after Liverpool's 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan gave the Spanish coach hope of extending his Anfield reign.

Benitez's future looked bleak after he was heavily criticised for resting key players in Saturday's humiliating FA Cup defeat against Barnsley.

That woeful result prompted suggestions Benitez would be sacked if Liverpool failed to reach the final of Europe's elite club competition for the third time in four years.

The Liverpool manager must have feared the worst as his side laboured to overcome Inter on Tuesday despite Marco Materazzi's dismissal only 30 minutes into the last 16 first leg.

But Benitez has built a team who come alive on European nights and they rose to the occasion once again.

With Inter clinging on, Liverpool refused to be denied, scoring twice in the last five minutes through Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard to clinch a famous, and possibly job-saving, victory for Benitez.

It was an astonishing finale and Liverpool will travel to the San Siro for the return on March 11 with fresh belief that their season can still have a happy ending.

Benitez was quick to seize the chance to defend his much-maligned rotation policy after Gerrard and Fernando Torres, both rested against Barnsley, played key roles in the win.

"I rotate because I want to win. I have explained several times that you need to change players if you want to keep them all fresh," he said.

"We were playing with different players because we had some injuries before. We needed to do that against a good team like Inter Milan."

"The team can do these things because we have good players but to do it for 10 months you need a very big squad."

"Against Barnsley we created enough to win but we couldn't. Against Inter was more or less in the same in terms of the play. Maybe we had less chances but we scored two goals."

But Benitez knows how important Champions League success is to his future and he warned Liverpool not to underestimate Inter yet.

"Everybody knows how important the Champions League is. We needed to win as a team because we wanted to progress in the competition," he said.

"We're a fantastic club and the players were playing with passion for the club. We knew it was important not to concede."

"That was one of the main things to have a chance in the second game, so to score two goals was perfect."With a cleansheet as well it will be difficult for them but we know they are a good team so we must be careful."

Materazzi's careless display proved the turning point in a tense tie. He had already been booked for one foul on Torres when he needlessly hauled down the Liverpool striker to earn a second yellow card.

Inter looked like holding on as Torres, Peter Crouch and Sami Hyypia all failed to beat Julio Cesar. But the breakthrough finally arrived in the 85th minute when Kuyt's shot deflected in off Maicon.

Gerrard's long range effort in the last minute sent Anfield wild and left Inter coach Roberto Mancini to vent his frustrations at referee Frank de Bleeckere.

"I imagined Liverpool would put on a very good performance because this is all they have left in their season. I knew they would give it their all," he said.

"But undoubtedly Materazzi's sending off changed the game dramatically. As far as I'm concerned the referee got it wrong twice. We were standing up to their attacks but we still have the second leg to come."

"It is not the killer goal. Turning around a result like this is something that teams have done many times in the past and it's certainly not beyond our reach."

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest sports news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.