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Champions League - Liverpool Home 14th April 2009 4-4 (7-5 aggregate)


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Chelsea dispatch Liverpool in European classic

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool (7-5 aggregate)

By Alan McGuinness

Football: bloody hell. Those words, uttered by Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United’s incredible comeback against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League Final, have hardly been more apt in describing a football match.

Any director that proposed such a script containing the events at Stamford Bridge last night would be laughed out of Hollywood. But what happened last night in West London was no Hollywood blockbuster, just a Champions League classic that few inside Stamford Bridge and around the world will soon forget. There were goals galore, debatable decisions, and the pace of the game hardly let up over the whole 90 minutes.

The reward for Chelsea is a tie against one of Europe’s in-form teams: Barcelona. The Blues’ defensive display will be the cause of some concern, but the joy of such an exhilarating victory will override those worries for now.

Things had begun so well for Liverpool. Attack was the only possible way they could go about things, and Chelsea stood off Rafa Benitez’s men and allowed them the space to take touches and play the ball around the field.

Steven Gerrard, who didn’t even make the bench, didn’t appear to be missed.

At this stage three goals were needed for the Reds to go through. Fernando Torres wasted an excellent chance to grab one of them when he shot over the bar inside the box.

Fabio Aurelio then happily obliged in opening the scoring. There appeared little imminent danger when the Brazilian swung his free kick towards goal, but in a moment of genius, he had in fact tried a shot. Petr Cech, who looked shaky throughout, strayed too far from his left hand post and the ball crept in.

The comeback was very much on.

That May night in Istanbul was talked about by Benitez in the build-up to the game and there were echoes of that amazing night when Xabi Alonso dispatched a penalty past Cech for Liverpool’s second.

Ivanovic, Chelsea's hero in the first leg, was the villain of the piece on this occasion, engaging in a prolonged bout of shirt pulling with the Spaniard.

Chelsea were stunned. Liverpool needed just one more goal to complete a remarkable turnaround.

Guus Hiddink took off the disappointing Salomon Kalou and replaced him with Nicolas Anelka in an attempt to wrest some back some control of a tie that looked to be slipping out of Chelsea’s grasp.

The Blues managed to hold out until half time, and minutes into the second half Anelka repaid his manager’s faith in him.

The Frenchman crossed in from the left and Didier Drogba managed to make the slightest bit of contact to wrong foot Reina, who could only touch the ball as it rolled into the net.

It was Chelsea who now appeared to be in the ascendancy, and Drogba was inches away from drawing his side level on the night with a free kick that hit the side netting.

Alex then did just that with a scorching effort that any goalkeeper would have had trouble saving.

Michael Ballack should have put further daylight between the two sides when he was presented with the ball in the box by Drogba, but he shot tamely and Reina was able to get down and save.

Torres flashed a shot narrowly wide which served as a warning that he still posed a threat, despite cutting an increasingly peripheral figure for most of the contest.

Frank Lampard grabbed Chelsea’s third, finishing well from a Drogba cross. With that Chelsea went 6-3 up on aggregate, and there appeared little way back for the Merseysiders.

But this astounding tie took yet another twist with two Liverpool goals in quick succession. Lucas’ shot took a deflection off Michael Essien and went past Cech and into the net.

Albert Riera crossed to Dirk Kuyt who placed a header past Cech. Not for the first time on the night, Stamford Bridge was stunned into silence. If Liverpool scored again they would be making arrangements for a trip to the Nou Camp.

They had seven minutes in which to do so. But the man who has so often been Chelsea’s saviour throughout the years popped up again to allay the home crowd’s fears.

Anelka was again the provider, crossing for the England midfielder whose effort hit both posts before trickling across the line to spark pandemonium in the stands.

But there was still time for the Chelsea fans’ frayed nerves to be given another scare. Cech fumbled and David Ngog sent a shot careering towards goal. But it was cleared off the line by Essien and they could breathe a sigh of relief.

When Luis Medina Cantalejo brought an end to the game, it was those in Blue who were celebrating. But both sets of players can take credit for playing their part in an absolute classic that will go down in Champions League history.

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