Two second half penalties sent Liverpool home with a 2-1 defeat amidst some slightly controversy thanks to the sending off of Babel for a somewhat innocuous push to the face on Luisao who in my opinion should have been dismissed for chopping Torres down from behind second earlier. Babel was justifyably incensed by the challenge and the referee could be accused of over reaction.
Now Liverpool will be hoping for a bit of better luck in the 2nd leg at Anfield and with the away goal they will be favourites to advance to the semi finals.
Liverpool were leading 1-0 at this stage, but Benfica were looking the better team and it was no surprise when they equalised in the second half through a Cardozo penalty. Then 10 minutes from time a second controversial moment finally sunk a defiant Liverpool when the assistant referee gave a second penalty for hand ball which Cardozo again duly dispatched.
The remaining English representatives in the Europa League had greatly differing fortunes in the draw which could lead to Fulham appearing in their 1st ever European Final. Liverpool on the other hand will have done it the hard way should they make it.
Fulham after their stunning win over Juventus have been rewarded with a quarter final tie against German club Wolfsburg who scraped past Russian side Rubin Kazan in extra time. If Fulham reproduce the fighting quality they showed against Juve they should easily reach the Semi Finals where they will met the winner of Hamburg and Standard Liege, neither of whom are setting their respective leagues alight this season. If you could have hand picked your path to the Final this would have been the route.
Liverpool on the other hand have a really tough tie against current Portuguese league leaders Benfica who will prove to be no pushovers and should they get through that one will have to face the winner of the all Spanish clash between Valencia and Athletico Madrid. Valencia are playing well this year and are currently best of the rest in La Liga.
Liverpool are playing ok at the moment though and with a bit of luck we could see an all English final in Germany latter this year.
Liverpool’s comfortable win against an in form Lille last night will have come as welcome relief to beleaguered coach Rafael Benitez as they progressed to the last 8 of the Europa League. This is Liverpool’s only realistic chance of silverware and despite trailing 1-0 from the away leg there was little doubt that Liverpool would progress especially as Fernando Torres is looking like he is back to his best.
In the match an early penalty from Steven Gerrard and two goals from Torres was enough for an easy victory and both the England and Spanish international managers will be pleased by the performances of these two key players as they begin their World Cup Planning.
In what must rank as one of the greatest comebacks by an English club in Europe, Fulham against all the odds won 4-1 last night against the mighty Italians Juventus to progress into the Europa League Quarter Finals with a 5-4 aggregate win.
Training 3-1 from the first leg and given no hope of progressing by the bookmakers or pundits things looked very bleak when Training 3-1 from the first leg and given no hope of progressing by the bookmakers or pundits things looked very bleak when Trezeguat fired Juventus into an apparently unassailable 4-1 lead after just 2 minutes.
Fortunately Fulham responded well to this setback and pulled a goal back after 9 minutes and thanks to a controversial refereeing decision which saw Juventus reduced to 10 men when Cannavaro was sent off in the 26th minute started to dominate the game.
Fulham were further aided by Juve deciding to play their third choice keeper 39-year-old Antonio Chimenti who was short of match experience and it showed.
Twice in the 1st half he was well beaten but to Fulham’s dismay the woodwork denied them but in the 39th minute Hungarian International Zoltan Gera struck to put Fulham in from on the night. He then scored a penalty in the second half to level the tie and set up a thrilling final half hour.
With 20 minutes to go Roy Hodson produced what was to be an inspired substitution bringing on American International Clint Dempsey and in the 82nd minute he scored the goal which against all the odds took Fulham into the last 8 of the Europa League.
Juventus were reduced to 9 men in injury time when Zebina was sent off for a rash tackle probably born out of frustration.
I am sure everyone in English football will be delighted both for Fulham and especially Roy Hodgson who is probably the most under Rated manager in the Premier League.
The remaining English representatives in this seasons Europa League both lost their 1st leg away games last night. Fulham will now have an up hill task against Juventus losing 3-1 in Turin while Liverpool at only 1-o down to french side Lille will fancy their chances of over turning this at Anfield. This is now Liverpool’s only chance of a trophy and if they were to fail to progress it would heap more pressure on Rafael Benitez who’s position as manager is looking somewhat tenuous to say the least.
Fulham will of course be delighted with their performance overall and with an away goal there is always a chance of an unlikely comeback. The main surprise in this game was the poor crowd of only 11,406.
The Red half of Merseyside were the only ones cheering last night as Everton crashed out of the Europa League Cup losing 3-0 in the second leg to Sporting Lisbon. Leading 2-1 from the 1st leg Everton held out for 64 minutes before Miguel Veloso levelled the score stabbing the ball home from close range.
On 77 minutes the game effectively ended with Sporting’s second and the 3rd goal deep into injury time only served to rum salt into the wound as Everton’s last realistic chance of silverware this season evaporated.
Liverpool by comparison had a much easier time against Romanian side Unirea Urziceni. Already leading 1-0 from the 1st leg their only brief moment of worry was when Bruno Fernandes levelled the scored briefly in the 18th minute. However 1st half goals from Mascherano and Babel calmed Liverpool’s nerves and Gerrard struck a third in the 57th Minute to effectively kill off any hopes Unirea Urziceni had of pulling off a shock.
Liverpool join Fulham in the last 16 where they will face French club Lille while Fulham have a very tough game against Italian giants Juventus.