Benayoun provides ray of light for Benitez - European - Football - The Independent

Benayoun provides ray of light for Benitez

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Real Madrid 0 Liverpool 1

The Bernabeu has been the scene of enough disappointments to last Rafael Benitez a lifetime but it was a place where he found renewed belief, salvation even, when he most needed it last night. He has never taken a team to this stadium and won but Yossi Benayoun's headed goal, eight minutes from time, strengthened his hand on a day of further talks about his contract and he left his native country making more positive noises about his Liverpool future, even though he fell short of categorically committing his future to the club.

"I was clear before the game I was not thinking about resigning," said Benitez, who began the day at the centre of feverish, false rumours that he was about to part company with the club. "My lawyer was talking to the owners' advisers but the idea is to keep working for the club. I will talk to the owners in the future. We have plenty of time for talks."

That said, Juande Ramos' own hopes of his tenure being extended beyond the season have taken a severe blow, which should give Liverpool cause for concern with Benitez in Real's sights. It is hard to see him resisting, given the way Benitez is currently feeling about his lot at Liverpool.

If Liverpool do progress at Anfield in 12 days – and there was nothing in Real's play to suggest they will pose the challenges Benitez spoke of so deferentially last night – it will mean they have reached the quarter-finals in four of the last five years. All in all, a good night's compensation for the fact that as a player, Benitez never made it beyond Real Madrid's 'B' team and his time as assistant first-team coach was curtailed after 11 weeks.

"I will try to enjoy [this] now," Benitez said, not the kind of response you tend to get from him but a wise one, given that new domestic worries are stacking up. Fernando Torres will probably miss Liverpool's trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday having twisted and swollen his ankle in a first-minute challenge here.

Drawn games might be Liverpool's undoing in domestic competition but on the continent Benitez can luxuriate in better results. This one ranked among Liverpool's finest on Benitez's watch, given that Steven Gerrard had to undergo dressing room exercises which prevented him so much as joining the pre-match warm-up.

His replacement Benayoun, instrumental to Liverpool's recent wins against Chelsea and Portsmouth, might have been the matchwinner, courtesy of him being allowed to rise unchallenged to deposit Fabio Aurelio's free-kick from the right, but Aurelio himself was the hero.

The Brazilian, who followed Benitez to Liverpool from Valencia nearly three years ago, is an unsung individual at Anfield and by no means the fastest across the turf but that made the way he almost entirely eliminated Real's only potent threat, Arjen Robben, all the more admirable.

"They were missing two great footballers [Torres and Gerrard] but the best of Liverpool today was their defence," Ramos admitted. Though Robben's display will cause any Chelsea fans who watched last night's game to wonder how Chelsea came to sell him, he forced a solitary save from Pepe Reina – and the Spaniard had no more work all night.

Ramos added, however, that Real are still confident of turning the tie around in the second leg. "We are only halfway through," he said, "and we have the desire and hope to win at Anfield and we are going to fight with all our strength to achieve it.

"Liverpool have the advantage because they have the lead but there is still another match to go and if we have a good game we can win at Anfield, and anywhere else. We are going to fight and work hard in the return match."

For a side who had scored ten in their previous two La Liga games the misfire was baffling, though perhaps a product of Real's own negative game-plan. "We were more worried about not conceding goals," Ramos said. "It was meant to be 0-0."

That strategy, taken with Benitez's, tells you that this collision between two of the masters of European football was always was destined to be about as grey as Picasso's colour scheme for Guernica. Certainly not a match to tell your grandchildren about in years to come.

Liverpool settled for route one, Reina pumping fully half-a-dozen balls directly to Torres during the first half. He latched onto just one, placing a shot from the right hand side of the box which Iker Casillas clawed around his right hand post. Xabi Alonso made the same route look slightly more appealing, intercepting a loose ball in midfield and, after spotting Casillas off his line, hoisting an audacious shot from the centre circle which the Real keeper just flipped over the bar.

Real played on the floor but the ingenious interaction Raul and Robben demonstrated four minutes in – the Real captain took the Dutchman's clever angular pass and fired a sharp shot at a comfortable height for Reina – was the best it was to get.

Torres finally hobbled off on the hour, by which time Ramos had asked Robben to test Liverpool's right flank a little. But Liverpool's endgame seemed destined to match Manchester United's 24 hours earlier when Gabriel Heinze fouled Dirk Kuyt.

The ensuing free-kick blasted some much needed fresh air into Anfield, as did Gerrard's arrival five minutes later. "He was there just in case we needed to keep the ball at the end," said Benitez, whose ovations from the crowd all night demonstrated how they feel about him. Don't bank on the peace holding for too long, though. The current Liverpool aren't that kind of a club.

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe, Heinze; Robben, Diarra, Gago, Marcelo (Guti, h-t); Raul, Higuain. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Saviola, Sneijder, Metzelder, Miguel Torres, Van der Vaart

Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio; Alonso, Mascherano; Benayoun, Kuyt, Riera (Gerrard, 88); Torres (Babel, 61). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, Lucas, N'Gog

Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week