Benitez: 'I believe we are one of the best teams in Europe'

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez insisted last night that his team were one of the best in Europe after overcoming a Benfica side who are well on course to becoming Portuguese champions.

Benitez, whose side will now meet Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals, declared: "We were at this level last year. Benfica are one of the good teams, top of the table [in Portugal], a massive club, one of the best sides in Europe. There is no doubt about this. I think we are one of the best sides in Europe." The manner of the 4-1 win certainly compensated for Liverpool's miserable season, though the Spaniard resisted any temptation he might have had to gloat, in a week when Arsenal and Manchester United exited the Champions League.

"I think that to be in the semi-final of a European competition is good for us but I have no problem about other teams progressing [further than us] in the Champions League," he said. Sunday's meeting with Fulham at Anfield could be a precursor of next month's Hamburg final. "Hopefully we can meet Fulham then," Benitez added.

The Spaniard was denied a semi-final pairing with Valencia, the side he led to Uefa Cup success in 2004. "It will be more exciting for [Fernando] Torres than me because he was there at Atletico for a long time," he added. "We know the Spanish sides are very good so it will be very difficult."

Opinions differed on why Dirk Kuyt's opening goal was first ruled out, then allowed to stand. Benitez thought the linesman had mistakenly believed Steven Gerrard's delivery had been from a free-kick, not a corner – from which Kuyt could not have been offside. His opposite number, Jorge Jesus, felt there was an infringement in the box but he was glowing in his praise of a Liverpool side he felt his own could not handle. "They are a very experienced team at this level." Jesus said. "We commanded the game for short periods but had difficulty coping with their counter-attack. We looked for one goal to make things level but the speed of the counter-attack was very fast and we had difficulty coping with that. They showed they are a very good team. In the physical aspect they were much better than us. We conceded goals tonight that we don't concede. Liverpool are very strong."

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