Chelsea edge Bridge epic

Hiddink's half-time blast sees players respond to see off Liverpool challenge in 4-4 Champions League classic
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The Independent Online

Needing three, Liverpool scored four times last night but so did Chelsea in a match of extraordinary drama at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool, beaten 3-1 at Anfield last week in the first leg of this Champions League quarter-final, twice seemed poised to achieve an incredible comeback success before Chelsea, driven on by a half-time blast from Guus Hiddink's "hairdryer", prevailed.

After 28 minutes, with Fabio Aurelio and, from the spot, Xabi Alonso having scored, the aggregate scores were level and Liverpool had the momentum. Come the break, Hiddink and his staff tore into the Chelsea players. "We lost our temper, sometimes you have to," Hiddink said, "and we had a reaction."

Drogba scored within seven minutes of the restart and, with Alex and Frank Lampard adding further goals, the game seemed safe with 14 minutes remaining. Then Lucas and Dirk Kuyt cut Chelsea's aggregate lead to 6-5. A Liverpool goal in the remaining seven minutes, plus injury time, would send them through on away goals. There was another goal, but it was scored by Lampard and Chelsea were through, on a 7-5 aggregate, with the match drawn 4-4 on the night. In the semi-final they will meet Barcelona, held to a 1-1 draw in Germany by Bayern Munich but eased into the last four 5-1 on aggregate.

"We were angry because we did not start as we planned," Hiddink said. "Playing Liverpool, who have tactical, skilful players, you cannot give them a lot of space but we dropped too deep, looking for safety. But it was also mental. We lost too many duels in the first half. We said: 'This is not the way we are going in to the second half.' We know this team reacts. This is why I like to work with them. It was a game when you are down, then you are up, then down. My heart went up to 180 beats a minute."

Drogba said: "Maybe we lost our nerve in the first half. The three goals we conceded on Saturday [to Bolton] were still in our head."

Liverpool's despair was revealed by Jamie Carragher's red-rimmed eyes, but Rafael Benitez hoped their performance would prove beneficial in the title race. "To lose in this way you have to be proud. Thinking about the Premier League, we showed we could score four goals here and we can do in any stadium now," the Liverpool manager said.

Steven Gerrard was not involved because, said Benitez, "We thought he'd be OK but he felt something in his adductor [muscle]. I think he will be OK to play Arsenal [in Liverpool's next Premier League game on Tuesday]."

Chelsea have now conceded seven goals in 110 minutes and Hiddink admitted they will have to defend much better against Barcelona. The Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, in particular, had a terrible night and not just because of a catastrophic error for the opening goal. "It's true he had problems," Hiddink said. "He is very intelligent and self-critical and wasn't happy with his performance against Bolton. You could see he wasn't at full confidence. A goalie has the right not to have a big performance, but when it's a goalkeeper it can have repercussions in goals." Hiddink insisted Cech remained "a very good goalkeeper" but refused to confirm he would start against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.

Ashley Cole will be suspended for the semi-final first leg in 13 days' time after being booked last night. With Paulo Ferreira injured and Wayne Bridge sold, Hiddink confessed he has a problem at left-back, with Lionel Messi on Barcelona's right flank. "We have time to think," he added.

Liverpool's woe was compounded by news from America of financial problems for co-owner Tom Hicks. Creditors to the Hicks Sports Group, who are owed $525m (£352m), have declared the company in default after Hicks missed a $10m quarterly interest payment last month. Hicks owns the Texas Rangers baseball club and Dallas Stars hockey franchise. His investment in Liverpool is through a separate company.

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