Fifa is not protecting players, says Benitez

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The Independent Football

Should Jerzy Dudek allow a Mathieu Flamini effort to slip through his grasp at Anfield tonight it will not only hasten the end of the Polish international's brief return to the Liverpool limelight but leave Rafael Benitez apoplectic at the idiosyncrasies he believes are placing players' careers at unnecessary risk.

The Liverpool manager is without first-choice goalkeeper Jose Reina for the visit of Arsenal due to the three-match suspension his compatriot collected for raising a hand to Arjen Robben at Stamford Bridge, while Flamini is eligible for the rescheduled Premiership fixture despite lungeing at Ricardo Gardner with both feet during the draw with Bolton on Saturday.

The Arsenal midfielder was not even booked in a game that saw a similar offence committed by Abdoulaye Faye on Jose Antonio Reyes and, though Reina's reaction warranted a red card, Benitez insists careers are being jeopardised by punishments that do not fit the crime.

"I cannot understand why Reina cannot play in three games for a red card which was awarded because a player decided to dive then you see the tackles that occurred over the weekend," he said. "If we want to protect players we need to be stricter, [then] you can protect fair play more easily."

The Liverpool manager claims that more yellow cards and swifter suspensions once a player has received five bookings would encourage the fair play that Fifa, world football's governing body, are so keen to promote.

He explained: "If you get three more yellow cards it should be another game ban; then if there are two more yellows it should be another game out; then two more yellows and another game ban. Normally the players who see a lot of yellow cards cannot control themselves. Reina can't play because of a player's theatrical behaviour. To get three games out for that is not right if, for example, someone gets a broken ankle from a tackle or damages a knee. That could finish someone's career."

Arsène Wenger will welcome back Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Eboue from African Nations' Cup duty but will be without Reyes, who is still awaiting the results of a scan on his damaged leg, and also Dennis Bergkamp, who has a calf injury.

Liverpool face Arsenal, Manchester United and Benfica in the next seven days but Benitez has no plans to rest Steven Gerrard and has vowed to keep faith with the struggling Fernando Morientes.

Tonight's game will be Dudek's final chance to impress Benitez before Reina is eligible to return, but he denies the past seven months represent the most difficult time of his career. "The confidence can get low when you are not in the side but the Champions' League final was the most fantastic time of my life. Then I got injured, and so it was much easier to accept everything that happened after that."

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