Nick Townsend: Uefa hear the message loud and clear in the strong case for Liverpool's defence

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"It's difficult for me to speak about these things, but when I talk about common sense, I don't understand it. I think they [the European football authorities] need to do something if all the people think the same. Is it more important to win a trophy or to finish fourth? To win a trophy you will be in history. You must defend your title."

"It's difficult for me to speak about these things, but when I talk about common sense, I don't understand it. I think they [the European football authorities] need to do something if all the people think the same. Is it more important to win a trophy or to finish fourth? To win a trophy you will be in history. You must defend your title."

Rafael Benitez's words, uttered in the cold light of realisation of what the Liverpool manager had achieved the day after that emotionally-charged night in Istanbul, will resonate with many.

Uefa, perhaps sagely, appear in no rush to respond and reward Liverpool with what would effectively be a wild card, either into the qualification stages of next season's competition, or, more controversially, into the competition proper - a decision which, let us not forget, will have ramifications beyond these shores.

Uefa's executive committee do not meet until two weeks on Friday, by which time mercury in the emotional thermometer, will doubtless have descended somewhat. At half-time on Wednesday, many of European football's administrative suits were privately, and contentedly, assuming that such a debate had become irrelevant. Six frantic minutes and a goalkeeper in Jerzy Dudek who took it upon himself to convince us that he was a Cool Dude, not the Dud that many suspected, altered all that.

By early the following day, Uefa's mixed messages were already forthcoming. Our old friend, Uefa's "communications" director, William Gaillard, took it upon himself to take the old jobsworth line and declare that "rules is rules" at about the same time that the organisation's chairman Lennart Johannson was apparently confiding in the Liverpool chairman David Moores that his assistance in overcoming those rules would be forthcoming.

And so the clamour intensifies, though it is regrettable that much of the argument tends towards the nationalistic rather than the logical. You can always depend on the Sun on such occasions. It asks readers to send in a petition form demanding that Liverpool be given the right to defend their trophy. It contains the phrase: "The Champions' League would be devalued without the reigning champions".

Unfortunately, devaluation of this particular football currency took place some time ago. The tradition of the original European Cup, the authentic "Cup of Champions" was that the victors, including Liverpool on four occasions, returned by right the following season. The rationale was at least arguable. Anyway, we have moved on since then. In 1998, the format was changed essentially to appease the G14 clubs threatening a breakaway, though its title "Champions' League" is a complete misnomer.

It is not so much a cash cow as a valuable prize herd, with its numbers designed to be gathered from the rich pastures of each European league. England, because of the overall progress of its clubs in the competition over the years, benefit greatly from a formula which rewards them with four participants - along with Spain and Italy. Crucially, though, four is the limit. If England only had three representatives, as they once did, Benitez's trophy winners would have been waved in like an old friend.

Similarly, this problem could have been avoided if the English Football Association had been prescient enough to rule - as Benitez suggests, without wishing to offend neighbours Everton - that winning the trophy took precedence over fourth place in the Premiership.

Ultimately, one suspects that there will be sufficient political manoeuvring in the intervening period to ensure that the Anfield club get their way (and, just as crucially for Benitez, benefit from the accompanying financial rewards for passing go). However, for all the Franz Beckenbauers and Eusebios supporting Liverpool's inclusion, there will be many opponents of a fifth English club, notably in Turkey. It is feared Fenerbahce would be the team jettisoned if Liverpool were fast-tracked straight into the last 32.

Who last summer could have foreseen such a dénouement to the season. The irony is that Liverpool were one of the founder members of that G14 group. They should have been expected to flourish within such a format. Should Uefa, in their wisdom, maintain the rules as they stand, let no one forget that we have arrived at this situation not merely because of that organisation's intransigence. It is principally because of the inability of Benitez's team to translate this season's European form into domestic results.

History has little sympathy for defeated finalists. It weeps no more liberally for them if they are the moral victors. Twice in five days, finals have been decided by penalty shoot-outs. By any consensus beyond Highbury and Anfield, the least deserving team over the previous 120 minutes won; but then who, in years to come, will remember that Manchester United and Milan contested the FA Cup and Champions' League finals in 2005?

The vagaries of this wonderful game will always conspire to produce such outcomes. Sir Alex Ferguson's 1999 team scarcely merited their Champions' Leaue triumph. Yet, at least they didn't achieve that distinction from a penalty shoot-out. If you are anything like this observer, you mentally switch off when that crudely contrived climax arrives. The remainder is an irrelevance. The resultant euphoric scenes are not justified by the means to that end.

The objection to a penalty shoot-out as an ultimate arbiter of such finals is not simply that this flawed system may benefit the "out-pointed" side, as we witnessed at the Millennium and Ataturk Stadiums, when Arsenal barely won a round and Liverpool were hanging on the ropes by the end, but that it encourages negative attitudes. We all admired Liverpool's gutsy rearguard action in extra time, with Jamie Carrager, Sami Hyypia and Steven Gerrard magnificent amid the injuries and fatigue, but the most significant remark afterwards came from the Liverpool captain: "We were playing for penalties if I'm honest."

It has to be conceded that Liverpool were there for the taking. Milan failed to seize the moment. Even in the shoot-out the penalty-taking from players of suchquality was atrocious, particularly in contrast to Liverpool's who, John Arne Riise apart, were as efficient as Wyatt Earp's men at the OK Corral. And yet, whatever pleasure one feels for the remarkable and, one must say, very engaging Benitez, the manner of victory diminished his team's achievement.

Such a finale should not be settled from the penalty spot. The match is drawn. After a season's games, involving umpteen teams, the watching public and both sides are deserving of more than this. Surely, it cannot be beyond even Uefa to schedule a possible replay.

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