Benitez gives Liverpool's old order chance to shine

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The Independent Football

Anything other than a comfortable passage through to the Champions' League proper against Graz AK tonight will be inconceivable to supporters and accountants alike at Anfield.

Indeed, all that the Liverpool players should be competing for is their places against an Austrian side over whom they hold a 2-0 lead after the first leg of this third-round qualifying tie. And for those such as Dietmar Hamann and Steve Finnan that promises to be a challenge that could well define their immediate careers on Merseyside.

With the new Spanish pair of Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia waiting on the sidelines, Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, yesterday stressed the importance of a winning performance tonight. Alonso and Garcia will be registered in time to appear against Bolton on Sunday and Benitez is expected to pitch them straight in. Time is running out for the old order to make an impression and Benitez knows it.

"It is important the players understand we cannot have a bad result," he said. "Sometimes you give the players the opportunity to show people if they are good enough for the team. It is important for them and I am sure they will fight and run enough because they know the supporters and the manager are watching them."

So too will be the board, even more feverishly one must suspect, as a successful arrival in the Champions' League group stages will bring an instant £14m. That would allow Benitez to indulge himself in the transfer market again before the window shuts next week.

To assist in the audit of talent at his disposal, Benitez is likely to give run-outs to the likes of Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Igor Biscan and Salif Diao tonight, while the locally produced youngsters Stephen Warnock, Darren Potter and Zak Whitbread may also get a taste of the action, before the Spaniard begins his revolution in earnest. Back injuries mean the Spanish full-back Josemi and the second-choice goalkeeper Chris Kirkland are doubtful, while Antonio Nunez is about a month away from adding even more pressure to the old brigade.

Sami Hyypia is one who will survive, and he said: "We want to win, we played well in Austria and won 2-0, but we must not allow ourselves to be complacent. Three years ago this club was in the quarter finals of the Champions' League and I do not see any reason why we can't do that again, at least.

"The new boys we have signed I know to be very, very good players. With them added to the side I cannot see why we can't go a long way in the Champions' League this season."

To progress, Graz, the Austrian champions, must either win by three clear goals or by two and score more away goals than Liverpool, although Benitez was not even contemplating such an outcome. "We must win this match because the fans want us to go to the semi-final, even the final, of the Champions' League," he said.