Carragher and a cyclone of noise inspire Liverpool's march into the realm of legend

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The Independent Football

The referee said six minutes of stoppage time and he might have been impinging on eternity.

Six minutes was too long, too cruel for the heartbeat of a city which had not pounded like this for 20 years. But was it too long for Jamie Carragher, a man who has played himself into the mists and the legends of Merseyside these last few days, and the players who have gathered around him to play so far beyond themselves? In the end, though, Carragher was just one of the heroes.

Liverpool reached the European Cup final and the chance of a fifth triumph when Eidur Gudjohnsen blazed wide in the last seconds of the injury time that seemed for a little while as though it might go on for ever.

It had been a start from the manual of Anfield dreams, ferocious, cyclonic, and there were, of course, those vast layers of keening noise that had to be anticipated from the moment Liverpool walked out of Stamford Bridge with more than a taste of the old glory.

This wasn't the Reebok Stadium and a splash of champagne. This was place practised in grabbing you by the throat and, and if you are not utterly attuned, somewhere in rather lower regions. Chelsea were far from acclimatised.

They were mugged in both their eardrums and their hearts. Luis Garcia's goal in the fourth minute seemed almost inevitable, and for Chelsea it could have been even more of a disaster. If the Slovakian referee, Lubos Michel, had pointed to the spot when the Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech brought down Milan Baros, as he might well have done, he would have also have been expected to send off the great goalkeeper. Even "the Special One" might have blenched at the implications, especially with both his cutting edges, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff, failing to start.

As it was, Liverpool were delirious enough when Garcia's shot from the ensuing mêlée was judged to have gone over the line by the linesman.

It was the sort of impact which brought Juventus to their knees in the first leg of the quarter-final and the same fate might have overwhelmed Chelsea in that first burst of hostilities. Steven Gerrard, who had played in the killer ball that so panicked Cech, was filled with the instinct to run at his opponents with a zeal that might just have been unprecedented, even in a career which has some extremely superactive moments.

But if Gerrard was looking for the big play, Carragher - yet again - was making a whole stream of them. So, too, was Didi Hamann, the German veteran who, we knew, would not be able to reproduce the silky passing of the man he was replacing, Xabi Alonso, but was showing at maybe the most vital point of his five-season stint for Liverpool, a wonderfully cool head.

In the absence of Alonso, Hamann was Benitez's, sharpest tactical brain - a fact which was rather underlined when both gave Garcia stiff lectures about his positional responsibilities in the space of a few minutes. The Spanish player had just scored a goal that might soon enough be weighed in the purest gold, but in the meantime he was required to hold his ground. Fears that Hamann would wilt from the effects of his recent absence through injury were no doubt heavy at half-time, but for a while at least they were banished when Liverpool opened the second half with a rather more aggressive streak.

One teasing pass from Hamann threatened to send John Arne Riise clear, and for a suddenly anxious Mourinho there began to be something suspiciously resembling the rising of a red tide. Perhaps sensing that mood, Benitez sent in Djbril Cissé as a fresh raider to replace the fading Baros.

With 24 minutes to go, Mourinho played the hand that had served him so well in the past. He sent on Robben, the man who with Duff - not even fit enough to sit on the bench - had so often been Chelsea's most coherent stab at full-blown attack.

Again Robben, showed the predatory streak that had been such a vital factor for Chelsea in mid-season. Within a minute he had reminded a suddenly pensive Anfield of his potential to wreck any defence. Robben linked beautifully with Gudjohnsen, and only desperate intervention by Carragher headed off the danger.

Benitez countered with one of the great enigmas of this or any season - Harry Kewell. The Australian promptly showed skill on the left and forced a crude tackle from Geremi, but the most promising point of relief for Liverpool came when Cissé found only Claude Makelele between himself and the goal. Makelele, though, is no mere barrier. Indeed, he been a major reason why Chelsea had refused to submit to the ferocious pressure of a night in which Liverpool believed, with compelling evidence, that an old destiny had taken them by the hand.

It was a sense compounded by a late Cissé shot which scraped a Chelsea post.