Liverpool keep hopes alive

Top-four spot remains possible for Benitez as 3-0 win leaves West Ham desperate for points this weekend / Torres insists he has not put country before club after knee operation ends his domestic season
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The Independent Football

Liverpool were clinging to thin hopes of a top-four finish last night, having brushed aside a desperately poor West Ham in a manner which leaves Gianfranco Zola knowing that his own side's Premier League survival is by no means assured.

Rafael Benitez's team, still six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with one game fewer to play, must certainly overcome Chelsea a week on Sunday if they are to pull off an improbable eleventh-hour bid for Champions League football next season and they did not look like a side in need of the missing Fernando Torres as Yossi Benayoun and David Ngog delivered a 2-0 half-time lead which was cemented by an unlucky Robert Green own goal in the second half. Zola's concerns will not be eased by the fact that he faces Fulham and Manchester City in West Ham's last two matches.

"Fourth place is certainly not gone," Liverpool's Jamie Carragher said. "All we can do is win our remaining games and go where that takes us, and that's what we intend to do." His manager was pragmatic. "It is difficult now," he said. "Tottenham won [against Arsenal and Chelsea] and we were not expecting that. We have to be in a good position when they make a mistake."

The club with the most drama ahead of them appears to be West Ham, for whom this defeat reawakens fears of relegation if Zola's side lose at home to Wigan this weekend. "We made mistakes today that were very costly," the Sardinian admitted. "We didn't play very well. We have a massive game on Saturday. It's important that we react for that. It's not a time to think about how badly we've played. We made mistakes today that were very costly. We didn't play very well."

The win gives Liverpool an easy passage towards Thursday's Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid, despite travel problems. Though Fulham were unhappy yesterday with Uefa's decision to force them to play their Europa League tie in Hamburg, despite the air travel chaos created by the Icelandic volcanic eruption, Liverpool remained philosophical about the decision. Benitez will travel south by train with his players this afternoon, in the hope that improved flying conditions may allow them to take a flight from Stansted to Madrid on Wednesday. Otherwise they will take an overland onward route.

"Hopefully the journey will be good," Benitez said. "People are working hard to prepare plans A and B. There are not too many options. It is decided for us now. We will go by train to London and then see."

Before Liverpool's win, Torres insisted he had not put country before club in opting for his second operation in four months and bringing his domestic season to a close.

Torres, who will be out for six weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee in Barcelona on Sunday night, said he had played injured for 85 minutes in his last game for the side, against Benfica in the Europa League quarter- final second leg. "The injury occurred in the second minute of the Benfica game," said Torres, who was substituted four minutes from time after contributing two second-half goals to seal a 4-1 win. "If I was thinking about the World Cup, I would have asked to have been substituted. It wasn't like that, I wanted to get to the Europa League final with my team.

"It's just coincidence I wont be playing in the Calderon," he added. "There is nothing strange afoot. I wanted to come back and play very much, to come back and thank the people because for me this game is incredible."

Benitez declared that Torres's operation had gone well. "I don't know any surgeon who has said an operation has been a mistake. If he is available, I'm sure he will go to the World Cup," the manager said.