Portsmouth 0 Liverpool 0: Benitez aims unfriendly fire at fixture logjam

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez made sarcastic comments about the importance of one of his players' trips to the other side of the world for a friendly while Harry Redknapp had some of his players involved in matches in a country he had not even heard of. Yes, it was the weekend after the international break and both of these managers felt like having a grumble about it all.

Redknapp, the Ports-mouth manager, might have felt a little chirpier had Nwankwo Kanu converted a 30th-minute penalty, but even from the sidelines Redknapp did not believe the Nigerian would score. While his manager lacked faith, Kanu's effort lacked pace and Pepe Reina was able to palm it away.

The awarding of the penalty by the assistant referee was a little fussy, for some gentle shirt-pulling by Alvaro Arbeloa on John Utaka when the action had moved on. And as so often in these cases, an unfairly given penalty was not converted, as if Portsmouth themselves felt they did not deserve it.

In truth, a point apiece was just about all anyone deserved out of this encounter, and both managers were in agreement over the cause of it all. "Javier Mascherano [of Argentina] was in Australia for an important friendly," Benitez joked. "I had 18 players away for international duty. It is ridiculous to see players playing friendly games in Australia, and then we can't use them.

"A player has played one or two full games before they come back. Arbeloa came back at eight o'clock on Thursday [from Spain] and you can't do anything with him – just, 'Come on, get on the plane and go and play.' It is really difficult to prepare for a game in this situation, especially when you have four Saturday early kick-offs, as we have this year, all away."

Benitez, who decided to rest Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres for an hour, hoping their introduction would end the deadlock, suggested some compromise by playing the second international a day earlier, on Tuesday, in the 10-day period. He was joined by Sir Alex Ferguson in wondering why Chelsea seem immune from being given early kick-offs after the internationals, before suggesting that television should be far more accommodating, especially for teams involved in the Champions League.

It was little consolation for Benitez that Porto, Liverpool's opponents on Tuesday, have had as little rest as his side.

Redknapp's solution is more drastic. He suggests playing the first international in midweek, the second on the weekend; then he would have his players for a full week before the league resumes.

His summer investment saw him bring in three more African internationals, including Papa Bouba Diop, which led to this exchange before the Senegalese midfielder went away for African Nations Cup qualifiers. "I asked, 'Who did you play?' and he said, 'Something Faso'.

I knew it was in Africa. 'I bet they're good at football,' I said. That was that. I didn't see him until Friday. Where is Burkina Faso? Well, I bet it's a long way from here."

And we are still a long way from solving this particular argument.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Distin, Campbell, Hreidarsson; Benjani (Kranjcar, 68), Davis, Diop, Muntari; Kanu, Utaka. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Nugent, Taylor, Pamarot.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa; Pennant (Gerrard, 67), Alonso (Babel, 77), Sissoko, Benayoun; Crouch (Torres, 62), Voronin. Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Hyypia.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Portsmouth Johnson, Diop, Davis. Liverpool Alonso, Sissoko.

Man of the match: Diop.

Attendance: 20,388.

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