It was the night that Liverpool had dreamed of but scarcely dared to believe possible and it told us that everything we thought we knew about English football might just be wrong. That Roman Abramovich's money can buy Chelsea the world, that Jose Mourinho is a coach without equal and that Liverpool's days as the kings of Europe are more suited to the history books than the here and now.
The new champions of the Premiership have been beaten and it was a defeated inflicted in thrilling and tense circumstances. Luis Garcia's goal after four minutes set up a night at Anfield that will stand comparison with all the classics this stadium has witnessed. Against a club infinitely blessed with wealth and a staggering 33 points ahead of them in the Premiership, Liverpool claimed their place in the club's sixth European Cup final.
For Rafael Benitez it was a night that will surpass his Uefa Cup triumph with Valencia last year and raises him close to the status of past managers like Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan within a single, astonishing season. And for all the great foreign players who have been brought to Anfield to revive this club, it was Jamie Carragher who stood like a colossus among his Liverpool team-mates to withstand the late Chelsea siege.
It was a night that will be remembered by Liverpool on a par with St-Etienne in 1977 and the thrilling defeat of Roma three years ago and it means that in Istanbul on 25 May, they have a chance to win their fifth European Cup. The banner in the Kop that read "Make us Dream" might have been touched with the sentimentality to which Anfield is prone but now the home support have good reason to hope.
It had been an affront to Anfield tradition that, winning the toss, John Terry chose to defend the goal in front of the Kop. But no one could have expected them to pay for it so quickly. Liverpool's first goal was not quite as swift as the John Arne Riise strike against Chelsea that took just 45 seconds of the Carling Cup final but it was equally devastating and its effect on the atmosphere in the old stadium was quite electrifying.
Riise was the first to break out of the Chelsea midfield on four minutes, dashing towards the area and laying a ball into Steven Gerrard 20 yards from goal. With only one touch, the Liverpool captain sent a flick through the heart of the Chelsea defence towards Milan Baros who was locked in a race for the ball with his Czech Republic team-mate Petr Cech. The Chelsea goalkeeper lost by a fraction.
The touch that Baros applied to the ball did not look enough to have carried it over the line, but with the Liverpool striker comprehensively floored by Cech's challenge, the eye was drawn to the referee, Lubos Michel. In the end, the Slovakian official's refusal to award a penalty was academic: Garcia prodded the ball towards the empty net and on the line William Gallas was adjudged to have failed in his attempt to get the ball clear.
With the crucial camera blocked by Gallas, the television replays were inconclusive but inside Anfield that point was incidental once referee Michel had signalled a goal. The place shook with the noise. In the main stand, the only people left in their seats were Abramovich and his generous entourage.
Their goal did not open the way for Liverpool to dominate the rest of the half, although they succeeded in restricting Chelsea in all the approaches in which the champions have proved dangerous all season. Claude Makelele saw much less of the ball and both Frank Lampard and Eidur Gudjohnsen were immaculately dispossessed by Dietmar Hamann when they looked like they might pose a threat.
But Chelsea's key deficiency was Didier Drogba, who has for some time looked like he might not be the striker to take them towards a historic treble this season. Against the peerless Carragher he was much less than a danger and, at times, bordered on being an irrelevance. Chelsea's players headed for the dressing rooms at half-time without even mustering a single shot on goal.
Mourinho's teams at Porto and Chelsea have achieved nothing without a sense of calm in the tightest of moments yet there was not a great deal of serenity in the second half.
Even with Lampard and Gudjohnsen attempting to impose some order in the centre of midfield, the Premiership champions seemed unable to summon enough composure to connect more than five passes. After the hour, Drogba shanked a promising free-kick into the Kop.
It was 67 minutes before Chelsea struck a shot at Jerzy Dudek's goal - a Lampard free-kick which the Polish keeper did well to turn wide. Twice in the closing stages the substitute Djibril Cissé broke clear to run on goal and missed. Carragher and then Gerrard robbed the ball from Arjen Robben in the closing stages. Six minutes added time invoked fury and then, at the death, Gudjohnsen drove the last chance wide. On the final whistle: Red joy
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Garcia (Nuñez, 84), Hamann (Kewell, 73), Biscan, Riise; Gerrard; Baros (Cissé, 59). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Smicer, Warnock, Welsh.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Geremi (Huth, 76), Terry, Carvalho, Gallas; Makelele; Cole (Robben, 67), Tiago (Kezman, 67), Lampard, Gudjohnsen; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Johnson, Forssell, Nuno Morais.
Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).
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