Torres takes Reds into Atletico semi

Torres struck twice as the Reds produced a devastating attacking
performance to power past their Portuguese opponents and reach the
last four. Dirk Kuyt and Lucas were also on target on a pulsating
night at Anfield as the Reds overturned a 2-1 deficit from the
first leg of their quarter-final tie. Their first-leg nemesis Oscar
Cardozo threatened to make life difficult with a goal that made it
3-1 on the night but Torres’ second delightful finish ended the
contest. It was a performance that came in marked contrast to
Liverpool’s struggles in the Premier League and their increasingly
forlorn attempts to finish fourth. They left the field frustrated
after being held at Birmingham on Saturday but, after a slow start,
their determination to progress in this competition soon became
obvious. They made two changes from the weekend, the key one being
the deployment of first-leg goalscorer Daniel Agger in the
unfamiliar role of left-back due to Emiliano Insua’s suspension.
Jamie Carragher and Sotirios Kyrgiakos started in central defence
while Javier Mascherano replaced the ineligible Maxi Rodriguez.
Torres, who was controversially substituted at Birmingham to rest a
knee injury, showed worrying signs of discomfort in the early
stages. His mobility was not helped by a crude early challenge from
Sidnei and that set the tone for a night of rough treatment for the
Spaniard, who had clearly been identified as the dangerman. Benfica
actually started the stronger and had an early opportunity after
Carragher pushed the charging Pablo Aimar over on the edge of the
box. Angel di Maria’s free-kick went straight into the wall and was
put behind for a corner. Liverpool took time to find their stride
and it was not until the 15th minute that they worried Benfica as
Steven Gerrard’s whipped free-kick was headed behind by Amorim.
Gerrard then fired in a cross for Torres but the striker, who
headed straight at Julio Cesar anyway, was offside. Torres had
another chance from a Glen Johnson cross but his glancing header
went wide. The Reds were taking charge and although Benfica
continued to look dangerous on the break, they carried the greater
threat. They levelled the tie in the 27th minute after Yossi
Benayoun won a corner on the left. Gerrard delivered a perfect
cross for Dirk Kuyt from the resulting set-piece and the Dutchman
firmly headed home from six yards. A moment of confusion followed
as the goal initially appeared to have been disallowed as the
assistant referee on the far side flagged for offside. Liverpool
protested and the referee and additional assistant behind the goal
agreed the goal should stand. With an away goal in the bank, that
gave the Reds the edge overall but they had the momentum and wanted
more. They followed up with a second goal six minutes later as
Gerrard slipped the often-maligned Lucas in on goal with a superb
ball. The Brazilian showed great composure to swerve around Cesar
and tap in his first goal in 11 months. The job was far from done,
however, and Liverpool survived a couple of scares before the break
as Cardozo fired a free-kick at Jose Reina and Sidnei had a shot
deflected for a corner. But Benfica captain Luisao almost handed
Liverpool another goal early in the second half. Kuyt won
possession on the right and fed Gerrard, who delivered a low ball
across the box. Luisao slid in to make the interception but lost
control and needed Cesar to palm it away. Liverpool’s deserved
third arrived just before the hour from a swift counter-attack.
Lucas was struck between the legs as the Reds defended a free-kick
inside their own half and left their colleague in pain as they
charged downfield. Benayoun raced into the Benfica half and spread
the ball wide for Kuyt, whose first-time cross was swept in by the
onrushing Torres. The atmosphere at this point was raucous, but
anxiety soon set in as Benfica pulled one back on 70 minutes after
Kuyt fouled Ramires on the edge of the area. Cardozo, who scored
two penalties in the first leg, blasted in a low shot through a gap
in the wall. Benayoun conceded another free-kick in a similar
position for tripping the same player four minutes later but this
time Cardozo’s curling effort flew narrowly wide. The Reds battled
on and showed the resolve to kill off the tie eight minutes from
time. Lucas won the ball in midfield with a powerful challenge and
Mascherano sent Torres clear with a brilliant pass. Torres made no
mistake as he raced into the area and clipped the ball over
substitute goalkeeper Moreira – a replacement for the injured Cesar
just moments earlier – with delicate poise. Liverpool could at last
breathe easily and took off Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun in the
closing minutes.