Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's Liverpool over Chelsea, in a shootout-- A classic, thrilling match at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium home. Needing at least one goal to counter Chelsea's 1-0 win last week, Liverpool dominated the game at the outset, culminating with a brilliant run-on shot by Daniel Agger on a set piece. Agger ran on to Steven Gerrard's free-kick pass, and buried his shot through the Chelsea defense and just inside the post. The explosion of joy among the Liverpool faithful was as raucous and joyous moment as ever witnessed at a sporting event. Agger's goal brought the crowd to ecstasy, but it also seemed to wake up slumbering Chelsea, who began to press the attack. The Blues' best chance came when Didier Drogba got past the Liverpool defense, and blasted a shot that was nicely parried by goalie Jose "Pepe" Reina.

The second half was a pulsing back-and forth affair. An off-balance Didier Drogba just missed a wonderful chance, as he tried to touch a crossing pass into a vacated net. In truth, it appeared that Liverpool's Jamie Carragher had saved Liverpool, deflecting the ball over the goal, before Drogba could reach it, but the officials awarded the goal kick to Liverpool. Chelsea had other moments, but were unable to beat Reina, who made some big plays. The best chances, however, belonged to Liverpool. Peter Crouch rose above the Chelsea defense to send a header down towards the goal. Crouch's shot nearly made it through Petr Cech's legs. Later in the half, Cech was beaten on a shot by Kuyt, but the blast ricocheted off the crossbar.

In extra time, Liverpool continued to be the more dangerous side, but was undone by several close offsides penalties. One such penalty overturned a seeming goal, when Kuyt broke through the defense, just as a long shot came through, and tested Chelsea's Cech. The rebound came to Kuyt, who buried the ball in the net, over the sprawled Cech. The offsides flag eventually quieted the round of celebratory cheers that had erupted, following the apparent goal. The second extra time period was a little more subdued than the first, but it was not without excitement. As the teams readied for penalty kicks (Liverpool brought on Robbie Fowler), Kuyt teed up a shot from just outside the penalty box, but was unable to get it past Cech.

It's always a shame that such results have to be determined by penalty kick shootouts, but no one can say that the fans didn't get their money's worth of exciting football over the first 2 hours. Liverpool's Boudewijn Zenden buried his team's first attempt, while Chelsea's Arjen Robben was denied by a diving Reina. On the second attempt, Cech guessed correctly but wasn't quick enough to reach Xabi Alonso's blast. Frank Lampard kept Chelsea in the game with a well-struck attempt over the sprawling Reina. Gerrard went the other way on Cech, making it 3-1 in favor of Liverpool. Reina then came up big once again, as he denied Chelsea substitute Geremi Njitap. Finally, Kuyt, who nearly won the match in extra time, knocked home the clincher.

Liverpool is again on its way to the Champions League final (they won in spectacular fashion, with the most famous comeback ever, in 2005), while Chelsea is again denied honors in what might be manager Jose Mourinho's final run with the club. Chelsea was missing some of the team's finest players (including defender Ricardo Carvalho, midfielder Michael Ballack, and striker Andriy Shevchenko), but that will be little consolation to the highly touted Blues. Tomorrow, A.C. Milan will be seeking to duplicate Liverpool's effort, as they host Manchester United. The Italian squad is trailing 3-2 on aggregate. Milan will have visions of getting a rematch in the finals with Liverpool, and a chance to avenge their '05 loss. Facing Manchester United, though, requires complete focus. It would be a stunning upset, if Milan could beat United, but Liverpool's effort against Chelsea shows that expectations mean little at this juncture.

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