Benitez hails Liverpool's character and belief

April 8, 2008

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez hailed the character and belief of his side as they stormed into the European Cup semi-finals for the ninth time in their history.

GettyImagesEmmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas show the pain of bitter defeat.

The amazing 4-2 quarter-final second leg victory over Arsenal, for a 5-3 aggregate win, meant Benitez had emerged triumphant and unbeaten from three clashes with the north Londoners in a week.

Liverpool broke the hearts of Arsene Wenger's side, who led early on through Abou Diaby before Sami Hyypia's equaliser, while Emmanuel Adebayor's goal with seven minutes left would have put Arsenal into the last four on away goals when he made it 2-2 after Fernando Torres' strike.

But Steven Gerrard's penalty, won by substitute Ryan Babel, and then a breakaway fourth from the flying Dutchman set the seal on the victory, which many old time Liverpool fans will see as revenge for Arsenal's 1989 injury-time title triumph on this same ground.

Benitez said: 'I was delighted with the belief of my players, particularly in the second half. We had been so poor before the break, but so much better in the second period.

'It was a tremendous game for our fans, there were six goals and we played so well.

'I hear Steven Gerrard has said it was a poor game by him, but I was satisfied. He scored a crucially important penalty for us when it really mattered, that was positive from him to take it so well.

'Now we have Chelsea again in the semi-final. Again it will be a very, very tough game against an excellent side. But like tonight, we have enough experience of such matches and clearly the belief to succeed again.

'And when we went to 2-2 so near the end, my players showed tremendous character and desire to get up off the ground to win the tie.'

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger considered the penalty that swung the game late on was 'dodgy' and his side had been the victim of bad decisions in both legs.

At the Emirates last week Arsenal were denied a spot-kick when Dirk Kuyt pulled back Alex Hleb, and in this match Liverpool were awarded a spot-kick for a foul on Babel by Kolo Toure.

Wenger said: 'I felt at that stage the game was over at 2-2. Then there was a dodgy penalty and we started to lose concentration.

'Over the two games this is hard to swallow. The big decisions over penalties in both matches have gone against us.

'It is difficult to take, the players in the dressing room are very down because they believe week after week the decisions are going against them.

'It was not a penalty tonight, I have seen the replay. But we were denied a clear penalty last week. That was a real penalty, this one wasn't.'

He added: 'And even at 2-2 we had a great chance to kill the game off. But we lacked experience and made big mistakes.

'We conceded a goal from a corner and gave Fernando Torres too much room when he scored.

'It will be hard now, we have to go to Manchester United next at the weekend, but we will try to finish strongly. But we still feel a great sense of injustice.'