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Feb 25, 2012

A springboard for success

Liverpool legend Ian Rush is predicting the dawn of a new era for his beloved club - if they beat Cardiff City in the Carling Cup final on Sunday. He is of the belief that success at Wembley could prove the springboard for a return to the kind of success he experienced at Anfield in the 1980s. And one wonders whether renewed glory is all but written in the stars for the Reds, with a legend of Cardiff's own, Andy Legg, conceding the final is not the Welsh club's No. 1 priority. Indeed, Liverpool might just want it that little bit more this weekend.

Having disposed of Exeter, Brighton, Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester City en route to the showpiece, Liverpool have certainly earned their place, and it will be a first Wembley final in 16 years, with their last piece of silverware coming in the thrilling FA Cup win over West Ham at Wales' Millennium Stadium in 2006. Now, six years later, they find themselves preparing for a tie in England's capital, against Championship side Cardiff, who are no strangers to the new Wembley.

Cardiff - who defeated Oxford, Huddersfield, Leicester, Burnley, Blackburn and Crystal Palace on their respective march - reached Wembley in 2008, when they were beaten 1-0 by Portsmouth in the FA Cup final, and two years later they sustained further woe at the home of English football, suffering a 3-2 loss to Blackpool in the Championship play-off final. The Bluebirds will have everything crossed it is third time lucky although, of the teams they have previously faced, this Liverpool side is surely the most imposing.

Rush has quite the affinity for the League Cup, having helped Liverpool - the competition's most successful club - to four successive triumphs in the competition nearly 30 years ago. And, when speaking to ESPNsoccernet ahead of this year's final, the once prolific striker needed little encouragement when discussing what it would mean for the club to add to their current total of seven League Cup titles. He said: "If they can make it eight, it could be the start of a new era for Liverpool - we've got the new owners, a new manager, new players and the backing of the fans. It will give everyone a big boost if they win on Sunday. It is the new Wembley and the Liverpool supporters have not been there before. Hopefully it will be a special day."

And the momentum could well be with Liverpool, after their 6-1 walloping of another Championship club in cup competition in the shape of Brighton. Rush continued: "The win over Brighton in the FA Cup was perfect preparation, especially as Gerrard, Carroll and Suarez all got to play together for the first time." Rush, though, remains wary of Cardiff, and says being such strong favourites when heading into a game can have an adverse effect. He said: "Liverpool are obviously favourites to win, but it is about what matters on the day. It is important not to underestimate Cardiff. The preparation for the game is vital and I am sure Kenny Dalglish will ensure that is spot-on."

The encounter will mark a proud moment for Dalglish, as the Scot leads Liverpool out for their first final since his return to management on Merseyside. And amid frustrations in the Premier League, in particular at home, this weekend offers welcome positivity for the club. Rush has been impressed with Dalglish since he replaced Roy Hodgson at the helm: "There is a unity at Liverpool. Since Kenny has come back, he has ensured that no-one is bigger than the club. Steve Clarke also deserves credit for his coaching, and that combined with Kenny's man-management has proved positive."

Cardiff great Andy Legg is also eagerly anticipating this weekend's match, albeit with a sense of trepidation. "I do fear that if Liverpool score early it could be a tough afternoon for Cardiff," said Legg, who made over 200 appearances for the Bluebirds in all competitions. Yet the tag of 'the underdog' is a hope worth clinging on to. "The expectation levels at Cardiff have always been high, but in this instance there is little pressure. They can go there with no fear and nothing to lose," he continued. "I think the difference between this cup run and the one in 2008 is that the fans, realistically, don't expect to win this cup. They are looking forward to the day and hope something happens, whereas when they played Portsmouth the majority of fans expected something."

Unlike Rush's viewpoint on Liverpool, where the final represents a platform on which to build, Cardiff - who are fifth in the Championship - arguably see the occasion as a bonus but not the ultimate prize. Legg explained: "They would let go of the Carling Cup if they could get promotion. It is vitally important Cardiff do get to the top flight, like Swansea have. Cardiff have progressed off the pitch as well as on the pitch. All the facilities are in place - Cardiff need Premier League football. Promotion is the No. 1 priority."

Rush and Legg were unified, however, on one matter: the rise of Welsh football. With Cardiff reaching their second Wembley final in four years and Swansea on the receiving end of a string of plaudits in the Premier League, the compatriots were optimistic as to the future of their nation's football. "For Welsh football it is incredible for Cardiff to be in the final. It is a boost. Swansea, too, are impressing in the Premier League. And both clubs' achievements are brilliant for Welsh football's profile," Rush said, while Legg concluded: "Welsh football is on the up. You will see that on Sunday."

•  Ian Rush and Andy Legg were talking ahead of the Carling Cup Final this Sunday where for the first time ever Carling have given fans the chance to vote for how they want the final to look visit www.carlingcup.com/finalsay

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