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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 13, 2006

Benitez praises Liverpool team spirit

CARDIFF, May 13 (Reuters) - Liverpool's victory in one of the greatest FA Cup finals in the competition's long history owed as much to a slice of luck as their fantastic team spirit, manager Rafael Benitez said on Saturday.

Liverpool beat West Ham United 3-1 on penalties after a stoppage time goal by captain Steven Gerrard, his second of the day, made it 3-3 and sent the final into a scoreless halfhour of extra time.

'I think we had luck with the last goal but it was a fantastic final, with two teams who worked really hard and played well,' said Benitez, whose side were 2-0 down after 28 minutes.

'And you must give credit to my players after 62 games. They have done a fantastic job.'

As for the game, he said: 'I was a little disappointed because we had an idea and we made some mistakes. In the second half and extra time it was difficult to do the things we wanted to do - and we were a little tired...it was difficult but in the end team spirit and the team work was the key.

'Having six players with cramp was not normal.'

Liverpool's victory came a year after Benitez's team had sensationally rallied from 3-0 down to win the Champions League final on penalties against AC Milan.

'We like to make things difficult -- but it's not the best thing for the heart,' the Spaniard quipped.

Gerrard's sheer drive saw Liverpool into extra time but Spanish keeper Jose Reina made up for blunders which gave West Ham two goals by saving three spot-kicks in the shootout.

Though he acknowledged the contribution of Gerrard, who won the Man of the Match award, Benitez said: 'Today is more about the success of the team.

'You know the quality he has and I want to give credit to Steve. But I prefer to talk about the team -- and also to have our supporters behind us was an extra player.'

Absolving Reina for blame on the third goal, a cross by Paul Konchesky which dipped beneath the crossbar, he said: 'Konchesky's cross was really hard, it was difficult.

'But he is famous in Spain for saving penalties and we had confidence in him.'

Benitez added that Australia midfielder Harry Kewell would be sidelined for two weeks by a muscle problem. 'But I think he will be fit for the World Cup. It's not serious,' the Spaniard said.

PARDEW'S DISAPPOINTMENT

West Ham manager Alan Pardew, whose side were already assured of a UEFA Cup place in their first season back in the top flight, had a sense of deja vu after seeing the FA Cup slip away from him when he was playing in the 1990 final against Manchester United.

'It's a disappointment. When I played for Crystal Palace we came eight minutes from winning it, today it was three,' he said of another classic encounter which ended 3-3 before United won a replay 1-0.

'I thought we'd won it, we were defending well, they weren't creating too many chances and then a special player pops up and produces a special moment. It was a bodyblow.'

Putting the final into context for a promoted club against the 2005 European champions, he said: 'We were up against a team packed with internationals, with players who have won medals and have huge reputations.

'We put all that aside, got about them and almost pulled it off. It would have been a fantastic achievement if we'd won it.'

Asked what he had said to console his men, Pardew added: 'I said they'd been a part of perhaps one of the greatest finals ever -- and that they can take great dignity and pride in their performances.'

It was typical of Pardew's own dignity after a fabulous return to the Premiership and a season where West Ham have also qualified for the UEFA Cup, that still he saw the match in its rightful perspective.

He added: 'It was a great game. Both teams deserved to win. We're not going home with the trophy but in terms of plaudits we won as well today.

'It was a fantastic spectacle for English football, an occasion which will live long in the memory. I'm not saying we deserved to win because that would be unfair on Liverpool. It was played in a great spirit.'

And he revealed that as he waited for the cup to be presented he sauntered over to Gerrard with a message which will strike a chord the length and breadth of England.

Pardew said: 'I said to Steven at the end `I thought you might be saving that for the World Cup'. But maybe he has still got a few left.'