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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 14, 2006

Gerrard Cup Final performance inspires Reo-Coker

West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker was inspired by the performance of Liverpool's FA Cup saviour Steven Gerrard to believe he can also become one of the world's greatest midfielders.

Gerrard produced another stunning cup final display to match his Istanbul heroics in last year's Champions League triumph as he twice hauled Liverpool back on level terms on the way to their penalty shoot-out victory over the Hammers yesterday.

The first was with a sweet volley. But the second, just as the clock ticked over into injury time, was a 35-yard thunderbolt which has been described as the best FA Cup final goal ever.

The West Ham players to a man hailed Gerrard's performance as the difference between the two sides in a game which finished 3-3.

Reo-Coker plays in the same position and is the driving force of West Ham's midfield as Gerrard is for Liverpool.

'Steve Gerrard is what I aspire to be, along with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. He's one of my idols. He's a natural born leader and a fantastic all-round player,' said Reo-Coker.

'That was a world-class moment from him in injury-time. That's what changed the game - you have to show him respect.'

Reo-Coker, 22 today, is on Sven-Goran Eriksson's World Cup stand-by list - and the youngest captain in the Barclays Premiership is relishing the chance of working with Gerrard when he hooks up with the England squad.

'I have to look forward to going away with England and thinking positively, because there are a lot of things we can take from this performance,' he said.

'It's invaluable experience.'

The disappointment in losing will linger for many of the West Ham players over the summer, particularly those whose penalties were saved.

But Reo-Coker is already looking forward - and for Yossi Benayoun, the fact it took a unique strike from a unique player to deny West Ham is a major source of comfort.

'We deserved to win, but Steven Gerrard won the game for them,' said Benayoun.

'He is one of the best players in the world. I think he is a big part of the Liverpool team - and if he doesn't play Liverpool are another team.

'I don't think there is anybody else who could shoot with one touch in the last minute from 30 yards like that and score. He's the only player in England who can do that, and maybe in the world.'

That strike capped a roller-coaster 90 minutes, after West Ham had taken an early 2-0 lead.

'We never thought we had it won,' said Reo-Coker. 'You have to show them respect and you remember their comeback in the Champions League final.

'But it was an exciting match that will go down as one of the greatest cup finals in history. As a team, it will be tremendous experience. We can learn a lot from this occasion, being so young as a squad.

'We had a never-say-die spirit, as well as they did. It just wasn't meant to be.'

No moment sums that up better than when Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina suddenly produced a stunning save to push Reo-Coker's header on to the post.

The ball fell loose in the box and to the only player West Ham did not want it to - Marlon Harewood. The striker was in such pain with a foot injury that he could barely stand up, and his attempted shot looped wide.

Reina went on to save penalties from Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand.

'I don't think penalties was a fair outcome. We all gave 110%. We went and did what's been working for us all season - and we showed what we are all about,' concluded Reo-Coker.