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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 21, 2006

Benitez defends Liverpool over Ukraine trip

Rafael Benitez had to withstand a tortuous trip to the Ukraine today before walking straight into an astonishing assault on Liverpool's motives and character ahead of tomorrow's Champions League showdown against Maccabi Haifa.

Liverpool's flight from John Lennon airport was delayed for 90 minutes due to mechanical problems before they were forced to wait for another 90 minutes at Kiev airport to get their baggage because their plane `had been parked in the wrong place'.

Eventually the charter plane was moved to the correct place to allow the baggage to be unloaded but not before there had been further delays over Chile international Mark Gonzalez's visa, while Peter Crouch was unable to produce his passport because it was stuck in the hold while the baggage row continued.

Both players eventually continued their journey to the city centre with their team-mates before embarking on a delayed training session.

Liverpool arrived for this third qualifying round second leg, with £12million hanging on the outcome as they hold a 2-1 lead over the Israelis, they were without injured defenders Jamie Carragher, John Arne Riise as well as youngster Gabriel Paletta.

Steve Finnan's return from a muscle injury did little to lift the mood of frustration as they finally reached their hotel.

But then their manager was ambushed by a remarkable sustained assault of questioning from Israeli journalists who criticised Liverpool's part in having the game moved from Israel because of the Middle East crisis.

They accused Liverpool of pressuring UEFA into taking this second leg to Dynamo Kiev's small stadium and then constantly asked Benitez why his club was scared to travel to Israel, insisting that 'there was no war in Tel Aviv'.

Liverpool were also accused of roughhouse tactics in the first leg as Benitez struggled to keep his cool and the focus on the match.

He said: 'We are here because of a UEFA decision and I only want to talk about the game. My only concern is with football, you must understand why we couldn't come to Tel Aviv.

'I was asked these same questions a few years ago when I was manager at Valencia and we had to play a game outside of Israel. That too was a decision made by UEFA. We at Liverpool are now here to play football and you all know the reason why.

'We have always said we have respect for Haifa, their team and supporters and we did not pressure anyone.'

But it is clear the game is being built up into a grudge match with further complaints about Liverpool's tactics at Anfield.

Benitez added: 'I have seen the video, maybe you are seeing something different; a different video than me.'

Benitez tried hard to stick to the match, in which he accepted that Liverpool dare not lose the tie.

He said: 'We know the situation, we need to score early. But we have lost important players in our defence, although we now have a better squad than before and will manage the situation.

'We have experience now, we have players who have won league titles, the Champions League, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. We know what to do and know who we will play.'