Benitez hails Kuyt's role in 2-0 win over Inter
Rafael Benitez reserved special praise for Dirk Kuyt after Liverpool's unexpected Champions League victory over Inter Milan.
Dutch striker Kuyt has been badly out of form this season, and his goal in the shock FA Cup defeat to Barnsley on Saturday was his first since mid-December.
But against the Italian champions last night, Kuyt struck in the closing minutes - Steven Gerrard grabbing a second - to keep Liverpool's European dreams very much alive.
Their 2-0 victory in the last-16 first leg gave them a great chance of reaching the quarter-finals when they play Inter again in the San Siro next month.
Benitez said: 'I have always had confidence in Kuyt. He has had a difficult time this season but has never failed to work hard.
'Against Inter, he was asked to play out of position on the right, but he produced a good hard-working display and was rewarded with a crucial goal for us.'
Benitez insisted he always believed his under-fire team could produce a night of European triumph, just four days after their humiliation at the hands of Barnsley.
Liverpool bounced back from that disaster against a Coca-Cola Championship side to beat a team rated the best in Europe on current form.
Fans will struggle to understand how Liverpool can produce two such contrasting performances.
Benitez, his job reputed to be on the line, said: 'This result is good for the confidence of the team, the supporters and the club.
'I always had confidence in my players. They played well, with passion, and they passed the ball excellently.
'It was clearly much better than the last match, and even though Inter Milan had 10 men for a long spell, they were still formidable opponents who were organised, defended well and were always capable of scoring on the break.'
The Spaniard added: 'I accept that we needed this win as a team, we needed to progress in the competition. As a manager, you are always pleased with a win like this, and this is now the time to be happy.'
Benitez felt the red card for Inter defender Marco Materazzi was correct, and also insisted Liverpool should have had a second-half penalty when Patrick Vieira handled in the box.
He said: 'The red card was clear. It was for two yellow cards and the referee was right. As for the penalty, everyone could see the Inter player handling the ball.
'But you cannot change things now, it is an excellent win made better by a clean sheet.
'I know people will say they cannot understand how we can lose to Barnsley and then beat Inter Milan. But on Saturday we changed the team, we had 10 internationals on the pitch and missed a lot of chances.
'This time we were better, we had far less chances but we scored two good goals. v 'It gives us a great chance in the second leg, but we must be careful because Inter are a very good side and they will make it very difficult for us at the San Siro.'
Inter coach Roberto Mancini insisted that the referee was wrong to dismiss former Everton defender Materazzi, saying: 'I think the referee got both the yellow card decisions wrong. Neither were worthy of cautions and the sending-off changed the game.
'I was not surprised by this performance from Liverpool, I knew they would put in a good performance after what happened at the weekend because they are a good side.
'But I will not conceded that the task is now beyond us. We have another 90 minutes on our own ground, although the fact is that the second goal they scored has made it all a lot harder.
'But it is not out of our reach.'