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Hush: Silver lining on a golden night

It was more than pleasing. It was pulsating and, in terms of excitement, almost perfect. Furthermore, in a wider context, for Fabio Capello it was very promising.

After splitting six goals in their first three meetings of the season, Liverpool and Arsenal finally released the shackles to serve up a Champions League classic. Post-match, in his Liverpool hotel, the Italian coach of the England team was likely enjoying along with the rest of us, sipping a nice glass of red as three men who potentially hold keys to his future success played inspirational parts in a glorious night at Anfield.

Prior to the tie, some sceptics suggested that the involvement of relatively few Englishmen might diminish some of the lustre associated with this latest 'Battle of Britain'. That they were far off the mark was emphasised twofold.

First, the quality of play from both sides spanned from front to back as almost every participant, irrespective of their country of origin, played as though they appreciated exactly what the confrontation between two old rivals meant, from the first whistle of the opening leg.

Secondly, to Capello's delight, a trio of men who do hail from the 'sceptred isle' were at the forefront of the tie as it came down to the wire. One was the topic of much debate as the second leg approached. The second made a dazzling impact as a substitute while the third ended the tie with cool efficiency.

With four goals in his previous two starts against Arsenal, on the one hand, the fact that Peter Crouch was selected to start alongside Fernando Torres was not a great surprise.

However, even though the lanky striker impressed at the Emirates on Saturday and had scored a hat-trick against the Gunners at Anfield last season and in spite of the positive plaudits his manager directed towards him in his pre-match press conference, seeing his name in the first XI did raise an eyebrow or two.

Crouch has always come across as a modest man who is well aware of his own abilities and, as such, limitations, and so his recent comments that he is beginning to see his future away from Liverpool smacked of his realisation that he will never be part of Rafael Benitez's first-choice plans.

Thus, whether he felt he had a point to prove to his current employer or a message to send to a future one, Crouch began Tuesday's match with a chip on his shoulder.

Either way, Benitez deserves praise for having the conviction to break up the Fernando Torres - Steven Gerrard tandem that had proved so successful against Inter Milan in the previous Champions League round, but which had stuttered in recent games.

What the Liverpool manager got was an all-purpose display from Crouch that constantly occupied one of Arsenal defenders. Never was this more crucial than in the 69th minute when, with William Gallas occupied by the second Liverpool striker, Torres took full advantage of Philippe Senderos' limitations in a one-on-one situation.

With Crouch, who has a fine strike rate at international level, albeit against mainly second-tier opposition, leading an England front line, the likes of Wayne Rooney and or Michael Owen would have greater freedom to float into a deeper role or play off a big man respectively, without the need for them to be constantly bumped by opposing centre halves.

Like Crouch, regular first-team football is something that Theo Walcott craves, be it with club or country. Due mainly to a ludicrous decision, which saw the-then seventeen-year-old taken to the 2006 World Cup, despite the injury risks that were Owen and Rooney, Walcott has been seen as something of an underachiever. It's an unfair label for a player only passed his nineteenth birthday in the past month.

Of course, he still has much to do to make a consistent place his own in either the Arsenal or England side but he has now amassed over sixty games in his club's first team and, in a mesmerising matter of seconds on Tuesday, Walcott showed that his immense potential remains worth tapping.

On as a substitute, Walcott combined pace and grace to sprint fully sixty yards before serving a cross to Emmanuel Adebayor on a platter. The exuberant dribble was reminiscent of Owen against Argentina in 1998 or Rooney at Euro 2004, while the final ball to the Togolese striker showed that, on the biggest stage, Walcott has the capacity to deliver.

Like Crouch, Walcott has gone public this season regarding his frustration about the lack of chances he has been offered by Arsene Wenger. Youthful frustration perhaps, but Walcott must learn that only by replicating his Anfield cameo on a longer-term basis, will come a more consistent role, both with club and country.

In no doubt as to his importance to his domestic and international teams is Steven Gerrard and, as such, perhaps it was fitting that the most established member of England's triumvirate (international retiree Jamie Carragher is excluded) was the man who would have the last word on Tuesday when he rammed a penalty past Manuel Almunia in front of a joyous Kop.

Worshipped by the red half of Liverpool, there remains a feeling that Gerrard has failed to hit the heights he regularly achieves in a red shirt in the colours of England. One half of the 'can they work together?' partnership with Frank Lampard, since the end of the last World Cup, the 27-year-old has scored only three times in nineteen games for his country.

As a central midfielder, Gerrard has few peers of equal stature and yet a succession of managers have seen fit to move him from his best position. Steve McClaren played him wide right while Benitez has opted recently to push him forward alongside Torres.

Such is his ability that neither move has totally reduced Gerrard's effectiveness, but the truth is that the Liverpool and occasional England captain is best served in the middle of the park, alongside a defensively-minded partner, such as the one he has at Anfield in Javier Mascherano.

And so Liverpool advance to meet Chelsea yet again in the last four of Europe's premier club competition. With Walcott watching from his living room and Crouch more than likely to be back on the bench by then, of Capello's men who impressed on Tuesday, only Gerrard is a certainty to feature in the semi-final.

Disappointing though that may be for the England coach, Capello saw enough of a silver lining on a golden night at Anfield to know he has plenty to work with in the future.

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