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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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By ESPN Staff

Rafa dreaming of more Champions League glory

Rafael Benitez has rallied his troops for one last surge to reach the Champions League final by declaring: 'Can we get to Moscow. Why not?'

The Liverpool boss is convinced he is heading for his fourth European final in five seasons.

He won the UEFA Cup with Valencia in 2003-04, and has been to the Champions League final with Liverpool twice since.

Now the man with the magic touch in Europe is plotting a third victory over Chelsea in a semi-final showdown, having seen off the west Londoners at this stage twice before.

Benitez has driven Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to distraction by remaining unbeaten in their week-long trilogy, and now he has Avram Grant in his sights having twice left Jose Mourinho in despair.

The semi-final dates are set for Anfield on April 22 and Stamford Bridge on April 30, with the final in Moscow on May 21, where Manchester United are favourites to appear in the giant Luzhniki Stadium.

Benitez said: 'We deserve to be in the semi-finals and we feel we can reach the final again. Can we get to Moscow, why not?

'We have talked of the possibility and we are proud to be playing against the best teams in Europe at this stage of the competition.

'We have done it before and won and now we can do it again. Why not us in the final? We will always do our best and we know we can do it because we have done it in the past.

'We have figured in the best final ever in Istanbul. Then we reached the final in Athens and we lost, although we played much better there than we did in Istanbul.

'Now we are getting close again and hopefully the next one will be better. The match against Arsenal was one of the best European nights ever for the club, but hopefully the next one will be even better.'

It is Benitez's quite astonishing track record in Europe that gives the Kop hordes such confidence Liverpool can reach their eighth European Cup final.

Benitez may not be able to master the Premier League, but his European record is remarkable. In 57 matches under Benitez, Liverpool have won 35 and lost just 12.

And he had a similar Midas touch with Valencia, where he managed the Spanish club in 37 European matches in both Champions League and UEFA Cup, winning 23 and losing just five.

In the past seven seasons of management, he has been to a quarter-final six times and reached three finals, winning two.

No wonder Liverpool fans have such faith in the man.

In the wake of last night's triumph over Arsenal, he said: 'Our players do not give up because they can hear the people supporting them. Our fans are magnificent, amazing and they can make players keep going.

'It was an amazing night against a very good team. We had to work so hard, having started the game so badly.

'We were giving the ball away and making everything so difficult. But there was a tremendous reaction after the break and that is a tribute to the character of my team.

'We conceded a really disappointing goal in that difficult first period, but you could see the reaction of the players, their belief, which was so positive. I always knew that my players had that character and they did not let anybody down.'

Benitez added: 'I never felt the game was over when Torres scored our second to put us ahead. Arsenal were playing very well with two strikers and two players `between the lines', and they hit back.

'It was very difficult to control them and we had to be physically strong to do it. I had to make lots of decisions over substitutes because some of our players were very tired - Arsenal had made them run so much.

'Our fans are amazing, you can feel the passion from them. Then you can see the players' reactions, we talked about it before the game and at half-time and how we were going to reward such special fans.

'Yes, we do well in European matches. We have the passion, the ability and the application for these type of games.'

Now Chelsea will be looking for revenge after suffering two semi-final defeats at Liverpool's hands.

Benitez said: 'Everybody knows how difficult it is to play against Chelsea and how good they are. It has been difficult against them in the past and we know it will be difficult again because they have such good players.

'I know they are at home for the second leg this time, but in these type of games it is just as difficult for both sides.

'Home advantage does not always mean much but I will tell you afterwards whether it was an advantage for Chelsea this time!'