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By ESPN Staff

Carragher: Reds must bridge the gap next season

Defiant Jamie Carragher insists Liverpool have the belief and character to bounce back from their shattering Champions League semi-final defeat and challenge for domestic and European honours next season.

In the bleak aftermath at Stamford Bridge last night, after Liverpool failed agonisingly to reach their eighth European Cup final, 30-year-old Carragher issued a rallying call.

In their 15th European semi-final in all competitions, Liverpool had just lost 3-2 on the night after extra-time and 4-3 on aggregate as Chelsea marched on to Moscow for a May 21 date with Manchester United.

Carragher maintained that it would be 'hard to watch that final' but insisted he would not be missing the showdown between the Premier League's top two clubs.

Carragher said: 'We have done well in the Champions League, but everyone at the club knows that we have to bridge that gap between ourselves and the leaders.

'It is something that we are going to have to think about now and aim to improve next season.

'The final is too close to call, I will not enjoy watching it but of course I will watch.'

Frank Lampard, playing his first game since the death of his mother last week, coolly slotted home a 98th-minute penalty and Didier Drogba, who had opened the scoring in the first-half, sent Chelsea to the final with a timely second.

Fernando Torres had given Liverpool hope with a second-half equaliser but they failed to finish the job and Chelsea made them pay in a pulsating extra period which also saw Ryan Babel grab a late goal for the Reds which was of no consolation.

Without the resources of the 'big two' and with the battle for control at Anfield still raging - and likely to do so all summer - Carragher knows only to well what a tall order it will be for Liverpool to mount a serious challenge for the title and to aim for another European final.

He said: 'At Liverpool we know we have to win trophies, but we were left with the Champions League after going out of the two domestic cups.

'In the league people did expect us to be challenging. But this will still be one of our best seasons in terms of points gained.

'But there is no doubt about the character and belief in this side, and next season we want to be challenging (Manchester) United, Chelsea and Arsenal.'

There may well be a major shake-up in Liverpool's squad before they are able to embark on any new challenges next term, and several of this squad are unlikely to be playing together much longer.

But in the end their Champions League exit owed much to an own goal by John Arne Riise in injury-time last week in the first leg at Anfield.

Had they won that game, their second encounter with Chelsea would have looked a whole lot different.

But they failed to reach their third final in four seasons and it is Chelsea now embarking on their first European Cup final.

Carragher said: 'The most important thing in cup football is the results, and that is what Chelsea have achieved.

'We can't always say that we are good enough to get to the final every year. It is always tough although we have done really well to get to the semi-finals.

'There are some great teams around Europe and it is always difficult for us to even get this far.

'At one point in the group stages it looked like we were already out. But great teams show great character, Chelsea and Manchester United do that and we have also had to achieve that.

'We have shown over the years that we can hit back. Like in Istanbul and then the FA Cup final with West Ham.

'We do seem to be able to mount comebacks, and we nearly did that here with that late goal.'

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard revealed his pride at the performance of his team at Stamford Bridge, saying: 'It just was not to be. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit it was not your night.

'We gave it absolutely everything and I was as proud to be captain of the team last night, as I have ever been.

'Even after going behind we kept on fighting and looking to get back into the game and when we managed to do that it looked like we could even go on and win it.

'It was not to be, but not for a lack of effort. You have to give Chelsea credit, they are a good side - you do not get through to European Cup finals unless you are.'

Gerrard added: 'We have all got to look forward now, because it is never easy to lose a game like that.

'We were all desperate to win the European Cup again, especially for our fans, who were magnificent again last night. We were just gutted that we could not repay their support by getting through to the final.

'Hopefully, we will go into next season with a stronger squad because that could make a big difference.'