Kuyt fires Reds to Athens
By Graeme Bailey. Last Updated: 01/05/07 9:22pm
Liverpool booked their place in the UEFA Champions League final after defeating Chelsea 4-1 on penalties at Anfield, after they won 1-0 on the night.
The Reds went into their second leg semi-final tie 1-0 down, but after just 22 minutes they had levelled when Steven Gerrard's clever free-kick found an unmarked Dan Agger on the edge of the box, and he fired home.
After a frantic and entertaining opening, the game became a glum contest at best and from the first half a long evening was always on the cards as both sides showed little in the way of invention - albeit the odd sporadic venture forward.
It was, though, Liverpool who showed much of what little ingenuity was on show and they deserved to book their second final in three years - following their success in 2005, with Chelsea's search for the Quadruple well and truly ended.
Liverpool began the game with their backs to the Kop and the footballing landmark was seemingly pushing their team on from the first whistle.
Indeed the home side dominated and created early openings with Gerrard flashing a shot wide, and Peter Crouch just failing to make contact with a dangerous cross from his skipper.
Liverpool pressure continued to build and the deadlock was broken with a delightful set-piece. The Reds won a free-kick on Chelsea's right and Gerrard lined up to curl the ball into the box, but instead he squared the ball into the path of Agger and he finished with great aplomb with a low shot which curled just inside Petr Cech's post.
With the game level Chelsea finally woke from their malaise - although they did not have a sight of goal until after the half-hour mark, but they should have levelled as John Obi Mikel dinked a precise ball into Didier Drogba's path but the Ivorian could only fire his shot straight at Jose Reina - making the Spaniard's save all the more easy.
Chelsea were now in charge of the ball - but they could not break through and created little. One chance which did come their way before the break was a Frank Lampard free-kick, but his in-swinging effort from wide on the left was punched clear by Reina under pressure from Drogba.
Joe Cole was doing his best to inspire early in the second half with one good run which was soon followed by a shot from range which was always going wide - but that was all the visitors could muster.
Indeed Liverpool broke to the other end and almost snatched the lead in the tie. Jermaine Pennant found room to cross and this time he found Crouch at the back post who beat Paulo Ferreira and Michael Essien with ease, but fortunately for Chelsea he could not find a way past Cech - who saved excellently with his feet.
Moments later and Cech was beaten, but the woodwork came to Chelsea's rescue as Dirk Kuyt's header from John Arne Riise's cross slammed against the crossbar.
All the real chances were coming Liverpool's way and Pennant had the next sight of goal and only a brilliant saving tackle from Essien denied the former Arsenal man.
Chelsea's lack of width was prevalent throughout and it was not until 75 minutes that Ashley Cole got into the last third with any meaning and his attack almost paid dividends as he broke into the box and lashed a cross into the six-yard box - but somehow Jamie Carragher did enough to put Drogba off.
Liverpool were still the most likely to score again and Cech was again needed to produce a good stop low down to his right, this time from a testing Bolo Zenden effort - but with more than ten minutes to go, it was clear both sides were happy to go to extra-time and indeed their wish was granted.
Into extra-time and Liverpool were still the only side appearing to be willing to ask any questions - but neither team looked unduly concerned about wasted energy or possession.
The Reds finally had the opening salvo on 99 minutes and it seemed they had claimed a crucial second as Kuyt pounced on a rebound as Cech spilled Xabi Alonso's long-range effort - but as Anfield celebrated, they finally noticed the assistant referee's raised flag.
Half-time in added time saw speed merchants Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy duly introduced.
And it was Wright-Phillips with five minutes left who almost opened the home side up as he broke down the right, he crossed into the six-yard box for Drogba - but again his run was well checked by Carragher and the chance was gone.
With minutes left, both sides had penalties on their minds and the two Iberian tacticians brought on specialists in the guise of Geremi and Robbie Fowler.
Although Fowler almost helped create a winner as he played in Kuyt, the Dutchman came back inside and unleashed a stinging effort - but Cech was able to push clear and that was it, the game - as it looked from the moment Liverpool scored - was to be decided by penalties.
Chelsea had won the toss before kick-off and the Anfield Road end, opposed to the Kop, had unsurprisingly been chosen by The Blues. The Reds opened up with Zenden scoring with ease - but Arjen Robben could not follow suit as his effort was well saved by Reina diving to his left.
Alonso, Lampard and Gerrard all converted - before Geremi saw his tame effort parried, which allowed Kuyt the chance to send Liverpool to Athens and he duly obliged as he tucked his penalty into the corner of the net.
Liverpool will now wait 24 hours to see if they will meet Premiership rivals Manchester United for the first ever all-England European Final - or if they will have a re-run of their Istanbul success by facing Milan.
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