Benitez proud as Liverpool's rally falls short
Published 15/04/2009 | 01:58
Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez was immensely proud of his players after they almost achieved another sensational European fightback.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, the Reds raced into a two-goal half-time lead through Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso (penalty).
But Chelsea scored three times thanks to a Didier Drogba goal courtesy of Pepe Reina's error, a free-kick from Alex and a clinical finish from Frank Lampard.
It put the Blues 6-3 ahead on aggregate but astonishingly Liverpool hit back with two goals in as many minutes from Lucas and Dirk Kuyt before Lampard's second killed off their hopes of achieving the unthinkable.
After an emotional week on Merseyside because of the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, Benitez insisted the performance would have pleased the fans.
"We showed character, quality and we have to be really proud," said Benitez.
"The players have done a fantastic job and the fans will be very pleased with the team.
"We were on top of them from the beginning and doing a fantastic job. It is a credit to all the players, especially Lucas in the middle in the position of Steven Gerrard - he worked very hard.
"Thanks to them we were pushing and were very close. But when you play against a good team like Chelsea, if you make a mistake you pay for them.
"We were attacking and controlling but one or two mistakes allowed them to score.
"We are not happy with the result. When you lose you are disappointed but to lose in this way, the players have to be really proud and hold their heads up high."
Benitez believes that the result could be the springboard for a final push for the Barclays League title.
"Maybe it is a positive because we saw we can score four goals here and we can do the same in any stadium. We can win a lot of games with this mentality."
Gerrard's absence was more crucial than ever but Benitez said there was never any prospect of him playing after last night's training session.
"He felt something, so he was unavailable," said Benitez. "We thought he could be okay but in the end he felt something. It was an easy decision because he could not play.
"To lose a key player is always important and especially a player like Gerrard but credit to the other players because they did a fantastic job.
"It is not serious and we felt he could be available but he wasn't. Hopefully it will be okay."