Saturday 14 th August 2004 (12.45pm)
White Hart Lane, London

Benitez watches the game unfold

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Benitez competitive matches record: Played 2 Won 1 Drawn 1
MATCH REPORT - Spurs 1-1 Liverpool

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Cisse 38
Defoe 71

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Jermain Defoe underlined his growing claims for a prominent role in England's future as he ensured new Tottenham coach Jacques Santini some early-season breathing space at White Hart Lane.

Santini's new-look Tottenham side, featuring five new signings and one 17-year-old on his senior debut, were largely outplayed by Liverpool in their Premiership opener.

Indeed, little more than an hour had passed after Michael Owen was unveiled in Madrid, wearing Real's number 11 shirt, than his effective replacement, Djibril Cisse, struck against Spurs in north London.

However, despite Liverpool dominating large swathes of the game, led by the indefatigable Steven Gerrard, who was denied an early penalty, Defoe made them pay with 20 minutes left.

Amid suspicions of handball, the emerging young striker burst onto a flick-on from Frederic Kanoute and buried his shot with aplomb past Jerzy Dudek.

Having just failed to make it into England's Euro 2004 squad from a standby role, he now offers Sven-Goran Eriksson a potential alternative to the injured Wayne Rooney in next week's friendly against Ukraine.

And so Santini is able to continue his rebuilding job at White Hart Lane, having been forced to field something of a makeshift side in this opening fixture.

While Noureddine Naybet fitted comfortably into the centre of defence, it was otherwise a rather flat-footed home midfield which was over-run by the likes of Gerrard early on.

And for all the understandable fuss over Owen's departure - particularly for just £8million cash - it is Gerrard upon whom Liverpool's hopes will stand or fall this season.

Having almost single-handedly carried them into fourth place last season, he was again their main driving force at White Hart Lane.

Gerrard could have been awarded a 17th-minute penalty when debutant right-back Paul Ifil appeared to pull back his shirt after being turned inside and out.

But although Naybet managed to block a goalbound shot from Milan Baros, there was a certain inevitability about Liverpool seizing the lead eight minutes from the break.

While Harry Kewell had previously failed to capitalise on the huge space offered by Ifil and Jamie Redknapp, who was playing out of position on the right flank, this time he forced Naybet to clip a clearance just over his own bar.

From the ensuing corner, Kanoute's headed clearance fell at the feet of Steve Finnan, who returned the ball with interest as Jamie Carragher flicked it into the path of Cisse.

The irony, of course, is that it was former boss Gerard Houllier who worked so tirelessly to bring the French international to Anfield, but it is Benitez who will reap the benefits.

Cisse, who was standing on the edge of the six-yard box, made no mistake from close range as Tottenham's defence remained rooted to the spot.

While Gerrard also powered a right-footed volley just inches over the top, Tottenham's only attacking threat of the entire first-half came when John Arne Riise cleared a shot off the line from Johnnie Jackson.

Spurs were at least more adventurous after the break, with Defoe bursting past two markers only to flick his shot just over the top.

While Liverpool threatened on the break through Kewell, Benitez rather conceded the advantage back to the home side by withdrawing Cisse with 26 minutes left.

Shortly after Florent Sinama-Pongolle had been brought on, Spurs introduced their own two substitutes - Gary Doherty and Thimothee Atouba - and, bizarrely, were almost immediately level.

Liverpool were left appealing in vain for handball as Defoe challenged Carragher for a knock-down from Kanoute before swivelling to bury his shot past Dudek.

Defoe threatened again in the closing stages but shot just wide.

For England as much as Liverpool, however, both he and Cisse had proved there may yet be life possible without Owen.

Press Association

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Tottenham: Robinson, Ifil, Naybet (Doherty 70), King, Edman, Jackson (Atouba 70), Redknapp (Brown 82), Davis, Pedro Mendes, Kanoute, Defoe. Subs Not Used: Keller, Silva Sousa.

Booked: Kanoute, Redknapp, Defoe.

Liverpool: Dudek, Josemi, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Finnan, Gerrard, Hamann (Biscan 83), Kewell, Cisse (Sinama Pongolle 64), Baros (Warnock 79). Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Henchoz.

Booked: Sinama Pongolle.

Att: 35,105.

Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

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Match Report filed: 15th August 2004