LIVERPOOL 0-2 BENFICA
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE KNOCKOUT 2nd LEG
Wednesday 8th March 2006 (19:45) at Anfield
Ten months of fantasy were left in ruins at Anfield as Liverpool had their sixth European Cup wrenched from their grasp.
Back in May last year the miracle of Istanbul sent Liverpool and their fans soaring into dream land.
But their failure to finish off chances - despite Jamie Carragher and Peter Crouch hitting the post - was again the Achilles heel which left Rafael Benitez's men distraught.
Benfica brought a narrow lead from the first leg, but ultimately deserved to go into the quarter-finals.
Simao Sabrosa, the player Benitez has tried to bring to Anfield, struck with a superb shot in the first half, and despite constant Liverpool pressure, substitute Fabrizio Miccoli grabbed a killer second a minute from time to finish off the holders.
The home side failed to get the early goal they needed and were forever worried about Benfica's ability to hit them on the break - and in the end they did not have enough class and creative flair to prise open the Portuguese side's defence.
Liverpool had defensive problems before the start, with Sami Hyypia only risked on the bench with a hamstring problem and John Arne Riise ruled out for three weeks with a late training injury.
It meant Djimi Traore played at centre-half and Stephen Warnock at left-back, while Luis Garcia returned and Benitez chose Fernando Morientes up front alongside Peter Crouch.
Benfica had Brazilian star Geovanni back after missing the first leg a fortnight ago in Lisbon with a torn thigh muscle.
Laurent Robert - never known for his tackling at Newcastle and Portsmouth - was booked on 48 seconds for a foul on Warnock.
Liverpool penned Benfica back immediately with the expected onslaught and in the 10th minute Luis Garcia slipped a pass to Crouch, who cracked a shot against the left-hand post.
But with Benfica's quick, skilled attackers, Liverpool needed to be careful of being caught on the break, and Steve Finnan's dithering almost proved costly when Geovanni nipped in - but the hosts got the benefit of a marginal offside decision.
Liverpool wasted another chance when Morientes set up Luis Garcia just eight yards out but somehow the fellow Spaniard lifted his effort high over the bar.
The early goal had not materialised for Liverpool, and the holders were living on their nerves.
They did not improve when Crouch was played clear by Steven Gerrard, and from close range he allowed goalkeeper Moretto to block his shot.
The dangers Benfica could produce were underlined when Geovanni hit the bar and Simao headed the rebound at a grateful Jose Reina.
Little was going Liverpool's way and Crouch was booked for diving after colliding with Leo.
And then the one thing Liverpool feared most arrived on 36 minutes when Traore slipped, Jamie Carragher lost possession and the ball was shifted by Nuno Gomes to Simao, who beat Reina from 20 yards with a dipping drive.
Xabi Alonso was booked for a foul on Beto and the visitors' goal continued to lead a charmed life when first Beto hammered a shot over his own bar before Carragher saw a header hit a post.
Liverpool were at Benfica's throats from the restart, but with Luisao - scorer of the first leg winner - and Anderson outstanding at the back, the Portuguese were handling the pressure well.
But despite constant pressure, only a Gerrard 18-yard effort threatened the Benfica goal in the opening phase.
Fowler and Dietmar Hamann replaced Morientes and Warnock on 70 minutes, with Benfica sending on Ricardo Rocha for Robert at the same time.
Liverpool kept coming forward, Gerrard booked for taking a free-kick too quickly such was their urgency.
Carragher headed a Gerrard corner over, with Liverpool's hold on the trophy they won so magnificently last May slipping by the second.
A tired, almost distraught, Gerrard, curled a free-kick onto the roof of the net. His face being mirrored all around the stadium.
Liverpool's night was summed up when Xabi Alonso's corner was judged to have curled out of play before Fowler found the back of the net.
And the home side's misery was complete when Miccoli - a 76th-minute replacement for Nuno Gomes - volleyed in Beto's cross for Benfica's second goal a minute from time.
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|Match Report filed: 8th March 2006|