Champions League – Torres fires Liverpool into last eight
Fernando Torres struck in the second half to give Liverpool a 1-0 (3-0 on aggregate) win over 10-man Internazionale and book the Reds’ place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
The Spaniard’s 26th goal of the season put an end to any remaining hopes Inter harboured of turning round a two-goal deficit from the first leg – a job that had been made even more difficult after they had defender Nicolas Burdisso sent off for a second bookable offence on 50 minutes.
The result means Friday’s draw will now boast all of England‘s ‘big four’ – the first time four clubs from the same country have made it to that stage of the competition.
And a final third appearance in four years for Liverpool remains a very real possibility, despite the turmoil that has enveloped Anfield this season.
Liverpool went to the Giuseppe Meazza in the San Siro district of Milan knowing a solid defensive performance would be enough to see them through to the last eight – and with the score goalless at half-time, Reds boss Rafael Benitez could not have asked for more.
The Nerazzurri, as was expected of them, enjoyed the better possession during the opening 45 minutes and Liverpool were limited to just one real goalscoring opportunity. Unsurprisingly, it came from the red-hot Torres, but the Spaniard took the ball too wide to really trouble Julio Cesar in the Inter goal following a slip by Esteban Cambiasso.
But it was Inter – who currently lead Serie A by six points – who looked the more likely to break the deadlock, and the hosts should have taken the lead on the half hour mark when Julio Cruz was played in by a cute Zlatan Ibrahinovic pass. Dejan Stankovic was all alone in the centre, but Cruz opted to go for goal himself, firing past Jose Reina’s upright.
Reina had already been called into action to repel Cruz’s low drive in the eighth minute and just before the half-time whistle he was again tested, this time by the Argentine striker’s backheel from close range.
Liverpool stood firm, but with Inter needing just a goal to completely change the complex of the tie, they remained wary. But in the end it was not a goal that proved to be the decisive factor in the game, it was the dismissal of Burdisso.
The Argentine defender had already been booked for a first-half trip on Dirk Kuyt when he challenged for a high ball with Lucas Leiva just after the break. Both players appeared to have their eyes on the ball, but referee Tom Obrevbo adjudged Burdisso to have committed a foul and brandished a second yellow, swiftly followed by a red.
Inter had felt aggrieved about the dismissal of Marco Materazzi – suspended for this game – in the first leg at Anfield and coach Roberto Mancini could be forgiven if the same feelings returned three weeks after the game at Anfield.
With Inter down to 10 men, the game was effectively over even before Torres proved his class with a super finish in the 63rd minute. Having received the ball on the edge of the Inter penalty area, the Reds’ summer signing controlled, turned and fired a low shot into the bottom left hand corner.
Prior to the goal, Liverpool had just begun to make their man advantage tell, Steven Gerrard forcing Julio Cesar to tip his free-kick over the bar and Lucas mis-cueing a header when he should have done better.
The nearest Inter came to pulling one back came when the highly disappointing Ibrahimovic was played through on goal, but he could only fire wide of the target when, once again, a pass into the middle – this time to Cruz – would have been the better option.
The Sweden international’s night was summed up with 10 minutes remaining as he blazed over the bar – Inter fans were unimpressed and as Ibrahimovic was hauled off, they also began to take their leave.