Champions League – Liverpool stun Madrid at the Bernabeu
Yossi Benayoun headed a late winner as Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the Bernabeu to steal the initiative in their last-16 Champions League tie.
Benayoun steered home Fabio Aurelio’s right-wing free-kick on 82 minutes to complete a masterful smash-and-grab raid from the 2005 European champions and give Rafa Benitez’s men a priceless away goal to defend at Anfield.
Liverpool took to the field without captain Steven Gerrard and lost striker Fernando Torres to ankle injury early in the second half, but nonetheless summoned a brave and resolute display.
Madrid dominated the early exchanges, but for all their eye-catching approach play the home side mustered just one meaningful opportunity in the opening period – which fell to Raul on five minutes.
The Madrid captain collected a slide-rule pass from Arjen Robben and shot early from just inside the box, but his sliced effort lacked power and Pepe Reina gathered with ease.
Robben practically owned the ball in the opening 15 minutes, the Dutchman running at Aurelio at every opportunity and cutting inside looking for the chance to penetrate.
But Liverpool held firm, kept their collective concentration and emerged from a period of intense pressure unscathed.
On 20 minutes the visitors had their first glimpse of goal. Fernando Torres burst through from the right and drew a sharp save from Iker Casillas under pressure from Pepe.
Suddenly Liverpool came to life. Benayoun chased down a ball forward and Casillas was forced to rush from his goal and hack his clear.
On the half-hour mark Gonzalo Higuain reacted first to a loose ball in the box and headed past Reina at the second attempt – but the Argentine was clearly offside and the goal rightly disallowed.
The first period ended with Xabi Alonso coming close to what would have a spectacular opener. The Spaniard spotted Casillas off his line and let fly from 10 yards inside his own half, but the Madrid goalkeeper scampered back and palmed over.
Madrid manager Juande Ramos introduced Guti for Marcelo at half-time, but still his side struggled to find creative inspiration. His team beat Real Betis 6-1 at the weekend, but to man looked hopefully bereft of an attacking spark on the biggest stage.
As the second half progressed the game grew disjointed and chances were at a premium. Tackles began to fly in and Fabio Cannavaro, Torres and Javier Mascherano soon found themselves in the book.
Torres’s yellow card – for foul on Lassana Diara – would be his last act for the evening after an ankle injury forced the Spanish international striker to make way for Ryan Babel.
With both sides struggling to create chances a goalless draw looked odds on. But when Robben almost broke the deadlock with a crashing 25-yard drive on 71 minutes, the game sparked back into life.
And with eight minutes remaining it was left to Benayoun to steal a famous victory for the visitors, the Israesli heading home unmarked from six yards to leave the notoriously fickle Madrid faithful rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
There was still time for Gerrard to enter the fray as a late subsitute, but in truth his beloved Liverpool side had done the job admirably without him.