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Benitez hails Liverpool players, fans
May 02, 2007 10:34 IST
Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez paid tribute to the passion of his players and the roar of the Anfield crowd after beating Chelsea on penalties to reach the Champions League final on Tuesday.
Liverpool, who lost 1-0 in last week's semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge, levelled the tie with Daniel Agger's 22nd- minute strike and won 4-1 on penalties before a home crowd in full battle cry.
"I think they knew today how to beat Chelsea -- to play with passion," Benitez told a news conference after his men repeated their 2005 semi-final triumph over the English champions.
"Hearing your supporters behind you as today, I felt they played with determination, with passion and with heart... I'm really proud of my players."
Benitez had described the Anfield crowd before the game as Liverpool's 12th man.
"Our supporters were fantastic, the atmosphere was amazing...everything was perfect," he said.
"You could see the difference when you play in another stadium and when you play here...you could see our people today were enjoying supporting the team and getting behind the players."
Anfield had also played a big part in reaching the 2005 final, which Liverpool famously won on penalties against AC Milan after trailing 3-0 at halftime in Istanbul.
Liverpool face either Manchester United or Milan again in Athens on May 23.
"It's really important for the club, for the future," Benitez said.
Though it was clearly a disappointing night for his Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese coach was in a defiant mood.
Asked if it was the most heartbreaking moment of his managerial career, Mourinho said: "I think so -- (losing) a Champions League semi-final on penalties. I think you can say that."
Mourinho stood behind his side, saying they had largely dominated the game and dismissing the Anfield atmosphere as something that had not affected them.
"They had a short good period in the first half and after that the best team was the blue team," he said.
"I don't think the atmosphere was the cause of anything.. Chelsea tried to win the game over 90 minutes and extra time.
"A penalty shootout is part of the game and they were stronger than us in that part of the game and they are in the final...I think we deserved to be in the final."
Mourinho steered Porto to the Champions League title in 2004 before moving to Chelsea.
"I won it before and I'm very, very sad -- I can imagine what the players feel especially because they feel they gave absolutely everything," he said.
"I have to be proud of my players and share with them the difficult moment that they have and I have."
UEFA Champions League 2006-07: The Complete Coverage