08 November 2007

Liverpool left dancing with delight after figure of eight signals revival

Liverpool 8 Besiktas 0
Martin Samuel, Chief Football Correspondent

By the end, it was not only Liverpool supporters who were thinking fondly of Istanbul. At least 11 players on the Anfield pitch will have been in a hurry to get back there, too, although it must have been an achingly long journey after this public humiliation.
Liverpool were magnificent last night, Besiktas abject, and if Michel Platini, the Uefa president, thinks what this tournament needs is more slots handed over to unfashionable teams from inferior leagues, he needs to have his bumps felt.
Besiktas are the champions of Turkey, for heaven’s sake, and had their moment in the sun, the Champions League equivalent of a cup upset, in the corresponding fixture last month, when they won 2-1. Last night was pay-back time and it arrived with interest, a windfall bonus and perhaps some stock options. Besiktas were torn apart and the Champions League record books were redrawn.
It was eight and it could have been ten. At least we know the number Liverpool must score before Rafael BenÍtez cracks his face, though. More than this, apparently. The miserable old so-and-so.
After Liverpool had scored four tap-ins it was plain there was going to be no funeral, but goals five to eight (inclusive) were the most fun. A couple of cheeky ones from Ryan Babel, a substitute, the record-breaker from Peter Crouch and an absolute peach from Steven Gerrard that will, over time, come to encapsulate Liverpool’s supremacy on the night. In a few years when nobody can remember the fine details of Yossi Benayoun’s three – it was the perfect minimalist hat-trick, actually, a trio of tap-ins – or how Crouch set the ball rolling, they will recall precisely how Gerrard scored Liverpool’s fifth. It was exquisite, the finish of the night from the move of the night, albeit with the aid of a deflection.
Shall we save the best till last? OK, then, here is what happened for the other seven.
Goal one: Edouard Cissé – late of West Ham United and now we know why – played a dreadful back-pass into the path of Crouch, who ran through one-on-one with Hakan Arikan, the Besiktas goalkeeper. His initial finish was poor and saved, but he reacted quickest to net the rebound.
Goal two: John Arne Riise spotted an excellent run by Andriy Voronin and found him with a quick throw-in. His cross was met by Benayoun at the back post and he tapped it in.
Goal three: Riise’s shot from inside the penalty area was saved by Hakan, but Benayoun was on hand unmarked in the six-yard box and the ball fell invitingly at his feet.
Goal four: Gerrard took a thunderous free kick from just outside the penalty area and Hakan parried Paul Robinson-style, pushing the ball to Benayoun, who rolled it into the net.
Goal five: wait for it, wait for it.
Goal six: Benayoun’s low cross was met by Babel, who backheeled it into the net, a moment of high camp on an evening that promised high drama.
Goal seven: left with the hapless Hakan to beat, Babel drew him and a defender’s attempted clearance ricocheted off the forward past the goalkeeper into the net.
Goal eight: Another cross from the right by Benayoun picked out Crouch and with delicious symmetry the man who started the goalscoring brought it to a close with a header that offered no chance of redemption for Hakan.
Now to business. Liverpool would not have reached two finals in three years without being able to play a bit, too, and in the 68th minute their captain popped up to remind all throughout Europe that if they can surmount the obstacles remaining in group A – FC Porto at home this month, Marseilles away with, in all likelihood, winner taking all in December – they will again be a force to be reckoned with in the knockout rounds.
Javier Mascherano – late of West Ham and nobody knows why – started the move with a crunching tackle. He fed Gerrard, who slipped the ball into Voronin and received a return pass from his backheel (they were showboating by this time). At once, the picture was clear. Here was Gerrard, charging on goal through the centre, the crowd willing him to finish as only he can – and, indeed, as only he could. Those behind the goal may even have got bits of net as a souvenir. When BenÍtez signalled for him to retire to the bench, the cheer that greeted his departure was as loud and as grateful as any heard all night.
Poor old Crouch. Between Benayoun’s hat-trick, Gerrard’s stunning fifth and Babel’s showmanship, it was almost possible to forget that in another match that was slated as make or break for his Liverpool career, he responded by opening the scoring and releasing the pressure. They hypercritical BenÍtez, though, will no doubt look at the ones he missed – particularly some soft headers – and wonder what would have happened had the opponents been stronger and they had been Liverpool’s only chances.
Could it have been a different night? Possibly. In the second minute, from the first attack of the game, Besiktas should have been ahead. Serdar Özkan sent Matias Delgado away down the right and his cross was met by Mehmet Sedef at the near post, but he sent his shot wide with José Manuel Reina beaten. On such nuances does sporting destiny change. Liverpool faced a battle to make it out of the group stage in 2005, too, when the final trip to Istanbul ended in such unique and happy memories. Those looking for omens will see them right there. It is hard to imagine what Beskitas are seeing: stars, tweety-birds and that shot from Gerrard, most likely.

Rout of order
Liverpool’s top five wins in Europe
–– Liverpool 11 Stromgodset 0 (Cup Winners’ Cup, Sept 17, 1974)
–– Liverpool 10 Dundalk 0 (Fairs Cup, Sept 16, 1969)
–– Liverpool 10 Oulu Palloseura 1 (European Cup, Oct 1, 1980)
–– Liverpool 8 TSV Munich 0 (Fairs Cup, Nov 7, 1967)
–– Liverpool 8 Besiktas 0 (Champions League, Nov 6, 2007)

Biggest Champions League winning margins
–– Liverpool 8 Besiktas 0 (Nov 6, 2007)
–– Arsenal 7 Slavia Prague 0 (Oct 23, 2007)
–– Juventus 7 Olympiacos 0 (Dec 10, 2003)

–– Yossi Benayoun is the third Liverpool player to score a hat-trick in seven months after Peter Crouch (Liverpool 4 Arsenal 1, league, March 31) and Fernando Torres (Reading 2 Liverpool 4, Carling Cup, Sept 25)

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