Thursday, September 24

Liverpool and Fulham rescue English pride


Torres double crushes Benfica, Zamora leads Fulham to semis

PARIS: Liverpool and Fulham combined on Thursday to rescue England’s European pride which was so badly bruised by the Champions League exits of Manchester United and Arsenal.Fernando Torres scored twice as Liverpool reached the Europa League semi-finals with a 4-1 win over Benfica, 5-3 on aggregate, and a last-four clash with Atletico Madrid, the Spanish striker’s former club.

Unfashionable Fulham, who have already knocked out mighty Juventus, were indebted to a 19-second goal from in-form striker Bobby Zamora to see off German champions Wolfsburg 1-0 and a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Roy Hodgson’s Cottagers will face another German side Hamburg in the semi-finals as the prospects of an all-English final on May 12 were kept alive.

Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool, trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Lisbon, were on their way at Anfield thanks to two goals in seven first half minutes from Dirk Kuyt and Lucas.

Torres added a third in the second half before Oscar Cardozo’s free-kick put Benfica within one goal of going through on away goals.

But Torres struck again in the closing stages as Liverpool continue their bid for a first major European trophy since the 2005 Champions League.

“It was a great night,” said Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher. “The first 20 minutes they played well, it was important not to concede and to get the first goal was massive.

“In the Europa League we’ve beaten a very good side, a top team, and it’s a very good result.”

Zamora, who scored in the 2-1 first leg win in London, bolstered his hopes of an England World Cup call with a goal after just 19 seconds at Wolfsburg as Fulham reached the last four of a European competition for the first time.

His goal was out of the top drawer as he neatly turned inside Jan Simunek to find the target with a sweet left-foot drive.

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson was delighted by Zamora’s goal, the striker’s 19th of the season.

“You get your goals when you get them and Bob did ever so well, his combination with (Zoltan) Gera was magnificent and meant they had to get three to win the tie,” said Hodgson.

Hamburg, who will also host the final, saw off Standard Liege in their quarter-final, winning 3-1 in Belgium for a 5-2 aggregate victory.

Croatian international Mladen Petric scored twice while Paolo Guerrero added a third in injury-time.

It was a rare bright spot for the Peruvian striker who earlier had been banned for five Bundesliga matches for hurling a bottle at a heckling Hamburg fan last weekend.

Quique Sanchez Flores guided Atletico Madrid to their first European semi-final in 11 years after a 0-0 draw against fellow Spaniards Valencia put them through on the away goals rule.  The first game ended in a 2-2 draw. — AFP