Liverpool’s players were all delighted to get through to the last eight of the Champions League after beating Barcelona over two legs, but Xabi Alonso wanted to just calm everyone down a little before they got carried away.
Liverpool’s success, against the holders, was described by Jamie Carragher as possibly Liverpool’s biggest European win outside of a final, but Xabi says that it will count for nothing when the next round gets underway: “Beating the champions is a great achievement but we have take it step by step and be realistic. We are going to meet a tough team in the quarter-finals and it’s best not to look too far ahead.”
Xabi said that last night’s match was unlike the first leg, and became tough after the goal from Barcelona: “It was different to the game at the Camp Nou. The last 15 minutes after they scored was hard and we had to defend very well to stop them doing it again as we would have been out. It was a shame that Gudjohnsen got a goal because we had several chances.”
Gudjohnsen’s goal came after Liverpool fans had greeted him onto the field with chants of “Where were you in Istanbul?”, and he was booed every time he touched the ball. This wasn’t purely because he was a Chelsea player, it goes back to the semi-final first leg in 2005 when he took a dive to get Xabi Alonso booked, then taunted Xabi because he knew he’d miss the second leg as a result. Gudjohnsen’s still paying back the Karma for that it would seem.
Xabi won’t have missed the reception Gudjohnsen got, but felt the supporters were special once more throughout the game: “We would like to have beaten Barcelona at home in front of our own fans but overall we are delighted that we are going through to the next round. We knew it was going to be a great atmosphere and our supporters were massive again. That’s why they are probably the best in the world.”
Captain Steven Gerrard was less laid back about the club’s chances of repeating the glory of Istanbul, and the other four European Cup wins, to make it six times. He thinks Liverpool could go all the way, although he was speaking very soon after the win: “It was an awesome performance to put the holders out and over two legs we definitely deserved it – we are ready for anyone now. We should have beaten them, but when we conceded the goal at the end we showed more spirit, more grit, more determination than them. We were throwing bodies in the way, putting bodies on the line, and we have laid down a marker.”
Rafa Benítez will be making sure the players are brought back down to earth again today as he looks back at the game and finds faults he wants to see improved. He’s obviously going to be delighted with the result, but he always looks at what else can be fixed after a win. Any time you see Liverpool celebrating a win, you’ll see Rafa having a serious word with one of his players about an incident that took place at some stage of the game. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Gerrard considers Rafa to be so good: “We all have total respect and confidence in Rafa Benitez. He has shown he is one of the best managers in the world, and he shows it with the tactics he used in Europe. We always trust him to get it right, and he did it again this time.”
The tactics required commitment from the players, and Gerrard feels Rafa got that: “It was all about hard work, in both legs. The effort put in by everyone has been rewarded. We were unlucky not to go in ahead at half-time in the second leg, but Barcelona are so good going forward, they play such nice football, but we stuck in there and are in the last eight now. This now gives us great confidence, going through against the best side in Europe over two legs.”
Craig Bellamy feels the best team went through – against the odds: “Over two legs usually the best team goes through and we were the best team. Did we prove people wrong? It wasn’t an issue, not many of the critics get it right anyway. But that is the beauty of this game; you never know what is going to happen.”
The Welshman, scorer of the first of Liverpool’s two away goals in the Nou Camp and creator of the second, continued: “In a great competition like this against a great side like this we still had a chance. In the first half we hit the bar twice and really took the game to them. The second half was very difficult. They really stepped up a level and we were hanging on a bit.”
Bellamy came to Anfield to play for his boyhood heroes and to experience some of the occasions he used to watch on the television as a child. He described last night as the ultimate experience: “It was an amazing occasion and the biggest night of my life. It was incredible when you consider the tempo and everything about the match. I have never experienced a game at this level.”
Craig also said that other factors in Liverpool’s success include team spirit and a family atmosphere: “It is all about team spirit. When you come to a club like Liverpool, with what they have won like the European Cup the season before and then the FA Cup, it is all about spirit. There is always a great team spirit anyway, but when you arrive and mix with these players, you know it is a family club, you come in and you are all together. Against a team like Barcelona everyone has to contribute and that is what has happened.”
Like the rest of us Bellamy is waiting anxiously for the draw: “Now I will watch the other games and see who goes through, see who we get on Friday in the quarter-final draw, but it is going to be a tough game, that’s for sure. Hopefully we can carry on the momentum as we have just beaten the European champions.”
The striker admitted he was biting his nails as much as the rest of us once he’d been taken off in the second half: “I was a little bit worried on the bench late on, and didn’t know whether to go inside and watch it on the telly, but I can’t remember them having a proper chance after the goal. There were not that many nervous moments, but Barcelona can cut you open. We had to concentrate all the way through but credit to our defence as well.”
He revealed another reason why the game felt so important to him: “That was my first start in the Champions League at Anfield so it was really special.”