Speaking to Sky Sports News after the historic Liverpool victory over Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, Reds captain Steven Gerrard was asked if this was the proudest moment of his career. "By a million miles, yes", he said, with a look on his face that told you without words just how proud he was. It’s like a dream come true for Stevie: "I really didn’t think it would happen."
Still smiling, still looking emotional, Liverpool’s captain said, "To lead the boys out in the Champions League Final will be the proudest moment of my life, and I’m looking forward to it so much."
Stevie would have been sitting in the ground as a supporter on nights like tonight if he’d never made it as a footballer. He’s a Liverpool fan, always has been. He nearly left Liverpool in the summer, but the persistence of Rick Parry and Rafael Benitez persuaded him to see what this season at least had in store. He’s not stopped being a fan though, and said, "I wanted to get into the stands, in with the fans and celebrate".
Whilst Gerrard has been troubled by all the off-the-field pressure he’s been under, fellow scouser Jamie Carragher has had the job of holding the lads together on the pitch. Carraghers performance tonight proved how much he’s improved under the guidance of Benitez. Sami Hyypia also reminded us tonight why his presence in defence did so much at the start of the Houllier era to settle Liverpool down defensively. Gerrard said, "We defended like lions tonight. Credit’s got to go to Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia – they were immense for us tonight. Chelsea are a great side, they put us under tremendous pressure. They’re the champions of the league and you can see why – they played really well, but we got a bit of luck, and we’re in the final – I can’t believe it." Such was his immense pride at the victory tonight and what it means, Gerrard had to pause for breath before saying, "we’re in the final".
Gerrard said the game went more or less to plan: "They were the tactics we worked on, we wanted to be compact and tight. They had a lot of the ball but we limited them to chances on goal. My heart was in my mouth in the last couple of minutes when that one whizzed across the goal, but when you see that happening you know it’s going to be your day."
Talking about Liverpool’s defeat in February at Cardiff, Gerrard said, "I thought overall in the Carling Cup they deserved it. They were the better side on the day, they got a bit of luck, but tonight it was our turn."
Gerrard went on, "I’m just made up for the fans. The atmosphere tonight was… I just don’t think you’ll find an atmosphere like that. The ground was shaking 45 minutes before kick-off when we were warming up. I just hope they all enjoy Istanbul and hopefully we can go and get the trophy and bring it back."
Tonight’s game should give Liverpool’s players a lot of self-belief: "It’ll be a massive confidence boost. We haven’t been good enough in the league, but we’ve been awesome in the Champions League. There’s one more final step to go – we don’t know who it will be, it looks like it will be AC Milan. Whoever it is though, we’ll give it our best shot. You’ll see performances like tonight, where we’re hard to beat."