Alongside Jamie Carragher, one of the outstanding players of Liverpool’s season has been the Norwegian international, John Arne Riise.
Riise spoke to the Liverpool FC official website just before they left for Istanbul. Riise has been utilised further forward for most of this season, but having him available on the left in front of a full back means Liverpool have been less vulnerable on that side. Riise says that the whole team has helped to keep Liverpool’s "goals against" record low in the Champions League: "It’s down to every single player – it’s not just the defence or the goalkeeper. We work hard for every game to see how the opposition plays against us and try and stop us scoring goals. In the Champions League we’ve done pretty well at home to keep the clean sheets and don’t concede that many goals."
John is glad that the hard work the Reds have put into their Champions League campaign has made up for the poor league run: "We haven’t had the start we wanted and also we haven’t done that well away from home but it seemed that no one expected us to go this far in the Champions League. We just kept on going and to be honest I don’t know how we did it but we really worked hard for this."
John said he was surprised at how well PSV performed when they played Milan in the other semi final: "I watched the second leg of that game with Stevie while eating dinner. I was a little disappointed because, watching the two games, I feel that PSV should have won but Milan showed what a great team they are by scoring that goal which saw them through. We know they have experience and it will be a tough game but PSV showed us that we can beat them. And we can score goals past them."
Riise doesn’t feel that being in the shadows of the players from Liverpool’s previous four victories has put them under extra pressure: "As I’ve said before, no one expected us to go this far. It makes it easy but we’ll just see how it goes. Being home and away can change things but now both teams are away from home and we have our supporters, so can do it. Without a doubt we have the best fans in the world. We know there is going to be 25-30 thousand people there who are going to support us – it’s going to be massive."
Benitez has received a lot of praise for this season’s Champions League run, and Riise says he’s a good boss to work for: "When he first came to the club he knew what he wanted to achieve, maybe we have been unlucky with the Premiership but in Europe he has been brilliant. He always knows positions inside out and he has proved that. He is the best manager in the world. He is always smiling and always talking to you. He works hard, he lives for football and he lives for this club and he wants to bring the title here and the European Cup as well. When the boss came I didn’t know what to expect but I know now. He came in and started talking with me and I just started playing better and proved that I am good enough. I’ve played every single game, so my consistency started there really when I knew he had confidence in me. I am lucky to play left wing, all this is about the manager giving me confidence. You always want to win trophies but this is the biggest one you can play in and for many, many players it may never happen again. So we must take our chances to win it. If you win the Champions League it’s always going to be there that you have won it. So we go into the final knowing this, knowing it may be our only chance to win the competition.
Mixed feelings from Riise on the season that’s almost at an end: "We got to the final of the Carling Cup and now we are in the final of the Champions League, but in the Premiership it has been a bad season. At home we did pretty well but away from home we shouldn’t have lost as many games. It is a learning process for the players and we know that. If we win the Champions League I hope it will take away from the Premiership season but then again we know what is expected of us next season."
Riise has played more games than any other Red this season, a season he rates as his best ever: "This is definately the best I’ve had. It’s been a hard season because of all the injuries but I feel personally as a team we’ve tried to keep this season going."
Liverpool’s Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia has already revealed that back in his homeland everyone is cheering for Liverpool, and Riise says that in his own homeland Liverpool’s profile is even higher due to tomorrow’s match: "This club is very big in Norway and to have a Norwegian playing in this club and the final is pretty big back home. The press in Norway is pretty mad at the moment but for now we must stay focused until the game is finished."
When Riise boarded the plane for Turkey yesterday he paused for a moment to take a photo from the top of the steps. He’s pictured the trophy being lifted by the Reds, but is trying not to: "Of course you have the picture in your head but I don’t want to be thinking of lifting it until the game is over. But if we win it, rather when we win it, I will lift the trophy and take so many pictures. It will be the best moment of my life.