Liverpool 2-0 Inter Milan
Champions League, Last 16, First Leg
Two late goals from Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard Liverpool another memorable European night at Anfield, defeating Italian Champions and previously undefeated since last September, Inter Milan.
Milan went down to 10 men after Materazzi’s sending off mid-way through the first half and Liverpool fully dominated possesion and territory but the Italian’s defended well. Effective subs by Rafa Benitez and patience from the team lead to the eventual breakthrough courtesy of the under-fire Kuyt and then Gerrard’s powerful cross-shot means the Reds go to the San Siro in the second leg very much as favourites to progress to the quarter finals.
BBC Sport Report
Liverpool left it late to take control of their Champions League tie against 10-man Inter Milan and ease the pressure on manager Rafael Benitez.
Marco Materazzi harshly saw red on the half hour for two clumsy challenges on Fernando Torres, but Inter held firm.
Torres forced a superb save from Julio Cesar, while Patrick Vieira was lucky not to concede a penalty for handball.
But Dirk Kuyt eased home nerves with a deflected shot on 85 minutes and Steve Gerrard’s firm drive sealed a fine win.
It was a frantic finale for Liverpool, who had looked like being frustrated by a stoic Inter defensive display that had been led by the awesome Ivan Cordoba.
Instead Benitez, who has been feeling the heat all season from American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, was able to put his off-the-field problems and Saturday’s FA Cup exit to Barnsley behind him.
And while the Spaniard might not be the mastermind Liverpool crave at domestic level, his record in the Champions League is far more impressive and the Anfield faithful left no-one in any doubt where their loyalties lay with a rousing reception at kick-off.
Similarly, Benitez’s players started with an enthusiasm that suggested they were desperate to do their bit for the boss and Inter were rocked onto the back foot from the off.
Jamie Carragher had an early shout for a penalty denied when his shot struck Ivan Cordoba on the arm and Sami Hyypia then forced keeper Julio Cesar to tip over with a firm header.
But, despite the hosts’ endeavour, chances were few and far between and the game was pretty balanced when Materazzi was controversially sent off.
Having already been booked for clipping Torres’s heels, the Italian received a second yellow card for another clumsy tackle on the Spaniard – but it looked a harsh decision.
If the Anfield faithful were expecting a rousing end to the half, though, they were to be disappointed and when Gerrard got behind the defence late in the half only to see his cross cleared with not one Liverpool player in the box, it highlighted their lack of first-half ambition.
Benitez clearly had the away goal ruling in mind but Inter rarely looked like troubling that as they had their very first shot on goal – wide – on 49 minutes, before they reverted to a more defensive 4-4-1 formation on 55 minutes.
It did not have the desired effect for Inter and Torres had a great chance when he ran through on goal, only for keeper Julio Cesar to brilliantly finger-tip his shot wide.
All of a sudden Liverpool had the required urgency and minutes after Hyypia had headed over from six yards, Vieira was very fortunate to get away with a blatant handball on Gerrard’s cross.
Peter Crouch was introduced as Benitez pressed for a winner and the frontman lashed a half-volley wide before forcing a great block from Maxwell.
It looked like turning into another frustrating match at Anfield – where Liverpool have been held or beaten nine times this season – but it turned on its head right at the end.
Kuyt finally broke the deadlock when he collected Jermaine Pennant’s cross and lashed into the roof of the net via a deflection.
And as if that was not enough, Gerrard drove forward and drove into the far corner with an excellent shot from 25 yards to send the home masses into frenzy.
It was the first defeat in exactly five months for Inter and Liverpool will now be firm favourites to reach the quarter-finals when they defend a two-goal lead at the San Siro.
Man of the match: Javier Mascherano
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Aurelio, Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas (Crouch 64), Babel (Pennant 72), Kuyt, Torres.
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Riise, Benayoun, Alonso, Arbeloa.
Goals: Kuyt 85, Gerrard 90.
Inter Milan: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Cordoba (Burdisso 75), Materazzi, Chivu, Zanetti, Stankovic, Cambiasso, Maxwell, Cruz (Vieira 55), Ibrahimovic.
Subs Not Used: Toldo, Figo, Crespo, Maniche, Suazo.
Sent Off: Materazzi (30).
Booked: Chivu, Materazzi.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)