Liverpool booked themselves a Europea League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, dismissing Benfica 4-1 on the night at Anfield (5-3 on aggregate) thanks to goals from Dirk Kuyt, Lucas and two from Fernando Torres.
With Emiliano Insua suspended, Rafa Benitez was left with a selection headache at left-back, opting to play Daniel Agger in the role, with Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Jamie Carragher at centre-back.
Ryan Babel was also suspended after his red card in the first leg in Portugal a week ago, and with Maxi Rodriguez ineligable, back came Javier Mascherano, with Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt also starting behind Fernando Torres.
Liverpool took the lead just before the half hour mark in controversial circumstances. Steven Gerrard’s corner was met by the head of Dirk Kuyt right in front of goal. Whilst the linesman held his flag up for a bizarre offside spot, the referee rightly allowed the goal much to the delight of a fired up Kuyt.
Five minutes later and Lucas gave the Reds the lead in the tie, doubling the advantage on the night. Steven Gerrard again provided the assist, playing in a great ball behind the Benfica defence that the Brazilian ran onto, rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home like the great attacking midfielder he should be.
The second half began with Benfica looking more lively, and Liverpool on the backfoot, but the Reds struck a third with a fantastic example of counter-attacking football.
From a Benfica free-kick, Lucas’ balls took a clattering in a heroic block that started a switft move upfield. Benayoun fed in Kuyt on the right hand side of the penalty area with the Dutchman streaching to play in a fantastic low ball to the back post where Torres slotted home in style.
As Liverpool began a spell of great counter-attacking play, Benfica struck one back to force a nervous end to the game. Cardozo’s pacey free-kick went through the Reds wall and past an unsighted Reina as the visitors went into the final 20 minutes needing just a goal to see them through to the semi-finals.
Benfica’s game continued to gather pace with Cardozo again powering an impressive free-kick at goal that was only just deflected wide off Torres’ head.
As the second half went on, Benfica were forced to change their keeper due to injury, Moreira coming on for Julio Cesar.
And the replacement goalkeeper’s first job was to pick the ball out of the back of the net as Torres’ second of the game brought daylight in the scoreline between the teams again.
The Spaniard ran onto an expertly placed Mascherano through-ball to finish with a fantastic dink over the onrushing keeper to end The Kop’s nerves.
Torres was taken off with five minutes to go for David N’gog as the Reds held on for the 5-3 aggregate victory. Torres’ winning goals have set up a Europa League semi-final tie with his old club, Atletico Madrid, who go through against Valencia on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline, later this month.
Elsewhere, Fulham beat Wolfsburg 1-0 in Germany to sail through to a semi-final tie against Hamburg, who beat Standard Liege 4-2 on aggregate.
Rafa Benitez’s men now face Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon knowing that victory is essential if they are to keep their faint glimmer of hope of finishing fourth alive.
Team Line-ups and Substitutions
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Gerrard (Aquilani 88), Benayoun (El Zhar 90), Mascherano, Lucas, Torres, Kuyt.
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Degen, Ayala, Ngog, Pacheco.
Benfica: Julio Cesar (Moreira 80), Luisao, David Luiz, Sidnei, Ruben Amorim, Javi Garcia, Ramires, Aimar (Fabio Coentrao 86), Carlos Martins (Alan Kardec 66), Di Maria, Cardozo.
Subs not used: Pereira, Airton, Felipe Menezes, Eder Luis.