My Soccer World

Football: Liverpool Have Staying Power, Says Relieved Benitez

Posted on: February 8, 2009

PORTSMOUTH, England : Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool are strong enough to compete for the Premier League title despite needing a half-fit Fernando Torres to rescue a 3-2 stoppage time win at Portsmouth on Saturday.

Liverpool looked set to fall further behind Manchester United in the title race after trailing 2-1 until six minutes from time before strikes from substitutes Dirk Kuyt and Torres took Benitez’s side to the top of the table.

Benitez, who omitted Torres, Kuyt and Xabi Alonso from his starting line-up after club doctors advised him they were suffering from fatigue, said: “The strength in the squad is good.

“We had to change our system because the doctors told me Torres, Alonso and Kuyt were very tired. The players will tell you they were ready to play but we had all the information and decided it was best to leave them out.

“I thought the players who replaced them did very well. David Ngog, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun showed they are good players and can do a good job for the team. That will be important between now and the end of the season.

“Every win now is crucial and we have to win almost every game so everyone in the squad will have to play their part.

“I thought the team I put out would be good enough to win and I felt we were in control from the first minute.

“We gave away two bad goals and could have lost but we deserved to win because we worked as hard as them and played better. The team spirit and character is very good and confidence is high and it will stay that way for the rest of the season.”

Liverpool, already weakened by the absence of injured captain Steven Gerrard, fell behind in the 62nd minute when David Nugent raced onto Peter Crouch’s pass to slot home through goalkeeper Pepe Reina’s legs.

Fabio Aurello equalised seven minutes later, rifling substitute Alonso’s free kick into the bottom right corner after David James had handled Crouch’s back pass.

Portsmouth went back in front 12 minutes from time through Herman Hreidarsson’s header from a Nadir Belhadj free-kick before Kuyt drew Liverpool level once more with a fine 84th minute shot into the roof of the net after Torres had pulled the ball back from the byline.

Torres had the last word by rising at Portsmouth’s near post to head in Benayoun’s 91st minute cross and sent the 3,000 travelling Liverpool fans wild with delight.

Benitez says he will allow Torres to play for Spain in Wednesday’s friendly in Sevilla with England despite concerns over his fitness.

“We have spoken to the Spain manager and the fitness coach and the know Fernando’s situation. We have five players in the Spanish squad and they will all be playing,” said Benitez.

“Obviously we would prefer they do not play many minutes but that is the same for every Premier League manager.”

Defeat left Portsmouth just a point above the relegation zone but manager Tony Adams is confident his team can survive.

Adams said: “It is hard to come away with nothing after a game like that but we made some bad defensive mistakes again.

“We have got a third of the season to go and have to play the teams around us so we are not too downhearted.”

– AFP/yb

Channel News Asia

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