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Liverpool 1 Birmingham 1 (Lpool win 5-4 on pens) - League Cup Final (Mar 25 2001)

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LIVERPOOL 1 Birmingham 1 (Liverpool win 5-4 on pens)

Report by Dave Usher at the Millennium Stadium

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Scorer(s) – Robbie Fowler

Half Time - 1-0

Venue - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Date - Sun 25 Feb 2001

Star Man – Robbie Fowler / Markus Babbel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wait is finally over, but we did it the hard way, and that's putting it mildly. No doubt we'll be subjected to accusations of being lucky, but however the victory was ultimately achieved, it was most certainly deserved.

On the balance of play, we were worthy winners. We created several gilt edged chances, and wasted them, whilst Birmingham never looked like finding a way past a defence in which Sami and Stephane were once again rock solid (at least in the ninety minutes they were anyway) and Markus Babbel was excellent.

 

The Millennium Stadium is fantastic, and puts Wembley to shame. It may not have the tradition of Wembley, but it has leg room, and an unobstructed view no matter where in the stadium you are. It's a bastard to get to mind, but then again so is Wembley.

 

Not once in the build up to this game had defeat even crossed my mind, and the way the game started did nothing to make that confidence waver. I liked the look of the side, with Smicer given the free role he put to such good use in the recent game with West Ham at Anfield. I felt Vladi would be the key to this game, and although he did some good things, overall he disappointed as his team-mates failed to get him the ball often enough.

 

Stevie G was back, but it was clear from a very early stage that he wasn't fit. This was one of the least effective games I've ever seen from Stevie, and with Igor not impressing in a wide left role, only Didi Hamann looked to be on form in our midfield. Once again, as in the two games with Roma and the one with Man City I thought Hamann was excellent.

 

Fowler was clearly in good form as well, although the same can't be said for his strike partner Heskey. I was critical of Emile after the home game with Roma, but today he was even worse. Aside from winning the header to set up Robbie's opener, and a similar flick which should have resulted in a goal for Vlad, Emile did nothing. At times his workrate was non-existant, and as that's not something you can usually question about Emile I can only put it down to him being jaded and in need of a rest.

 

He's played a lot of games, and given the physical nature of his game and the amount of effort he puts in, it's bound to take it's toll in the end, and I'd like to see him used sparingly over the next few weeks. If Litmanen's fit then that won't be a problem.

 

We dominated the first half without ever really getting out of second gear, and although we only had Robbie's superb dipping half volley to show for our dominance, surely the second half would see us finish them off? Well not quite. We had plenty of chances, but failed to convert any of them, and the last twenty minutes or so saw us retreat into our own half and try and defend the one nil.

 

Smicer was replaced by Barmby when it obvious that Biscan was the one who should have gone, as not only had he struggled but he was also shattered. It was a sign that Houllier was happy to try and keep what we had, but that's always a dangerous tactic, and against a first division side who we should be beating comfortably, a stupid one.

 

We stopped attacking, and Birmingham grew in confidence. Their substitutes Johnson and Marcelo were posing far more of a threat than Adebola and Horsfield were, and deep into stoppage time they got their reward when Henchoz chopped someone down in the box. I haven't seen the TV replays, but I thought they could have had a pen a couple of seconds before when Gary Mac kicked someone in the head. Elleray ignored the first one, but as soon as Henchoz dived in he was always going to give that one.

 

I was convinced their lad would bottle it, given the situation he was in and the delay that followed as his team-mate received treatment. He kept his cool though, and suddenly we were in trouble. Not only were their tails now up, but our players had to pick themselves up from the disappointment of having the cup snatched away from them when they had seemed to already have one hand on it. Then there was the tiredness factor. Many of our lads had played in the game with Roma just two and a half days earlier, and it was showing.

 

The first period of extra time was all Birmingham, as we just couldn't get out of our own half. Henchoz could have conceded another penalty, and from where I was sat I wouldn't have argued too much, although he may have gotten a slight touch on the ball, I'm not sure. Mind you, one of their players handled to stop Fowler running through and got away with it, so it evened itself up on that score.

 

Penalties always looked likely once extra time started, although had Sander not pulled off a fantastic save from Bryan Hughes we would never have got that far. I couldn't have handled it if Hughes had scored the winner, the bitter blue bastard. Things were looking pretty dodgy for us, and when Hamann's thunderbolt hit the post I was convinced that it wasn't going to be our day. I started to look through our team, and began wondering who would take the penalties that would surely follow. I actually picked all five correctly, but I was worried about Hamann and Gary Mac.

 

It took an age between the end of extra time and the start of the penalties, which just made the tension even more unbearable. I was pleased that not only where the penalties going to be at our end of the ground, but that we would also be going first. Up stepped Gary Mac, and scored. What was I worried about? Actually, I think the only reason I had a bad feeling about his pen was because of what happened at Euro 96, but Gary has well and truly excorcised that ghost now.

 

Then came Grainger for them, and Sander pulled off another great save. The Liverpool end was going mental now, and surely we would now win it? Barmby tucked his away effortlessly, which put the pressure on their lad. I think it was Darren Purse, who had held his nerve in normal time. He did so again, and it was 2-1. Ziege stepped up next, and calmly buried his kick. So if their lad missed, we'd only need one more to win. Their lad was Marcelo, and he didn't miss. 3-2.

 

"Oh no" I thought as I saw Didi walking up to take his. It came as no surprise to see him hit it straight at the keeper, but even if we had gone on to lose this game I wouldn't have held it against Hamann because a) he had a fine game, and b) he had the guts to step up when others didn't. Yes Mr Heskey I'm thinking about you.

 

Still, if they missed then Robbie would have chance to win it. Lazaridis tucked it home expertly though. My nerves were completely gone at this point, so much so that I actually thought Robbie would miss! How could I think such a thing? The Captain stepped up to take the all important fifth penalty and coolly stroked it home (although for one horrible moment it looked like it was going over from where I was sat).

 

Bryan Hughes! Great, how fitting would this be if he missed and we went on to win? Bastard, he scored. Onto sudden death, and still no Heskey. Not that I was surprised, as I can remember watching Leicester in a few penalty shoot outs last season, and he wouldn't take one then either. He had to take one once, as it was sudden death and there was only him and the keeper (Pegguy I think) left. He scored convincingly, which makes it all the more strange why he won't take them more often. He's got a terrific shot on him, and 18 goals to his name this season so you'd think he'd be able to take a penalty. Apparently not though, and Carra stepped up.

 

Be honest, how many of you thought he'd score? I didn't that's for sure, but his pen was superb. He's got nerves of steel has Carra. Then of course all the pressure was on young Andy Johnson, and the rest is history. Sander made himself a hero and we all went into wild celebrations. Had we won 1-0 in normal time, I'd have been pleased that we'd won but I don't think we'd have been celebrating anywhere near as much. But the relief was there for all to see. Credit to Birmingham, who despite being second best kept battling away and were a credit to themselves. They were given a great reception from both sets of fans when they picked up their losers medals, and although I despise Trevor Francis, I expect to see Brum in the Premier next season. As long as they don't have to go through a penalty shoot out in the playoffs that is.

 

 

 

TEAM: Sander Westerveld; Markus Babbel, Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz, Jamie Carragher; Dietmar Hamann, Steven Gerrard (Gary McAllister), Igor Biscan (Christian Ziege), Vladimir Smicer (Nick Barmby); Emile Heskey, Robbie Fowler:

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