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Unbelievable tension at Anfield will never be forgotten
Liverpool’s rivalry with Arsenal now involves 202 matches dating back to 1893 and Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final will, for the neutral, forever rank among the greatest of them all.
Arsenal fans will never forget Michael Thomas’s last kick of the season goal at Anfield in 1989 which gave them, and not Liverpool, the title.
They’ve never forgotten Charlie George’s blistering shot and celebratory lie-down at Wembley which secured the FA Cup and League double in 1971 either.
Likewise Liverpool fans will always remember Michael Owen’s two late goals that transformed the 2001 FA Cup final and gave Liverpool a 2-1 win over the Gunners at Cardiff when all seemed lost.
But although there was no prize at stake — apart from a place in the Champions League semi-finals of course — I have rarely witnessed such UNRELENTING tension as there was at Anfield for 90 minutes which helped turn Tuesday’s match into an instant classic.
With the teams tied at 1-1 from the first leg — and with Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw at the Emirates merely adding to the occasion — there had to be a winner on Tuesday and the away goals rule played a huge part in the agony and ecstacy.
Arsenal set the tone from the kick off playing some brilliantly inspired football which led to three scoring chances inside the first nine minutes — all of which were annulled by the offside flag. That didn’t phase them. They carried on looking for the goal they had to score and once they got it after 13 minutes, the stakes were raised.
Liverpool had to score and did but even when they were 2-1 ahead on the night and 3-2 up on aggregate, they could not relax because another Arsenal goal would put the Londoners ahead on aways goals.
When it came Anfield was silenced. Arsenal were almost through. The Kop was stunned. It took a lot of nerve for Steven Gerrard to take and score the penalty that put Liverpool back in front a minute later … but even then Liverpool were not safe.
Another Arsenal goal meant they would be on top again. At that stage, with more than five minutes still to play, Liverpool fans were literally screaming in agony at Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt to blow for time.
It wasn’t until substitute Ryan Babel scored in the 90th minute to end all of Arsenal’s hopes that the issue was beyond doubt. Ninety minutes of unrelenting drama and tension were over. The football wasn’t bad either.
Mike Collett, Reuters soccer correspondent
PHOTO: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger gestures as Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez watches their Champions League quarter-final second leg match. April 8 REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito