Football: It has not been an easy week for Rafa Benitez. Universally slated for subbing Fernando Torres during the disappointing draw at St Andrews on Easter Sunday, the Spaniard saw fit to publicly atone for his mistakes. Now it seems that Liverpool's disappointing season may yet be resurrected in the light of Europa League glory after they blew away Jorge Jesus's side.
Atletico Madrid stand between Liverpool and a final date on May 12.
Host city Hamburg proved the crucible where Liverpool's most famous rock ân roll export grew to maturity and to get there the Reds must now defeat Los Colchoneros, a semi-final set up thanks to thanks to a Fab Four from Dirk Kuyt, Lucas and Atleti's former prodigal son Torres.
Receiving a paternal thumbs up from Benitez after coolly taking his second of the evening, The Kid responded to being benched in Birmingham by shooting down the Eagles with a little help from his friends.
However Benitez must have been wondering where his players were during a tense opening period as Benfica showed exactly why they sit six points clear at the summit of the Liga Sagres, controlling possession and going close to drawing first blood, Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar driving narrowly wide from inside the area.
However Liverpool stuck to their guns and began to make headway, with Torres blowing a glorious opportunity in the 16th minute when skipper Steven Gerrard crossed to find him unmarked in the centre of the area and, with the assistant referee's flag incorrectly staying down, heading tamely into the arms of Julio Cesar.
And the linesman got it embarrassingly wrong again 10 minutes later, deeming Kuyt offside as he headed in a Gerrard corner, only for referee Bjorn Kuipers to point out that the rule wasn't applicable to corners and giving the goal.
Having taken the lead on away goals, the hosts doubled their score on the night on 34 minutes with Gerrard again the architect, playing a defence-splitting through-ball for Lucas who bagged his first in 48 games as he rounded Cesar to tap into an empty net.
Cardozo then gave the Kop an inkling of what was to come with a powerful 35 yard freekick that Pepe Reina did well to hold onto. And Benfica were unlucky not to level the tie when Brazilian stopper Sidnei saw an effort deflect wildly off Yossi Benayoun before going narrowly wide.
Following the restart As Aguias again went close as attacking left-back David Luiz drove over but when Carlos Martins wasted a freekick two minutes before the hour, Liverpool broke superbly to score a third, Javier Mascherano playing a superb quick pass to Benayoun on the left and when the Israeli switched to Kuyt on the right, the Dutchman's low cross was finished by Torres at the far post.
Again, as with some of the football on display against Sunderland a fortnight ago, the wild celebrations greeting the finish were coupled with feelings of what if. Indeed, if the Reds had played such exhilarating and penetrating football earlier in the season, who knows what they might have achieved?
After cheering every strike scored by their table topping heroes during the warm up prior to kick off, the fantastic travelling support from Portugal finally had a genuine goal to celebrate when Cardozo smashed home a dubious freekick under the feet of the jumping Gerrard in the 69th minute.
Trepidation crept into the Anfield faithful as Jesusâs men stood just a goal away from winning the tie and it took from brave defending from Torres to deny Cardozo in the 75th minute, the Spaniard taking another powerful, goalbound freekick from the Paraguayan in the face to deflect it harmlessly wide.
It was only fitting then that El Nino went on to finish the contest in the 82nd minute, chipping substitute keeper Moreira to cap another fine move involving Lucas and Kuyt.
The goal rounded off Liverpool's 100th game in this competition in fine style, and, having avenged the toothless 2006 Champions League defeat at the hands of Benfica, not to mention a 2-1 first leg loss that left a nasty taste in the mouth, the Anfield outfit now face a final four meeting with fellow Champions League drop outs.
For their part, the Kop will be praying for a visit to Hamburg where victory may bring a certain measure of redemption at the end of a long and lonely winter for the perpetually beleaguered Benitez.
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