Soccer

Liverpool reach Cup final

2012-01-26 07:35
Craig Bellamy (AFP)

Liverpool - Craig Bellamy's second-half equaliser against his former club sent Liverpool into the League Cup final on Wednesday as the Reds rallied twice for a 2-2 draw against Manchester City to put them through on aggregate.

The result means Liverpool, which held a 1-0 lead from the first leg, will play a cup final at Wembley for the first time in 16 years when it takes on Cardiff next month after holding off the Premier League leader at Anfield.

"It's a great feeling, it's been a while," captain Steven Gerrard said.

Despite entering the second leg with a lead to protect, Liverpool came out attacking from the start - only to see City take the lead twice against the run of play.

Nigel de Jong put City ahead with a spectacular long-range strike in the 31st, but Gerrard equalized with a penalty nine minutes later.

After Joe Hart made a string of saves to keep City in the game, the visitors again went in front through Edin Dzeko's easy tap-in from close range in the 67th. But that lead was short-lived as well, as Bellamy's low shot from inside the area gave Liverpool the draw it needed to reach Wembley.

That means Bellamy, a Welshman who was one of Liverpool's most influential players throughout, will take on another of his former teams when Liverpool tries to end a trophy drought dating back to 2006.

"The omens were looking good going into tonight after I saw Cardiff go through," the striker said. "I was delighted for them and this couldn't be a better final for me.

"Cardiff means so much to me. It's funny how football can work out at times."

Liverpool could have secured a more comfortable scoreline had it not been for Hart's outstanding saves, although the hosts were fortunate to be given a penalty in the first half.

After Charlie Adam's low cross-shot was deflected straight out by Joleon Lescott, Daniel Agger's shot deflected off the outstretched leg of Micah Richards and onto the City defender's arm, and referee Phil Dowd whistled for a handball.

Gerrard stepped up to the spot and calmly slotted the ball into the left corner of the net.

That came after De Jong had netted a rare goal for City that looked like part luck, part masterpiece.

The midfielder received the ball well outside the area and took a few steps before seemingly slipping as he unleashed a shot, but still connected perfectly to send a curling effort past an outstretched Pepe Reina and inside the right post.

Hart's first key stop came in the fourth minute after Aleksandar Kolarov gifted Jose Enrique a chance from a sliced clearance back across goal, as the goalkeeper's outstretched foot blocked the left back's shot.

Bellamy also drew a save out of Hart after turning Savic on the edge of the box before having a goal disallowed for offside.

Liverpool had the first good chance of the second half as Gerrard whipped in a free kick from the left that Hart punched straight out to Martin Skrtel, who forced the goalkeeper to react quickly to tip his shot over with a one-handed save.

The England goalkeeper again kept the Reds at bay when he tipped over Stewart Downing's downward volley from Dirk Kuyt's cross.

Instead it was City who scored again, with just their second effort on target.

Kolarov whipped in a cross from the left that bounced across Liverpool's six-yard box and reached an unmarked Dzeko for a simple tap-in at the far post.

But Bellamy responded for Liverpool, taking a pass in the area for Kuyt and playing a quick one-two with Glen Johnson before curling a shot home with his left foot.

"Craig was the difference," Gerrard said. "His pace was always a threat and we know that if a chance falls to him he can finish. It's a big thanks to him."

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