Champions League: Benayoun header wins it for Liverpool

Israeli national's late goal gave Liverpool a valuable 1-0 away win against Real Madrid in first leg of last 16 knockout match.

benayoun celebrates liverpool 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
benayoun celebrates liverpool 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's Yossi Benayoun's late header goal gave Liverpool a valuable 1-0 away win against Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 knockout match on Wednesday. In a game of few chances, Benayoun powered Fabio Aurelio's curling free kick past Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the 82nd minute to give the English club an all-important away goal. "It's important, but it's just one game," Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez said. Casillas denied first-half scoring chances from Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, while Arjen Robben created the Spanish champion's best effort with a rising shot that went through the fingertips of goalkeeper Pepe Reina in the 71st but over the crossbar. Nine-time champion Madrid has underperformed in the competition in recent seasons and hasn't reached the quarterfinals since 2004, but must now score at Anfield in the return leg on March 10 to have any hope of advancing. "There's still 90 minutes to play," Madrid coach Juande Ramos said. "(Who scores) the next goal will be crucial. If Madrid plays well we can win at Anfield, we can win anywhere." Liverpool, playing without captain Steven Gerrard for all but the last few minutes, saw its patience rewarded when Gabriel Heinze manhandled Dirk Kuyt to the right of the area to set up the deciding free kick. Madrid president Vicente Boluda had predicted a 3-0 victory for the hosts beforehand. "Experience tells you that you have to speak on the field and Liverpool's players did that," Benitez said after picking up a victory against the club where he spent over a decade as a youth player and coach. He added that the win was a riposte to British press reports that he was set to leave Merseyside. "It's a fantastic night and clearly before the game I said I was not ready to resign," Benitez said. "I'll keep working and keep trying to win games and I'll talk to the owners in the future." Both teams were largely restricted to long-range efforts in a tactical matchup and Alonso nearly caught Casillas off his line from inside his own half in the 45th but the Madrid goalkeeper backpedalled before tipping the ball over the crossbar. Madrid, which came into the match on the back of a nine-game league winning streak, started the better of the two sides. Robben found Raul Gonzalez inside the area as early as the 5th, but Madrid's all-time leading scorer failed to beat Pepe Reina with his angled effort. Reina again denied Madrid in the 16th, parrying Marcelo's hard drive. Casillas dove to his right in the 21st to keep Torres' shot out. Shortly afterwards the Spain striker injured his ankle and Benitez said he was likely to miss the next league match against Sunderland. The former Atletico Madrid striker came off to jeers from the 80,000-plus crowd in the 62nd, replaced by Ryan Babel. "Bad," Torres replied when asked by The Associated Press about the state of his right ankle wrapped in a splint. Robben was Madrid's biggest attacking threat, darting free into the middle in the 39th only to send his shot wide. A minute later, the Netherlands forward duplicated the play with exactly the same result. Ramos brought on Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez for Marcelo to start the second half but Liverpool pushed up with Alonso volleying wide in the 50th. Two minutes later, Robben dribbled through two defenders into the area but hit the ball into the side netting. "Liverpool played their game, they tried not to concede," Ramos said. "We took risks and tried to attack as best we could. They defended well. " Gerrard came on in the 87th for his first appearance after a three-week layoff due to a hamstring injury. "He wasn't fully fit we had to protect him," Benitez said. Liverpool will be without Riera for the return leg after the Spanish midfielder was booked in the 84th. Liverpool also beat Madrid 1-0 in their only prior meeting in the 1981 European Cup final at Paris.