/ Soccer

Liverpool 4-1 Porto

Updated: Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 14:48

Fernando Torres stole the show at Anfield
Fernando Torres stole the show at Anfield

Liverpool's Champions League survival fight will go right down to the wire with victory in their final game against Marseille now required following their four-goal blast against Porto.

As a statement of support for under-pressure coach Rafael Benitez it was a pretty conclusive effort both on and off the pitch as Fernando Torres' double saw the Reds through a potentially difficult night after Lisandro Lopez had levelled for the Portuguese outfit.

It means the planned meeting between Benitez and co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks immediately after the Anfield encounter with Manchester United on December 16 will take place just six days after Liverpool's European fate is decided in the Stade Velodrome.

And, if the Kop have their way, win or lose Benitez will be hanging around, in their eyes the clear winner after an unseemly stand-off that has developed between the popular Spaniard and the men who run the club.

With his name being chanted from all corners of the ground, Benitez emerged from the tunnel, acknowledged the support, then immediately pointed to the pitch as if to ensure their fervour was directed towards his team.

The Kop heeded to an extent in that they maintained the atmosphere until Torres opened the scoring.

But most of their songs made it perfectly clear they saw Benitez, who has led them to two Champions League Finals without getting close to ending a near 20-year title drought, as the long-term future.

For Benitez, the requirement is two-fold; keep winning matches and prove his previous expenditure has been worth the investment.

Already, the £26million paid to Atletico Madrid for Torres looks like a shrewd deal.

The opener tonight, a firm downward header after Steven Gerrard had picked him out, completely unmarked, with a right-wing corner, was his ninth goal in 16 games for Liverpool, although strangely his first in Europe.

Such a statistic begs an obvious question over why Benitez has repeatedly left him out of his starting line-up.

The answer is in the Spaniard's cherished, if controversial, rotation policy, which Benitez is convinced will bear fruit come the spring.

For the period around Torres' goal, it all looked entirely plausible.
The Spain forward might have scored already but Helton got behind his powerful 20-yard drive and Andriy Voronin was also making a nuisance of himself as the Porto defence creaked.

Everything changed just after the half hour mark though as Liverpool's passing suddenly became sloppy and Porto seized their chance.

Alvaro Arbeloa completely misread the flight of Przemyslaw Kazmierczak's cross and as it drifted over the full-back's head, Lopez arrived with perfect timing to power home.

Gerrard and the previously excellent Javier Mascherano became hesitant and but for half an inch, Liverpool would have been behind as the excellent Lucho Gonzalez lifted a sublime pass to Lopez whose flicked finish bounced agonisingly wide of Pepe Reina's goal.

Marek Cech then saw his piledriver flick off Mascherano and fly just over with Reina beaten.

The interval at least allowed Benitez to generate some self-belief into his players, which had the desired effect as Liverpool attacked with some gusto immediately after the restart.

Yossi Benayoun had a gilt-edged chance to relieve the pressure when he was set up by Torres, who himself had been found by Reina's amazingly accurate 70-yard clearance.

All it needed was a firm strike. Instead, Benayoun scuffed his shot which bobbled horrendously wide.

The miss induced even more nervousness in Liverpool ranks, which only the arrival of Harry Kewell alleviated.

Helton then cut out Mascherano's low cross in unconventional feet-first fashion as Ryan Babel closed in.

A close thing it may have been but it was enough to raise the rafters once more.

Kewell went close twice, Sami Hyypia had a shot blocked and Milan Stepanov booted Babel's curling effort off the line.

It needed a master craftsman to unpick the Porto defence. Thankfully for Liverpool, in Torres they had one.

And, after collecting Arbeloa's through ball, the 23-year-old retained the calmest head in the stadium to finish superbly.

For the first time Porto's heads dropped, their spirit deflated by the knowledge they have another chance to go through against Besiktas in a fortnight.

Liverpool ploughed on regardless and when Stepanov handled Gerrard's free-kick, the Reds skipper ignored the fact Torres was on a hat-trick to stroke home the spot-kick himself.

Substitute Peter Crouch added a fourth three minutes from time.

'Rafa's going nowhere' chanted the Kop as he shook every player by the hand and then left the pitch on his own with the support of the crowd ringing in his ears. Benitez will hope they get their wish.