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Liverpool hopes for straightforward win

Liverpool hopes to have the same outcome as the Champions League final in 2005… but to do it the easy way this time.

Rafa Benitez' team edged AC Milan in a penalty shootout in Istanbul two years ago after falling behind 3-0 at halftime.

Now the two teams meet again in Athens for the same prize.

"AC Milan again - you couldn't make it up," said Liverpool leftback John Arne Riise. "Hopefully it will not be the same first half as last time, but we get the same result."

The Norwegian played all 120 minutes of that 3-3 final at the Ataturk Stadium and also had a penalty saved in the shootout before Liverpool won it 3-2.

"It was the best night ever for me personally as a football player," Riise said. "To be able to win the European trophy is unbelievable. I don't remember a thing about the game. It's after the game and the penalties I remember."

Benitez hopes that none of the current lineup who played in that final will cast their minds back to the first half. After Paolo Maldini's first-minute goal, Hernan Crespo scored two more before halftime.

But three goals in six minutes from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso wiped out that Milan lead and set up a thrilling finale.

This time, Liverpool would be happy with a 1-0 victory.

"Three goals? I hope we don't concede any goals," Benitez said. "If either team concedes three goals it will make it very difficult. I don't think it will be like last time."

Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, will be out to make sure his team doesn't concede first this time.

"I think the first goal is very important," he said. "I don't think you'll see a similar game to 2005. I think it will be a lot closer because the defenses will be a lot tighter this time.

"One small detail can decide this game - a set piece or a mistake by an individual."

A master tactician, Benitez has several selection decisions to make. Harry Kewell is back in contention for a starting place.

The Australian has missed most of the season with a lingering groin and foot injuries. He scored the team's final Premier League goal of the season from the penalty spot in a 2-2 tie with Charlton as the Reds finished third behind Manchester United and Chelsea and ahead of Arsenal.

Benitez could even leave out one of his regular starters and one of the 2005 Champions League final scorers.

Xabi Alonso was left off the team for the semifinal second-leg against Chelsea to allow Steven Gerrard to play central midfield.

"That decision proved no one is undroppable," Riise said. "With this manager you never know what he is going to do. Even if you play every game all season you never know if he is going to do something surprising. It certainly keeps everybody on their toes."

Benitez also has to decide whether to start with lanky Peter Crouch in attack or go for the speedy Craig Bellamy to partner Dirk Kuyt. Their pace may be better against an experienced but aging Milan back line.

Liverpool will have had a 10-day break by kickoff time, while Milan is still not finished with Serie A action. Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti rested most of his regular starters for Saturday's game against Udinese and the team lost 3-2.

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