In styles that could not have been more contrasting, Manchester United and Chelsea claimed their places in the semi-finals of the Champions League last night.
With Liverpool overwhelming favourites to join them when they defend a 3-0 first-leg lead against PSV Eindhoven this evening, the prospect of an all-English final in Athens next month is tangible.
Trailing AS Roma 2-1 from the first leg at the Olympic Stadium six days earlier, United made a mockery of suggestions that the match might be cagey with a mesmerising 7-1 victory, and 8-3 aggregate triumph, that will surely rank as one of the finest hours of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 21-year tenure as manager, although the crowd trouble that flared outside Old Trafford before kick-off was a reminder of the disturbing scenes that disfigured the first leg in Rome.
Chelsea, though, required a stunning last-minute winner from Michael Essien to overcome Valencia 2-1 at the Mestalla for a 3-2 aggregate victory after Andriy Shevchenko had cancelled out Fernando Morientes’s first-half goal.
With only a calamity able to prevent Liverpool from knocking out PSV to set up a second semi-final against Chelsea in three seasons — they beat them in controversial fashion on the way to their memorable final victory over AC Milan in 2005, The Australian reports.
Leading 3-0 from the first leg Liverpool never had to raise their game, producing little more than a functional performance.
Peter Crouch scored the only goal of the game midway through the second-half, tapping in Robbie Fowler's cross. PSV finished the game with 10 men after teenager Dirk Marcellis was sent off on his debut.
Benitez opted to rest both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher with a big lead already established, while PSV were missing several regulars through injury. It meant the game never really produced the excitement expected of a European quarter-final.
Goalscorer Crouch acknowledged the strange nature of the game: "We did most of the work in the first leg obviously and it was just a case of seeing it out, and that's what we did well. It was a strange game."
Liverpool now face Chelsea in a repeat of the 2005 semi-final controversially won by the Reds, itn.co.uk reports.
England is likely to have three representatives in the last four for the first time. United will play either Milan or Bayern Munich, who meet in Germany tonight.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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