Liverpool vs. Chelsea: The Stadium Wins

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Dave Thompson / AP

Liverpool team members celebrate their victory against Chelsea, Tuesday May 1, 2007.

We had been warned — by no less a Liverpool soccer legend than Alan Hansen — about Anfield. "You are in for a night," he told me before Liverpool's home leg European Champions League semi-final clash with Chelsea on Tuesday, hinting at the intimidating cauldron created by the vocal passion of the home crowd. Perhaps someone should have told Arjen Robben: As Chelsea's wide man stepped up to take the first penalty kick of the shootout — after two games and extra time left the score at 1-1 — Anfield stadium was nearly lifted off its moorings by the roar pouring from the Kop, the famous home end of the arena (named for the site of a famous Boer War defeat of the British) where Liverpool's faithful turn their stadium into a living hell for visiting teams. Robben's shot to Pepe Reina's left, perhaps slowed by the decibel level, was snared by the Spanish keeper; moments later Reina went to his right to parry the effort by Geremi, putting Chelsea in a hole from which it would not escape. Dirk Kuyt sealed the victory for Liverpool on the fourth kick, an honor richly deserved given that the Dutchman had practically worn a path in the pitch with hit relentless running, either on attack or in harassing Chelsea's back line. Kuyt finished the night by splashing champagne on new Liverpool co-owner George Gillett, better known to Americans as the owner of the Montreal Canadiens, who was delighted by the bath.

Chroniclers of this match ought to record an assist for Anfield, as mad a madhouse as ever housed a football team, English, European, South or North American for that matter. A half hour before kickoff the Kop was in full red-hued cry, singing, chanting, clapping. "We are not English we are Scouse," proclaimed one banner, referring to a local stew that doubles as the nickname by which the city ' s residents are collectively known. When the game began, so did the crescendo, one that would not let up, that would not let the 3,000 or so Chelsea fans who had traveled to Merseyside have much of a say in the matter. There would be no parting of the Red Seethe.

And that could describe the game, too. Liverpool hurled itself against the Blues at both ends of the field, being more effective on defense. Peter Crouch, Liverpool's telephone-pole center forward, stationed his six-foot-eight-inch frame along the left flank while his team mates tried to bounce long balls of his noggin all night. Chelsea's swarming defense slapped Crouch around, but they were constantly being pressured. Liverpool looked a good bet to find something before the night was over, although it happened a bit earlier than they might have expected. In the 22nd minute Steven Garrard's free kick from the left found Daniel Agger, making a run from the back, at the edge of the box. His shot beat Chelsea keeper Petr Cech cleanly, and the Kop exploded, chanting and taunting, like it knew something.

Perhaps it did. Chelsea looked competent but never comfortable, and the loss of Michael Ballack in the midfield and Ricardo Carvalho in the back deprived it of any midfield ingenuity, as Michael Essien was forced to drop deep as cover. This left Frank Lampard to do the the creative work and he was not up to the task this evening. Front man Didier Drogba, who had created all kinds of trouble for Liverpool last week, got the same treatment Crouch did, although he certainly complained much more about it. His flops made the Kop howl with derision.

The home side thought it found the moment of ecstasy the eighth minute of extra time, when Kuyt swept in to knock home a rebound, but was adjudged, curiously it seems, to have been offside. As the players gathered in midfield before the penalty kicks were taken, the Kop responded with a song recalled the 'pool's famous comeback vcitory over AC Milan in Istanbul two years ago; it exploded in cheers when Bolo Zenden netted the first spot kick. Then, Robben stepped up to reply, the hurricane of howling commenced and blew Robben and Chelsea away.

Asked how he dealt with this incredible din in his playing days, Hansen explained that once the game began he was too busy concentrating on defense to pay attention to the noise, especially in the early going. Even on nights like this one, I asked him? "Then it's hard not to," he acknowledged. Just ask Chelsea.