Liverpool 3-3 Benfica (6-4): Firmino brace helps Red withstand Benfica fightback
 (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Roberto Firmino’s second-half brace helped Liverpool withstand a late Benfica fightback to secure a 6-4 aggregate victory in the Champions League quarter-final.

Ibrahima Konate opened the scoring early in the first half with a powerful header after he connected with Kostas Tsimikas' wonderful corner. 

Goncalo Ramos restored equity just after the half-hour mark as VAR adjudged his goal to be onside, which he converted with a smashing finish past Alisson.

Firmino fired two goals in quick succession after the break to give the Reds an extended lead, before Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Nunez made it a nervy ending at Anfield with two well-taken finishes. 

Liverpool will face Villarreal in their 12th European Cup semi-final which is also their fourth European final during Jurgen Klopp's tenure.

 

Story of the match

Klopp knew the magnitude of the task that faced him and his players ahead of Wednesday night’s quarter-final second leg against Benfica.

Just 72 hours after a pulsating top-of-the-table clash against Manchester City at the Etihad, the Liverpool manager had a dilemma to make. 

With another encounter against Pep Guardiola’s men on the horizon on Saturday afternoon, albeit at Wembley in the final four of the FA Cup, the German opted for his artillery waiting in the wings as he utilised the incredible riches that are currently on offer at Anfield these days.

Perhaps the greatest squad the Reds have ever had. 

Konate, Naby Keita and Luis Diaz were reinstated to the starting lineup after their strong displays in Lisbon eight days ago. That allowed Mohamed Salah to catch a much-needed rest as his remarkable feat of starting 17 consecutive Champions League matches came to an end.

In total there were only four survivors from the thrilling score-draw in Manchester as Alisson, Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip and Diogo Jota retained their places in the Reds’ lineup.


Meanwhile, Benfica knew the task that awaited their first trip to Anfield in twelve years; they would have to do what Inter Milan failed to do in the previous round and defeat the Reds by at least a two-goal margin to have any hope of extending the game beyond the 90 minutes of regular time. 

It was a strange start to proceedings at Anfield with neither side able to get their foot firmly on the ball as Liverpool began to seek a plan to suffocate Nélson Veríssimo’s side with their gruelling trademark press.

The game exploded into life after 21 minutes thanks to a goal from an unexpected source that helped alleviate any early nerves floating around L4, as Konate followed up his goal in Lisbon with a carbon copy inside Anfield. Tsimikas whipped in an inviting ball which the Frenchman rose the highest to head home and send Anfield into raptures. 

Benfica, though, did restore parity a little over ten minutes later to give themselves the slightest hopes of being asked to dig their passports for a visit to the southern coast of Spain next month.

That was when top scorer Nunez beat Liverpool’s controversial high-line to slot past Alisson Becker, giving Reds supporters plenty of food for thought inside the first half an hour.

Diaz, as he has done so often since his mega-money move from Benfica’s domestic rivals Porto, continued to harrow both Gilberto and Alejandro Grimaldo as he interchanged with Jota between the left and right side. 

As the sides headed for the interval after exchanging a series of heavy blows during the opening 45 minutes, the Liverpool manager appeared to rile his players up once more - just as he did in the South Manchester on Sunday afternoon - as Firmino struck inside 10 minutes of the restart to give the Reds a healthy-looking lead. 

After the restart, Jota was the architect as he provided a cross-shot for the Brazilian to fire home from close range in front of the Kop. That goal - Firmino's 97th for the club - appeared to put his side out of sight as they boasted a healthy 5-2 aggregate lead with just 35 minutes remaining.

Though, Klopp wasn’t to take that for granted as immediately sanctioned the triple substitution of Mohamed Salah, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho. 

Just ten minutes after the trio's introduction, Firmino found himself on the scoresheet once more as Tsimikas deputised in the role of playmaker yet again, grabbing his second assist of the evening with a pin-point delivery but this time from a deep free-kick. 

However, there was still life left in the Eagles as second-half substitute Yaremchuk broke through the Reds’ high-line to keep the dreams of the travelling fans just about alive as he rounded Alisson with ease before slotting into an empty goal.

Liverpool would have been forgiven for thinking that a team would be able to breach their defence a further three times to take the fixture into extra time.

Though Nunez - thanks to the VAR - thought he was the catalyst when his effort trickled past Alisson to set up a rather tense final eight minutes at Anfield.

But Klopp’s much-changed lineup stood strong to mark their 200th European Anfield tie with a passage into the final four of a competition they have triumphed in six times.

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