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Benitez targets Premier League after dramatic European exit

sports Updated: Apr 15, 2009 10:43 IST
Benitez targets Premier League after dramatic European exit

Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool's heroic but unsuccessful attempt to claim a remarkable Champions League victory over Chelsea can fire the team's bid to win the Premier League.

Benitez's side crashed out of Europe on Tuesday after narrowly failing to overturn a 3-1 first deficit at Stamford Bridge.

Twice during the amazing 4-4 draw, Liverpool were within one goal of going through, only to finally miss out when Frank Lampard's last minute strike gave Guus Hiddink's men enough breathing space to go through 7-5 on aggregate.

Despite the heartache of losing to Chelsea in the Champions League for the second successive season, Benitez sees no reason to be downcast.

The Liverpool manager is convinced his team's gutsy display proves they have the character to overhaul Premier League leaders Manchester United.

The Reds are one point behind United and face a crucial match at home to Arsenal next Tuesday.

"We are not happy with the result. When you lose you are disappointed but to lose in this way, the players have to be really proud and hold their heads up high," Benitez said.

"We showed character, quality and we have to be really proud. The players have done a fantastic job and the fans will be very pleased with the team.

"You are always disappointed to lose but thinking about the Premier League maybe it is positive because we showed we can score four goals at Stamford Bridge, so we can do the same at any stadium.

"We can win a lot of games with this mentality."

Liverpool can take extra pride in pushing Chelsea so close despite being without captain Steven Gerrard. The England midfielder didn't even make the bench after tweaking a groin injury 24 hours before the match, but Benitez expects him to be fit for the Arsenal clash.

"He had a problem on Monday and felt something. We thought he could be ok but he couldn't play," Benitez said. "I don't think it is serious. I hope he will be ok (for Arsenal).

"For us to lose a key player is important but credit to the other players, they did a fantastic job.

"Important players like (Fernando) Torres and Gerrard can score a lot of goals but the rest of the team can do the job."

Despite being given a first-half penalty for Branislav Ivanovic's tug on Xabi Alonso, Benitez was unhappy with Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo.

"When you play against a good team like Chelsea and make a mistake, you pay for it. We were attacking, controlling it, but one or two mistakes and that's it," he said.

"We had 29 fouls against us, too. I prefer not to talk too much about the referee. Twenty nine fouls against us. We are not happy with the result at the end. I said congratulations to Guus (Hiddink) and all the best for the Champions League, but I was not happy."