Liverpool Soccer: Reds hoist their first Carling Cup in years
It took six years, but Liverpool Football Club finally ended its drought.
Having last won a trophy in the Football Association Cup in May 2006, the Reds knew what the stakes were. Traveling to London to face Cardiff City F.C. in the final of the Carling Cup at Wembley Stadium, Liverpool was determined to end a six-year struggle that pained both fans and players alike. The Reds got the memo, winning in a penalty shoot-out after the sides played to a 2-2 draw in regulation on Feb. 26
"Although we have won something today, that is not us finished," manager Kenny Dalglish said. "We've won it, and we are going to really enjoy it. I know how much the players have enjoyed it, and it gives you a wee flavor to come back and do it again."
Though only 92 teams take part in the Carling Cup, as compared to the 700-plus squads that vie for the F.A. Cup, the professional European soccer season's first trophy is no small accomplishment.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina and skipper Steven Gerrard were the two players from the squad that hoisted the hardware in the team's 2006 win against Cardiff.
With nine new starters, this is just a small indication of the massive changes that have been made since the Reds last collected a championship.
While Liverpool was the early favorite as a Premier League powerhouse, playing against a squad that was a full league below them, the Welsh side took a shocking lead at 19 minutes. Striker Joe Mason beat Jose Manuel Reina with a low roller from close range to put Cardiff on top.
Liverpool pelted shot after shot against the Cardiff goalie but simply failed to find an opening.
Yet, when Liverpool seemed ready to concede the match, an unlikely hero saved the day. Center back Martin Skrtel nailed a goal, following a corner kick.
Cardiff then had a golden chance to win it with less than three minutes to go. Striker Kenny Miller took advantage of relaxed Liverpool defense. Even with just Reina to beat, though, Miller cleared the ball over the bar.
With the prospects of extra time looming, that miss would prove to be costly, as defender Dirk Kuyt gave Liverpool the 2-1 advantage in the 108th minute. The Netherlands striker followed up a rebound of his initial shot with a strike into the bottom corner that beat Cardiff goalie Tom Heaton at his near post.
However, the story was not over just yet—there proved to be one final twist in the plot.
After Kuyt had to clear off the line following a Cardiff corner kick, the Bluebirds tied the game in the 118th minute with a goal from center back Ben Turner.
Not exactly in line with the typical story for a Cup final, two defenders had scored the equalizers for both sides. Following the end of extra time, a best-of-five penalty shoot-out was needed to decide the fate of the Cup.
Things did not start well for the Liverpool squad, as Gerrard and Charlie Adam missed their first two penalties from 12 yards. However, Kuyt made his kick in the third round, Stewart Downing buried his effort in the fourth and Glen Johnson notched a penalty kick in the fifth. Coupled with three Cardiff misses, Liverpool had just done enough to win the Cup.
It is not the first piece of silverware that the club has won and it certainly will not be the last.
However, after six years without a championship, the 2012 Carling Cup could prove to be the catalyst that can spur Liverpool on to better days in the English professional league.
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