Liverpool FC's reign as UEFA Champions League holders is over after SL Benfica added a brand new chapter to their European storybook as Simão's spectacular first-half strike and Fabrizio Miccoli's late volley earned the Portuguese champions a 2-0 win at Anfield and a 3-0 overall triumph.
For Benfica, this was a famous night as they advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1994/95 and completed a remarkable double having already eliminated another English side, Manchester United FC, from this competition before Christmas.
Round of applause
The presence of Eusébio in the directors' box offered a reminder of the days when Benfica won European football's Holy Grail twice in the 1960s. The modern Benfica have struggled to match their fabled past, but Ronald Koeman's team fully earned their sporting round of applause from the home crowd at the final whistle.
Out of the blocks
Given the trouble they went to to win this trophy last year, a Liverpool onslaught was inevitable at some stage and Rafael Benítez's men took little time establishing an early grip on the game. If Laurent Robert's first-minute booking for flashing his studs at Stephen Warnock was a statement of Benfica's determination to dig in and defend their first-leg lead, it fast became apparent they were going to need it.
Off the post
Benfica coach Koeman had predicted an aerial approach and Benítez started with Peter Crouch and Fernando Morientes up front. Yet Liverpool's attacks were flowing on a surface slickened by the afternoon rain and it was to Crouch's feet, not his head, that Luis García slipped the ball for the first chance of the night after eleven minutes, only for the England forward to see his deflected shot ricochet wide off the post.
Liverpool, roared on by the Anfield crowd, kept coming, forcing some last-ditch Benfica defending. García, scorer of some key goals on the road to Istanbul, fashioned an opening for himself on 22 minutes, playing a one-two with Morientes on the edge of the Benfica box but as he shaped to strike, the ball took a bobble and his effort flew high over. Liverpool soon came again, Gerrard playing in Crouch but he fired against goalkeeper Moretto's legs.
The hosts had scored only four times in eight matches prior to tonight and they paid for their continued profligacy when Benfica doubled their aggregate advantage after 36 minutes. Having survived a scare when Geovanni rattled the crossbar, there was no reprieve as Simão sidestepped two red shirts and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top left-hand corner of José Manuel Reina's goal.
If Liverpool were fearing it might not be their night, those concerns increased in the moments before the break when Beto's mishit clearance somehow missed his own goal and Jamie Carragher headed the ensuing corner against a post. Liverpool set up camp in the Benfica half for the second half. Gerrard flashed a volley wide on 55 minutes, then Xabi Alonso tested Moretto from distance, but too often the final pass was missing. The Reds had hit three second-half goals to beat Olympiacos CFP and reach the knockout rounds last season, and we all know what happened against AC Milan, but tonight it never looked like happening.
Benítez sent on Djibril Cissé in place of Harry Kewell in the 64th minute, and Robbie Fowler replaced Morientes, but save for Crouch narrowly connecting with Gerrard's cross there was little to truly excite the Kop. Carragher sent a free header wide from a corner and even when Fowler did get the ball into the net, the referee's assistant ruled that Alonso's preceding corner had drifted behind the goalline before reaching the striker. So it was left to Miccoli to apply the coup de grâce, shooting past Reina from close range following a breakaway.