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Liverpool FC hold the whip hand in this tie after Yossi Benayoun secured the Premier League side a famous 1-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu, leaving Real Madrid CF with it all to do if they are to seize a UEFA Champions League quarter-final berth at Anfield on 10 March.
Benayoun decided a tense first leg with a header after 82 minutes, rising unmarked to direct Fábio Aurélio's free-kick past Iker Casillas. It capped a resilient performance from Rafael Benítez's charges, who began the game a little wastefully but grew in confidence as the clock ran down.
Steven Gerrard's absence from the Liverpool starting lineup undoubtedly gave Madrid a pre-match boost. The sizzling atmosphere cannot have hurt either as the men in white made early inroads. An Arjen Robben through ball almost led to an opening goal after five minutes and, although Pepe Reina denied Raúl González, an early pattern had emerged. Madrid were dominating possession and hunting down openings, while the visitors lost the ball too easily and looked increasingly resigned to a night of defending.
When a first chance did arise for the Reds, it sprung from a lapse at the back, the Madrid defensive line failing to intercept a long clearance towards Fernando Torres, who strode forward and forced Casillas into a fine reaction save from close range. The Spain goalkeeper was called into action shortly afterwards too, as Benayoun collected another long pass down the right and tried, unsuccessfully, to beat him with a lob.
Those counterpunches restored some balance before Madrid had the ball in the net with half an hour gone, only for Gonzalo Higuaín's header to be disallowed for offside. Marcelo and Robben then fired wide, as did Higuaín following a surging run, yet Liverpool's dogged tackling kept them competitive and Reina did the rest, showing good reflexes to deny Robben via Albert Riera's outstretched leg. Closing out the half, Xabi Alonso tested Casillas from within his own half to restate the visitors' attacking threat.
The Liverpool midfielder was less accurate from significantly closer when he tried his luck again after the restart, with Madrid's own No14, the fit-again Guti, now on in place of Marcelo. Robben shifted to the left to accommodate the newcomer, but the winger continued to enjoy a free role and shot wide from the right. Both coaches had predicted a tight affair and they were being proved right, with neither team able to establish genuine supremacy as time ticked down. In terms of individuals, Robben remained the danger man for the hosts and Benayoun made some good runs for Liverpool, with Torres subdued after receiving a knock and eventually replaced by Ryan Babel.
The greater urgency unsurprisingly belonged to Madrid, eager to build a first-leg lead, but after yet another Robben effort – the Dutchman unleashing a powerful strike that Reina tipped over – Benayoun had the final, and potentially decisive, word. The entrance of Gerrard at the end merely capped a memorable night for the noisy travelling supporters, although Riera will be suspended for the second leg.
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