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Dirk Kuyt praised his Liverpool FC team-mates for producing "almost the perfect game" to beat SL Benfica 4-1 and progress to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
The Merseysiders barely looked back after Kuyt headed them in front after 27 minutes, doubling their lead through Lucas before Fernando Torres struck twice in the second half, either side of Óscar Cardozo's free-kick for Benfica. The final margin of victory was convincing – 5-3 on aggregate – but Kuyt admitted the Eagles made life difficult for Liverpool, controlling possession in the early stages before he made the breakthrough.
"It was really important," he said of the goal. "We knew Benfica were a very good team and for the first 20 minutes they played really well. We kept focused and the goal was very welcome and after that we played almost the perfect game." Kuyt's strike was a virtual replica of his headed winner against Everton at Anfield in February and Reds manager Rafael Benítez concurred that "it was a key goal", adding: "As soon as we scored the first goal the game was open, we had more space and were more dangerous on the counterattack."
If Kuyt played a significant role – he later crossed for Fernando Torres to conclude a fine counter for the third goal – the performance of midfielder Lucas arguably summed up the confidence now running through Liverpool ranks. The Brazilian claimed his first goal for 11 months when hitting Liverpool's second after 34 minutes and then, with Benfica chasing the game, won the ball in midfield to help set up the killer fourth scored by the impressive Torres with eight minutes remaining.
"He had a great performance," said Kuyt, who praised Lucas for his persistence during a difficult campaign at Anfield. "Lucas has always worked very hard. Everyone knows what happened this season; things weren't always as we wanted them to go, but as long as you keep fighting and keep working, your quality will come at the end and that is what Lucas did today."
In ending Benfica's 27-game unbeaten run, Liverpool made it nine straight victories at Anfield and Kuyt hopes they can keep that going, starting with Sunday's domestic meeting with fellow UEFA Europa League semi-finalists Fulham FC. "We just have to keep going now. It was a very good performance and that gives us a great boost and lots of confidence. We've played a couple of good home games now in a row and hopefully we can do that away as well, but first on Sunday we have to think about Fulham."
Fulham may be the immediate objective but for one Liverpool player in particular the semi-final showdown with Club Atlético de Madrid must already be looming large in his mind. The first leg in Spain on 22 April will mark striker Torres's return to the club where he began his career and Benítez added: "It will be especially emotional for Fernando; he was there for years. For Fernando it will be a special day."
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