Liverpool FC defender John Arne Riise is confident that the 2007 side are better than the vintage that triumphed against AC Milan in Istanbul two years ago.
One of few certainties about Rafael Benítez's lineup for the UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan is it will feature John Arne Riise. The Norwegian international is an integral part of the Liverpool FC game plan and warns that the 2007 side is stronger than the team that triumphed two years ago.
Riise may have been the only Liverpool player to miss a penalty in that shoot-out but he more than contributed, notably crossing for Steven Gerrard's morale-raising opener. His powerful left foot has been a key weapon in this season's campaign too, Riise scoring against FC Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven in the knockout phase. The strike in Camp Nou was particularly significant. He said: "Winning in Barcelona was a step forward, although we knew we still had to play a lot of games to reach the final. We always believe we can win every game, and we proved that at Barcelona with a great performance. It gave us belief, but we knew we had to do more to get to the final."
Part of the 26-year-old Riise's brief on Wednesday will be to help negate Milan's danger man Kaká. "He's the top scorer in the Champions League and one of the best players in the world," he said. "They have many great players who can finish the game off, but we have to worry about ourselves." Milan might also be worrying about Riise. His two goals en route to Athens, and the fact he has scored in a UEFA Super Cup and English League Cup final in his Reds career, show he is a big-game player. "I've been very lucky I've scored goals in big games," he said, "but every game for Liverpool is a big game. I just try to do the same things every game; work hard, play well and if I get a chance to shoot then I do. I like to score, everyone does, but winning is more important."
Whether as a member of a parsimonious defence or as a scorer of vital goals, Riise is important to Benítez's plans. The manager was asked to praise his flame-haired full-back at the same pre-match press conference and even if his response was light-hearted, there was no hiding the admiration. He said: "He is very consistent, plays at a good level; that's very important in a top side. You need players who can always play at a top level. He can play at left-back or left midfield. But he can improve." Asked how, Benítez joked: "Everything!"
Riise is well aware Milan will be out to atone for their 2005 collapse, saying: "They want revenge because of two years ago. We have respect for Milan and I'm sure they have it for us. They might feel they have to win because of 2005. We've done everything right, have prepared well in Spain for the heat and humidity and, after the final session tonight, are ready to go. We know what to expect and know they want revenge. It's important we play the football and the system which have got us here." And for Riise, the experience of Istanbul will benefit Liverpool as they again tackle Milan in an ancient Aegean city. "The team is stronger, more experienced, than two years ago. Then we didn't really know what we went through as no one had experienced it before. We're bringing that experience with us to this final. We have a bigger, stronger squad and better players, as we've proved by reaching this final."