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When Sir Alex Ferguson spoke at Christmas of Chelsea meeting their nemesis in the fortresses of the north, it was presumably not a Champions League semi-final he had in mind, writes Jonathan Wilson at Anfield. Tuesday was not one of the great Anfield nights, it was too attritional for that, but the 1-0 victory that carried Liverpool to a sixth European Cup final will not quickly be forgotten.
No one could deny that for almost two years José Mourinho has been, as he himself announced, "a special one", but, after three league championships, a Uefa Cup, a Portuguese Cup, a Champions League and a Carling Cup, finally he suffered defeat. "I cannot complain," he said afterwards. "I have been lucky and I know I cannot win all the time."
Nonetheless, his suit and overcoat discarded for a black tracksuit, he cut a forlorn figure as he raved on the touchline at the end, reduced, ultimately, to fielding the centre-back Robert Huth as a centre-forward. Injuries to Arjen Robben and Damien Duff had shorn them of width, and Liverpool, having taken the lead, were rarely troubled.
It was not quite so quick as their opener in the Carling Cup final, but controversially, they were ahead, within four minutes. Steven Gerrard had vowed his side would launch themselves in early assault as they had in stunning Juventus, and it was from the Liverpool captain's lobbed pass that the goal came. Milan Baros ran on and poked the ball past Petr Cech only to be caught by the raised arm of the keeper. John Terry's back-pedalling clearance dribbled to Luis Garcia, whose prod goal-wards seemed to be hooked off the line by William Gallas. The Slovakian referee Lubos Michel, though, glanced at his assistant, and pointed to the centre-circle. Chelsea barely protested, but perhaps they were conscious that the alternative was a penalty and a red card for Cech.
In the Carling Cup final at Cardiff, Liverpool found 89 minutes too long to last against Chelsea; here, it appeared they could have gone for 890. Jerzy Dudek was forced to make one save, springing to his right to push away a fierce Frank Lampard free-kick, but it was not until the sixth minute of injury-time - the extraordinary length of the period occasioned by a two-man pitch invasion - that Chelsea forced a clear-cut chance.
Lampard's cross was headed back across goal by Terry, as Dudek tumbled in challenge with Mateja Kezman. At the back-post, Eidur Gudjohnsen was left with a sliver of empty net to aim at, but he dragged his shot into the gap between the far post and the onrushing Didier Drogba. Anfield, throbbing and seething until then, breathed a sigh of relief, and in the silence, the final whistle blew. Their passage to the final was wholly unexpected, but nonetheless deserved for that.
* Great Britain's tennis team face the daunting prospect of confronting Roger Federer, the world's best player, in their next Davis Cup match. Britain were on Tuesday drawn to play Switzerland away in a play-off match for a place in the elite world group of next year's competition.
It is assumed that world number one Federer will play, although he opted to miss Switzerland's first-round match against the Netherlands in March, when a narrow defeat by the Dutch meant the Swiss must win a play-off tie to regain their place in next year's world group. With the match due to be played from September 23-25, all of the year's four major tournaments will be behind Federer and it is likely he will answer his country's call. Britain's encouraging win in Israel in March earned them this play-off match, victory in which would mean promotion to the elite 16-strong group that plays for the cup. Defeat would mean another year trying to escape from the Euro/African group. Victory in Tel Aviv came without Tim Henman, who retired from Davis Cup duty at the beginning of the year, and was thanks to Greg Rusedski winning both his singles and the new doubles team of David Sherwood and Jonathan Murray gaining a magnificent victory against the odds over the world-class pairing of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich.
If Federer plays it will be a tough task for Britain, for he led Switzerland to a Davis Cup semi-final two years ago. Murray, the 18-year-old US junior champion, may well gain the second singles berth following Alex Bogdanovic's disappointing performance against Israel and the fact that he lost 6-3 6-3 6-0 to the Swiss maestro in Wimbledon's first round last year.
* England captain David Beckham is the best paid footballer in the world, according to a survey published in France Football magazine. With €25m (£17m) a year, Beckham tops the table ahead of his Real Madrid team-mates Ronaldo, who earns €19.6m a year, and Zinedine Zidane, on €13m. The three each have salaries of €6.4m and collect €200,000 a year in bonuses. But Beckham, 30, earns an additional €18.4m in advertising contracts, with Ronaldo receiving €13m for his commercial deals and Zidane €6.4m for his. Inter Milan striker Christian Vieri is fourth, earning €12m a year, followed by Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero on €9.5m and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard on €9.4m. However, Beckham is far behind golf's world number one Tiger Woods, who earns €66m a year. Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is the second highest paid sportsman with €63.5m. Also ahead of Beckham are NFL star Peyton Manning and basketball's Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan.
* Paul Sculthorpe was named as captain of Great Britain's rugby league team, replacing Andy Farrell, who this year switched codes to join Saracens next season. Sculthorpe, who is skipper of St Helens, was vice-captain to Farrell last year. National coach Brian Noble said Sculthorpe was a natural choice when he announced his initial 40-man squad for the end-of-season Tri-Nations series with Australia and New Zealand.
* Denmark's hopes of causing an upset in cricket's Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy were dashed in Svanholm on Tuesday. Northamptonshire pace bowler Charl Pietersen took seven wickets for 10 as the hapless Danes were skittled out for 56. They regained a little pride by taking two Northants wickets before Tim Roberts steered the visitors home with a quickfire 20.
Meanwhile, West Indies and South Africa scored a record eight centuries as they drew the fourth test in Antigua. South Africa won the series 2-0.
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