LIVERPOOL, England, January 26 – Craig Bellamy came back to haunt his former club Manchester City as Liverpool booked their first Wembley appearance for 16 years after a dramatic 2-2 draw with the Premier League leaders in the semi-final second leg of the League Cup.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Liverpool were undone by Nigel De Jong’s spectacular 31st minute long-range finish before skipper Steven Gerrard restored their aggregate lead with a controversial 41st minute penalty.
But City striker Edin Dzeko made it 2-2 on aggregate after scoring from close range midway through the second half before Bellamy’s well executed 74th minute finish sealed a breathtaking tie in Liverpool’s favour, the Mereyside club advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
“It was a fantastic performance, although the game finished a draw, we were deserved qualifiers,” said Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.
“All but one of the first-team squad have played on this run and they have been magnificent. It was a fantastic evening for everyone.”
His City counterpart Roberto Mancini was left fumbling for excuses as he saw another trophy slip from his and his expensively-assembled side’s grasp.
“We did a good performance, scored two goals. I think it was not a penalty for Liverpool and was for us. This changed the game,” moaned the Italian, who still has the Premier League title and second tier European trophy Europa League to play for.
Liverpool will play Championship club Cardiff in the final on February 26 – Liverpool’s first final at the famous stadium since losing 1-0 to Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final.
It was Liverpool who made the better start with Joe Hart forced to save with his foot to deny Jose Enrique in the fifth minute following a poor clearance by Aleksander Kolarov.
Boasting a slender first leg advantage thanks to Gerrard’s 13th minute penalty, the lively hosts looked in the mood to kill the tie off early.
Charlie Adam forced England keeper Hart into a full-length stop after letting fly from 25-yards before Bellamy was denied after turning City defender Stefan Savic and darting into the area.
Daniel Agger produced a fine clearance while under pressure from Dzeko after Kolarov’s 16th minute cross before the visitors took the lead against the run of play through De Jong.
The former Ajax player has struggled to cement a regular starting place this season. But de Jong had his manager celebrating on the touchline after finding the net with a swerving shot from 30-yards after Liverpool had failed to close him down.
But City’s lead lasted just nine minutes as Liverpool levelled before half-time in controversial cirumstances, Gerrard burying the ball beyond Hart after Micah Richards was harshly adjudged to have handled Agger’s shot.
Leading 2-1 on aggregate, Liverpool went in search of the goal that would kill the tie off and confirm their place at Wembley.
Dirk Kuyt fired straight at Hart from a good position in the 48th minute before the City keeper produced another fine save to deny Martin Skrtel from close range five minutes later.
Stewart Downing was the next to be frustrated by City’s stopper after Kuyt had whipped in a cross while Bellamy mis-kicked in front of goal in the 62nd minute.
And the squandered opportunities were to prove costly as Dzeko hauled City back on the level terms on aggregate and into a 2-1 lead on the night.
Mancini, who had sent on Sergio Aguero at the start of the second half, showed little emotion as Dzeko side-footed home from three-yards after Kolarov’s fine cross.
But once again City failed to defend their lead as Bellamy exchanged a one-two with Johnson inside the City box before placing a low curling shot beyond the outstretched hands of Hart.