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English Premiership

Torres' brace inspires Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, March 16 – Fernando Torres turned on the style to inspire Liverpool to a 4-1 victory over struggling Portsmouth at Anfield on Monday which keeps alive their hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.The Spanish international scored two and was involved in the other two as Rafael Benitez’s side scored three times in six first-half minutes to end a two-match losing run.

"We were expecting a good game, to play well and score goals," said Benitez, whose side have to overcome a 1-0 deficit to French side Lille later in the week in the Europa League.

"The most important thing was to play with an offensive mentality and a lot of quality. This allowed players like (Alberto) Aquilani to shine."

His Portsmouth counterpart Avram Grant was downcast, especially about the first-half goal rush by Liverpool.

"Like against Arsenal and Manchester United we lost our shape," said the Israeli.

"It was not a good seven minutes and we lost the game."

A shocking error by keeper Jamie Ashdown, standing in for injured England international David James, allowed Torres to open the floodgates in the 26th minute.

Liverpool supporters were still celebrating Torres’s 14th goal of the campaign when Ryan Babel pounced after clever work by the Spaniard two minutes later.

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Aquilani made sure of the points in the 32nd minute, the Italian’s first goal for the club in his fifth Premier League start since joining from Roma for 17million pounds last August.

Although Liverpool’s problems have been well documented, they are insignificant compared to Portsmouth’s.

Crisis club off the pitch, a team playing with admirable spirit, freedom and no little belief on it – and one win away from a second FA Cup final in three years no less.

Not that any of that disguises the fact that they have been dreadful this season – they are not bottom of the league without cause.

They arrived at Anfield on a run of just one win in 10 Premier League matches and had lost 14 of their 15 matches against teams in the top half of the Premier League.

If that was not bad enough, James was forced to miss the game with a calf injury.

That paved the way for Ashdown to make only his second Premier League start of the season and Portsmouth’s second-choice keeper was fortunate not to be facing a penalty as early as the fourth minute after Ricardo Rocha had handled Torres’ effort inside the area.

Yet Ashdown enjoyed a trouble free opening 25 minutes before his horrendous error allowed Liverpool to take total charge.

With home fans starting to get restless, Ashdown’s attempted clearance was charged down by Gerrard before Maxi Rodriguez pounced on the loose ball to tee-up Torres to tap home.

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Portsmouth were shell-shocked.

Two minutes later the Premier League’s bottom club were 2-0 down after Torres turned provider for Babel to drill home his first top-flight goal since September from 12-yards.

Suddenly the confidence came oozing back into Benitez’s side.

They had failed to score in three of their previous five outings yet Aquilani made it three goals in six minutes with the visitors defence virtually non existent.

Once again Torres was at the centre of the action after his back-heel allowed Aquilani to slide home from 12 -yards.

Moments later Torres was denied his second and Liverpool’s fourth by the woodwork after a cracking right-foot shot.

Ashdown saved his side, who have now won just once in 11 top-flight games, from falling further behind in the 52nd minute when he tipped Babel’s fierce drive on to the bar.

But there was nothing he could do as Torres completed the rout in the 76th minute, his powerful shot from just inside the area capping a fine night’s work.

Nadir Belhadj pulled a goal back for the visitors but it was too little too late.

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