Yossi Benayoun headed home a late winner as Liverpool beat in-form Real Madrid 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take control of their Champions League last-16 showdown.
Benayoun nodded in Fabio Aurelio’s 82nd-minute free-kick to earn a crucial first leg victory, making Rafael Benitez’s side firm favourites to make the quarterfinal stage. Liverpool also went close through Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, who were both denied by fine saves from Iker Casillas, while Madrid’s best effort was an Arjen Robben piledriver that Jose Reina tipped over. But, once again, it was Benitez — who was the subject of more rumors about his Liverpool future in the hours leading up to the match — who proved he is the tactical master in Europe, adding this victory to recent superb results at Juventus, Barcelona, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Chelsea in this competition. The Spanish champions, who had scored 10 goals in their last two games had their moments. Robben’s pass gave Raul the chance of a shot on the turn held by Reina, while Brazilian Marcelo also tested the goalkeeper before Robben’s 70th-minute thunderbolt stung Reina’s fingertips.
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However, Liverpool were still comfortable and things got even better with eight minutes left. Gabriel Heinze’s foul on Dirk Kuyt gave Aurelio the opportunity to curl in a free-kick that Benayoun headed past Casillas from six yards. “We needed to work very hard. It’s important not to concede in Europe and I was very pleased with the team-work my players showed,” Benitez told Sky Sports. Meanwhile, in the other match played in Spain, Greek champions Panathinaikos scored a vital away goal as they drew 1-1 in Villarreal. Giorgios Karagounis gave the visitors the lead in the 59th minute only for the hosts to level eith minutes later when Giuseppe Rossi scored from the penalty spot after substitute Robert Pires had been brought down in the area by Polish defender Jakub Wawrzyniak.