LIVERPOOL players’ prolific ability to hold their nerve on the big occasions when the game is decided by the kick of a football off a spot 12 yards from goal was once again demonstrated yesterday at Wembley Stadium.
The victory over Cardiff City was the fifth occasion in the club’s illustrious history that the Reds have won a trophy following a penalty shoot-out.
Two European Cups, an FA Cup and now two League Cups have been lifted by Liverpool after triumphs from 12 yards – a perfect record of five out of five.
The first of these took place on May 30, 1984 when, after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra-time Liverpool and AS Roma went to a spot-kicks to decide the winners of the European Cup.
Taking place in Roma’s home ground, the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital, Reds’ skipper Graeme Souness lost the coin flip and Liverpool had to take the penalties at the home end.
And things began woefully when Steve Nicol blazed his effort over the bar.
But Phil Neal, Graeme Souness and Ian Rush all netted and following misses by Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani, it was left to Alan Kennedy to coolly finish past Franco Tancredi and secure the club’s fourth European Cup.
Seventeen years later, the scene shifted to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium where Liverpool and Birmingham City were locked at 1-1 at the end of extra-time.
It was spot-kicks again, but this time they were taken at the end of the stadium occupied by Reds’ supporters.
After misses by Dietmar Hamann for Liverpool and Birmingham’s Martin Grainger, the sides were deadlocked at 4-4. Jamie Carragher then took an almighty run-up before firing home the fifth penalty. And barely a minute later, goalkeeper Sander Westerveld saved Andy Johnson’s effort and the Reds celebrated winning their sixth League Cup.
Four years later came arguably the club’s greatest-ever victory – the 2005 European Cup final against AC Milan and the celebrated Miracle of Istanbul.
Trailing 3-0 after a dreadful opening 45 minutes, Liverpool memorably stormed back in the second period to level the match thanks to goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso.
Extra-time could not separate the teams and so it was once more down to penalties to determine the outcome of the final.
Taking place at the end of the Ataturk Stadium mainly occupied by fans of the Rossoneri, the Reds went into a 2-0 lead in the shoot-out.
A miss by John Arne Riise let Milan back in and efforts by Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kaka saw the teams level at 2-2.
Smicer then fired home his effort leaving Jerzy Dudek to become a Reds folk hero for forever and a day by saving Andriy Shevchenko’s spot-kick earning Liverpool their fifth European Cup.
Twelve months later, a different Liverpool goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, became a Reds’ hero in yet another shoot-out to decide silverware, this time the 2006 FA Cup final, again at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium against West Ham United.
After an incredible 3-3 draw at the end of extra-time, the Reds were again forced to take the spot-kicks at the end of the stadium occupied by opposition supporters.
Sami Hyypia saw his effort saved in the shoot-out, but team-mates Hamann, Gerrard and Riise were all successful. And with Reina saving the strikes by Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand, it meant Liverpool had won their seventh FA Cup.
Which leads to yesterday’s amazing shoot-out which saw both Gerrard and Charlie Adam fail with Liverpool’s first two efforts putting them in a real spot of bother.
But with Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson all on target, misses by Kenny Miller, Rudy Gestede and Anthony Gerrard proved decisive as the Reds won the shoot-out 3-2 and so lifted their eighth League Cup, the 41st major item of silverware in the club’s great history.