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Benayoun in Real shocker, Bayern sizzles

BAYERN Munich meted out record punishment to Sporting Lisbon but it was the single goal Liverpool struck at the Bernabeu that sounded the loudest Champions League note on Wednesday.

While Bayern was hammering Sporting 5-0 to record the heaviest away win in a Champions League knockout round and make all but certain of a quarterfinal place, Rafa Benitez reminded everyone of his value as Liverpool coach by overseeing a 1-0 win at Real Madrid.

Yossi Benayoun proved the hero on the field, popping up eight minutes from time to give Liverpool victory on a night when it finally rejoined battle with Real, 28 years on from its success against the Spaniards in the 1981 final.

Chelsea also took an important step towards the quarterfinals as a Didier Drogba goal in the first half proved enough to give them a 1-0 win over Juventus at Stamford Bridge and make it a disappointing homecoming for Claudio Ranieri.

In the night's second match in Spain, Villarreal came back to draw 1-1 with Panathinaikos.

A Giorgos Karagounis thunderbolt from 25 meters gave the visitors the lead, with Giuseppe Rossi equalizing from a penalty.

Franck Ribery, the exquisitely talented playmaker who has carried Bayern for much of the last two seasons, struck twice in a devastating performance from Bayern.

Miroslav Klose also found the net for his sixth goal of the competition this season and Italian Luca Toni struck two in the last six minutes to underline Bayern's supremacy and give a reminder of the days in the 1970s when it dominated Europe.

Sporting is the only team left in the competition which has never reached the Champions League quarterfinals and that is not a milestone it is going to reach this season.

Real Madrid and Liverpool have won the European Cup 14 times between them but for most of the first half at the Bernabeu they played with none of the confidence you might expect from clubs with such rich history.

Raul managed to squirm through and give Liverpool an early fright but otherwise the home side had few chances. Liverpool striker Fernando Torres burst through on goal only to shoot too close to Iker Casillas before suffering an ankle injury that would eventually force him off.

Liverpool played most of the most with its talismanic captain Steven Gerrard on the bench and a goal looked unlikely from either side before the unmarked Benayoun helped himself to the simplest of headers.

Rumors had been swirling before kick-off about the future of Benitez, who has yet to sign a new contract at Liverpool and is frequently the subject of speculation linking him with a return to Real.

If this was an audition for the job, he certainly passed it.

"We came to play on the counter-attack and work hard in defence," said Benitez who took his first steps in his coaching career at Real. "Credit goes to the players because they worked very hard to adhere to our tactical plan."

The first legs of the other four ties were played on Tuesday.

Inter Milan held Manchester United to a goalless draw at the San Siro, Arsenal won another Anglo-Italian clash 1-0 at home to Roma, Atletico Madrid drew 2-2 with Porto in an Iberian thriller and Barcelona salvaged a 1-1 draw at Olympique Lyon.

The second legs are being played in two weeks' time.


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