Carling Cup Semifinals, 2nd Legs: Bellamy Books Liverpool's Wembley Place

With Cardiff City advancing over Crystal Palace on penalties, Liverpool and Manchester City battle at Anfield for the right to join them, with the hosts holding a 1-0 first-leg lead.

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Liverpool Vs. Manchester City, 2012 Carling Cup Semifinals: Lineup

Manchester City will have to overcome a 1-0 first leg deficit at Anfield if they want to meet Cardiff City in this season's Carling Cup final at Wembley. In order to do so, Roberto Mancini has opted to go for a rather weird-looking lineup - he seems to be going with a back three and wingbacks in a Napoli-esque shape, while Liverpool sit in a standard looking 4-5-1. Mario Balotelli is suspended, so Edin Dzeko is the man to take point for City, while Dirk Kuyt (for wont of better options) will serve as the hosts' dangerman.

Liverpool starting XI (4-5-1): Pepe Reina; Jose Enrique, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson; Craig Bellamy, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing; Dirk Kuyt.

Substitutes from: Doni, Andy Carroll, Maxi Rodriguez, Sebastian Coates, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey, Martin Kelly.

Manchester City starting XI (3-4-2-1): Joe Hart; Joleon Lescott, Stefan Savic, Micah Richards; Alexsandar Kolarov, Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry, Pablo Zabaleta; Samir Nasri, David Silva; Edin Dzeko.

Substitutes from: Costel Pantilimon, Gael Clichy, James Milner, Owen Hargreaves, Glen Johnson, Sergio Aguero, Karim Rekik.


Cardiff City Vs. Crystal Palace, 2012 Carling Cup Semifinals: Cardiff Win Thriller After Penalty Shootout

They took a pretty roundabout way of getting there, but Cardiff City are heading to Wembley to challenge for the Carling Cup. Facing a 1-0 deficit inflicted upon them by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Cardiff dominated the second leg of their semifinal, equalising very quickly and then inflicting what by all rights should have been a thrashing. It, however, was no such thing - miracle after miracle saved Julian Speroni's goal after it was breached in the seventh minute via the unfortunate head of Palace defender Anthony Gardner, and the visitors were able to take the match all the way to and through extra time while fighting an amazing rearguard action. Ultimately, it took penalties to settle the score, and it was the Bluebirds who advanced, scoring three out of their four spot kicks while Crystal Palace finally crumbled.

There was no hint of the drama that was to come when the match began. Cardiff were, as usual, composed in possession and able to dominate play, and it didn't take long before the hosts were able to burst down the right flank via Don Cowie, whose cross was sent straight into the danger area right in front of the goalkeeper. Gardner, who had scored at the correct end of the pitch in the reverse fixture, attempted to head clear but only succeeded in diverting the ball past Speroni and into the back of the net. The game was just seven minutes out.

Palace came into the game a little bit following the goal - they were forced to push up and actually contest play, but for all of their hard work and the (occasionally wayward) trickery of Wilfred Zaha on the left, they were getting precious little penetration into Cardiff's box, and Tom Heaton was never particularly troubled. The hosts were hardly a spent force during this time. Their counterattacking play was sublime, with most of their best work going through the captain, Peter Whittingham, and they might realistically have hoped to have gone 2-0 up when Kenny Miller sent a superb effort just wide of the far post in the 40th minute.

Cardiff came even closer to scoring their second in first half injury time when Miller slammed a left-footed shot against Speroni's post, and for all of Crystal Palace's industry they could well have been staring at a three-goal deficit by the time the interval rolled around. The second half saw the home side turn the screw as Palace were slowly choked out of the game despite a bright opening, but Cardiff - given chance after chance to put the game to bed - still couldn't score.

Matters were helped (at least from the hosts' perspective!) when Palace defence Patrick McCarthy was sent off by Howard Webb for a second bookable offence with ten minutes of injury time remaining, but Cardiff couldn't exploit their numerical advantage fast enough to avoid extra time, Zaha getting back brilliantly to block what looked like a certain goal by Cowie with just seconds left on the clock. Crystal Palace had done just enough to keep the tie level through 180 minutes - now they just needed to survive another 30 and play penalty roulette.

Cardiff, of course, had no intention of going to penalties and threw body after body forward in a desperate attempt to break the hex on the Palace goal. Substitutes Rudy Gestede and Filip Kiss combined well in the second half of extra time only to see the latter's effort clip the top of the bar, and then the impressive Aron Gunnarsson contrived to miss a free header from a corner in the 120th minute, smacking it straight against the woodwork with Speroni well beaten.

Webb's whistle blew and it looked like the home players had already lost. All Crystal Palace wanted to do was to make it this far - it doesn't matter who's better at football or has more players when you take turns trying to score from 12 yards. Cardiff should have already had the game wrapped up, and yet here they were, faced with the impossible pressure of penalty kicks.

The stories were already being written when Kenny Miller blasted the hosts' first attempt into low earth orbit. Crystal Palace, the narrative would say, rode their luck and defended spectacularly to earn a spot at Wembley. What brilliant defending! What courage in the face of impossible odds! What tosh! Tom Heaton would interject, first stopping Jermaine Easter and then - after Craig Conway slotted home - Sean Scannell.

Suddenly it was Cardiff with a 1-0 advantage after four penalties and after Gastede made it 2-0 the pressure was on Palace to come up with a trick that Heaton couldn't counter. It took a fantastic shot by Mile Jedinak to do it - the Australian sent a bullet into the bottom corner that Heaton nearly stopped anyway - but a lifeline was there for the visitors, should they care to take it.

Up stepped the implacable Whittingham. A miss would more or less even things out, but a goal would dump that pressure right back onto Palace. The midfield general, so instrumental throughout the 120 minutes of open play, made no mistake, and suddenly Jonathan Parr found himself needing to score for the visitors to have any hope whatsoever of making it to the final.

The ball floated wide of Heaton's right post, and Cardiff had made it through.


Manchester City Vs. Liverpool, 2012 Carling Cup Semifinals: Liverpool Edge Dire Match

In one of the dullest games ever played, Liverpool have defeated Manchester City 1-0 in the first leg of the two teams' Carling Cup semifinal at the Etihad Stadium. Neither side looked like they were an aggregate win away from Wembley, with City in particular desperately poor. The hosts were missing Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva, but their absentees are not an adequate excuse for playing like a League One side.

Liverpool weren't much better - they controlled the play in the first half, won a penalty when Stefan Savic pulled a monstrously stupid challenge on Daniel Agger for Steven Gerrard to put the visitors ahead on the spot, and holding a 1-0 lead at halftime... the Reds shut up shop completely. City looked better in the second half thanks to their opponents not even pretending to mount an attacking threat, and they might have levelled the scores with better luck or against a lesser keeper, but it's difficult to say that they deserved anything from a miserable performance. It was a far cry from the entertaining FA Cup match that the same ground hosted over the weekend, and hopefully the second leg will be greatly improved.


Manchester City Vs. Liverpool, 2012 Carling Cup Semifinals: First Leg Lineups

It's the first leg of the Carling Cup semifinal between Manchester City and Liverpool, and the right to go to Wembley to take on the winner of Crystal Palace and Cardiff (and therefore presumably to win the trophy) is at stake. Despite the presence of Andy Carroll in Liverpool's starting eleven, both teams are fielding about as strong a squad as possible. If this match is anything like City's last cup game, we're in for a treat.

Manchester City lineup (4-3-3): Joe Hart; Gael Clichy, Joleon Lescott, Stefan Savic, Micah Richards; Nigel de Jong; Gareth Barry, James Milner; Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson.

Substitutes from: Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nedum Onuoha, Owen Hargreaves, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko

Liverpool lineup (4-2-3-1): Pepe Reina; Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson; Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing; Craig Bellamy, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing; Andy Carroll

Substitutes from: Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates, Dirk Kuyt, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey, Charlie Adam, Doni


Manchester City Vs. Liverpool, 2012 Carling Cup Semifinals: Both Teams Missing Key Players

Manchester City and Liverpool are facing a variety of injuries, suspensions and international call-ups that has put a damper on their Carling Cup match

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