Departing Hyypia has Kop in full cry

THE tears flowed at Anfield but it had nothing to do with Liverpool missing out on the Premier League title to their bitter rivals from up the road.

Indeed, the Kop went home in relatively high spirits after a comprehensive victory over Tottenham sealed the club’s highest league finish for seven years.

But on a day of farewells at Anfield, Liverpool fans gave Sami Hyypia a fitting send off which reduced the popular defender to tears after Rafael Benitez’s side had finished the season undefeated at home.

After 10 years of dedicated service, Hyypia made his 464th and final appearance for the club when he came on seven minutes from time with the game won.

The 35-year-old Finn heads for Germany and a two-year contract at Bayer Leverkusen with one Champions League, two FA Cup, two League Cup and one UEFA Cup medal and a suitcase full of memories.

This is the third successive season Liverpool have finished without any major silverware and a win over a mid-table Tottenham side is hardly going to spark boasts about securing the title next season.

Yet the crushing disappointment of missing out to Manchester United after leading the table for so long has been cushioned by overwhelming evidence that their league form under Benitez is improving.

Not only did this result secure Liverpool’s highest finish since the 2001-02 campaign, their final tally of 86 points is their best Premier League return. They finished the season with nine wins in the last 10 games and with an unbeaten home record, the first time they have achieved that for 21 years.

Hyypia may have played his last game but Benitez is adamant that Xabi Alonso has not. The influential midfielder’s future has been the subject of much speculation with Real Madrid reported to be ready to lure Alonso back to Spain.

But Benitez was quick to make his intentions clear after watching his side sweep aside Tottenham.

“Xabi has three years left on his contract and we don’t want to sell him,” he said. “My idea is very clear, Xabi is not for sale. I think he has said he is happy here.”

Robbie Keane made his point as he marked his Anfield return with a goal. But it made little difference after Fernando Torres and an own goal by Alan Hutton sent Liverpool into a commanding 2-0 lead.

Tottenham fans were still celebrating Keane’s goal when Yossi Benayoun put the game beyond reach to bring the curtain down on a bitter-sweet campaign.

Then came the tears. The Kop, who had politely applauded Keane’s goal earlier, had spent the afternoon urging Benitez to send on the player and they finally got what they wanted seven minutes from time.

As Gerrard made way for the veteran, the captain handed his armband to Hyypia and the crowd stood as one to cheer him on to the pitch for the last time. Hyypia, who almost scored with a header, was lifted into the air by his team-mates, the emotion of proving too much as tears streamed down his face.

REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire) 7: Controlled the game well and kept his cards in his pocket until seven minutes from time when he booked Vedran Corluka.

MATCH RATING: *** Anfield has witnessed better games than this but Sami Hyypia’s farewell ensured a rousing atmosphere.

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