Soccer: Houllier ‘desperate’ to progress

Gerard Houllier summed up Liverpool’s fierce determination not to blow their Champions League dream by claiming his treble winners were ‘‘desperate’’ to reach their holy grail.

Gerard Houllier summed up Liverpool’s fierce determination not to blow their Champions League dream by claiming his treble winners were ‘‘desperate’’ to reach their holy grail.

Liverpool face Finnish champions Haka in Helsinki tomorrow with a possible £15million-plus pot of gold hanging on the outcome of their third qualifying round tie in the Olympic Stadium.

It is a game Liverpool dare not lose, and boss Houllier said: ‘‘I can tell you, the Liverpool boys are desperate to get into the Champions League.’’

And it is not only for personal pride and achievement, because if they qualify for the group stages, there are riches they have been missing out on for 16 years waiting for them.

Last season Leeds, who had finished third in the Premiership, made their Champions League debut, reaching the semi-finals and picked up £15m from prize money and television revenue.

If Liverpool just get to the group stages there is approaching £8m waiting for them.

And Houllier cannot wait for his chance to lead the FA, Worthington and UEFA Cup holders into battle against Europe’s elite.

He said: ‘‘The main difference between the UEFA Cup and the Champions League is that you can lose a game and still qualify. Ask Leeds, you can lose a game, have a bad start but still pick up on the way. It’s a different atmosphere.’’

Liverpool will be without Jamie Redknapp, who has picked up a slight groin strain, Vladimir Smicer (hamstring) and Sander Westerveld (thigh) for the trip to face a side they should easily overcome.

Maccabi Haifa’s appeal to UEFA to have their expulsion for fielding a suspended player was rejected yesterday in Zurich to give Haka their lifeline.

Haifa won 5-0 on aggregate against Haka, and the Finns accept they have been given a glorious chance of glamour, TV rights and big gates - but they do not expect to cope with Houllier’s stars.

Houllier said: ‘‘We have had them watched a couple of times, they are athletic, physical and play a direct game.

‘‘But you mustn’t forget that three seasons ago a Finnish side (HJK Helsinki) put out Metz at this stage and reached the group stages.

‘‘My players are hungry for this, they want so much to reach the group stages, somewhere they’ve not played before as a side and want to experience.

‘‘People must not forget that we are not in the Champions League yet. This tie is just the reward for finishing third last season, nothing more.

‘‘We know that Haka will be on top of their game, they’ll be fit because their league is half way through, and they’ll do anything to get through into the next stage.

‘‘We must make sure that we perform correctly, with quality, and not to take anything for granted.

‘‘We have not qualified yet, and we must get through this round or the Champions League will not even start for this club.’’

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