Craig Bellamy came back to haunt his former club Manchester City as Liverpool booked their first Wembley appearance in 16 years after a dramatic 2-2 draw with the Premier League leaders in the semi-final second leg of the League Cup.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Liverpool were undone by Nigel de Jong’s spectacular 31st minute long-range finish before skipper Steven Gerrard restored their aggregate lead with a controversial 41st minute penalty.
However, City striker Edin Dzeko made it 2-2 on aggregate after scoring from close range midway through the second half before Bellamy’s well-executed 74th-minute finish sealed a breathtaking tie in Liverpool’s favor, the Merseyside club advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
Liverpool will play Championship club Cardiff in the final on Feb. 26 — Liverpool’s first final at the famous stadium since losing 1-0 to Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final.
It was Liverpool who made the better start, with Joe Hart forced to save with his foot to deny Jose Enrique in the fifth minute following a poor clearance by Aleksander Kolarov.
Boasting a slender first leg advantage thanks to Gerrard’s 13th minute penalty, the lively hosts looked in the mood to kill the tie off early.
Charlie Adam forced England goalkeeper Hart into a full-length stop after letting fly from 23m before Bellamy was denied after turning City defender Stefan Savic and darting into the area.
Daniel Agger produced a fine clearance while under pressure from Dzeko after Kolarov’s 16th minute cross before the visitors took the lead against the run of play through de Jong.
The former Ajax player has struggled to cement a regular starting place this season, but de Jong had his manager celebrating on the touchline after finding the net with a swerving shot from 27m after Liverpool had failed to close him down.
However, City’s lead lasted just nine minutes as Liverpool leveled before halftime in controversial circumstances, Gerrard burying the ball beyond Hart after Micah Richards was harshly adjudged to have handled Agger’s shot.
Leading 2-1 on aggregate, Liverpool went in search of the goal that would kill the tie off and confirm their place at Wembley.
Squandered opportunities were to prove costly as Dzeko hauled City back on the level terms on aggregate and into a 2-1 lead on the night.
However, once again, City failed to defend their lead as Bellamy placed a low curling shot beyond the outstretched hands of Hart.