Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (L) celebrates with Jamie Carragher and son James with the trophy after their English League Cup final soccer match against Cardiff City at Wembley Stadium in London, Feb 26, 2012.
LONDON - Liverpool won the English League Cup for the eighth time on Sunday but were given a huge fright by Championship Cardiff City who snatched a goal deep into extra time to salvage a 2-2 draw before going down 3-2 in a penalty shootout.
There were hugely contrasting emotions for Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who lifted the trophy in his first club appearance at Wembley, and his cousin, Cardiff substitute Anthony, whose missed spotkick handed Liverpool victory.
Liverpool's famous "You'll Never Walk Alone" anthem rang out and fireworks blasted into the sky as their players celebrated the club's first silverware since the 2006 FA Cup, but Gerrard, who missed a penalty in the shootout, still found time to console his crestfallen cousin.
"It's always cruel when it goes to penalties," he told the BBC. "We got through by the skin of our teeth."
"It was always going to be one sad and one celebrating. I feel for Anthony and for Cardiff," he added.
After Ben Turner's goal near the end of extra time took the 52nd League Cup final to penalties, Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson converted from the spot to complete Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's collection of major English domestic trophies, 14 months after he returned as manager.
"It's a first trophy for six years so it's a very good day for the football club," Dalglish told reporters.
"It was a difficult game and Cardiff represented their club very well. Even when Dirk (Kuyt) scored in extra time they were very tired but they dug in to get an equaliser."
Liverpool's massed armies of red clad fans arrived for their first visit to the new Wembley in party mood but it looked like going flat as Cardiff, bidding to become the first Welsh club to win the League Cup, threatened a huge shock.
The Premier League side had been served a warning of Cardiff's threat when Kenny Miller wasted an early chance but they did not learn and when Miller's slide rule pass dissected Liverpool's defence on 19 minutes Joe Mason drilled a low shot past Pepe Reina into the corner.
Charlie Adam, who scored for Blackpool in a Championship playoff final against Cardiff at Wembley in 2010, went close for Liverpool when his low blast from 25 metres whistled past the post but chances were few and far between for the front duo of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.
The sides traded chances at the start of the second half with Miller firing wide for Cardiff and Suarez's shot from an acute angle turned out by Tom Heaton.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez celebrates with the trophy after their English League Cup final soccer match against Cardiff City at Wembley Stadium in London, Feb 26, 2012.
Liverpool's players react after winning on penalties against Cardiff City during their English League Cup final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London, Feb 26, 2012.
Just before the hour mark Craig Bellamy replaced the ineffective Jordan Henderson and the Cardiff native who played for his home town club on loan last season from Manchester City before joining Liverpool for a second time was warmly applauded on by both sets of fans.
Within a minute Liverpool were level. Downing's corner was met powerfully by Andy Carroll whose header was diverted on to the post by the head of Suarez and when the ball came back to Martin Skrtel he fired past Heaton.
The relief at the Liverpool end was palpable and Dalglish's side enjoy some clear superiority as extra time loomed. Downing's powerful shot drew a sprawling save from Heaton while Suarez buzzed around menacingly.
Adam forced another fine save from Heaton but there were two late scares for Liverpool, first when Turner headed just wide and then when Miller found himself with a clear sight of goal after being played in by an astute Don Cowie pass but the Scot lashed a dipping right foot shot inches over the bar.
"I thought that was our chance to win it with two minutes left," said Cardiff manager Malky Mackay. "We may have lost, but we lost with dignity."
After the flurry of chances at the end of the 90 minutes, extra time took a while to ignite. Carroll looped a header wide before being replaced by Kuyt and Bellamy jinked across the area before hammering a shot over the bar.
Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt (L) shoots at goal against Cardiff City during their English League Cup final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London, Feb 26, 2012.
Many Cardiff players lay stretched out on the turf during at halftime of extra time as physios and coaching staff massaged some life back into their aching limbs.
They looked down and out when Dutchman Kuyt rattled a shot past Heaton at the start of the second period of extra time after his initial effort was blocked by a Cardiff defender.
Kuyt made a goal-saving clearance at the other end before Cardiff's massed ranks of fans were sent into delirium when Turner prodded in from a corner.
The Welsh club's joy turned to despair, however, as their nerve failed them in the shootout.