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Soccer-Diaz delivers as Liverpool reach League Cup final after 1-1 draw with Fulham

LONDON (Reuters) -Luis Diaz scored an early goal to put Liverpool back in familiar territory after booking their berth in the club's 14th League Cup final with a 1-1 draw with Fulham in the second leg of their semi-final tie at Craven Cottage on Wednesday.

The record nine-times League Cup winners beat Fulham 3-2 on aggregate and will meet Chelsea at Wembley on Feb. 25 in a repeat of the 2022 final that Liverpool won on penalties.

"It is fantastic," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp told Sky Sports. "We had the experience before, we know what to expect. Again Chelsea, wow what a story that is. I told the boys, never ever take for granted if you are part of a team who can qualify for trophies.

"What the boys did tonight was exceptional," he added. "This was the full cup experience. Open game, second half they started a bit wilder. We don't score. They got the equaliser. But the boys did really well and I am really happy.

"The only thing that counts in the end is that we are through.

Diaz scored in the 11th minute when he chested down a high ball in the box before cutting inside and launching a shot that took a deflection before sneaking in the near corner.

"We wanted to make sure we did the right things, Fulham played at home with a good atmosphere," Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk told Sky. "We had to be ready to fight, we started the game very well and scored a good goal. We found a way to go to Wembley."

Issa Diop injected some life into the Fulham fans when he equalised in the 76th minute, kneeing home a pinpoint pass from former Liverpool player Harry Wilson.

Fulham kept pressing until the final whistle in some nerve-jangling minutes for Premier League leaders Liverpool, who are also still in the FA Cup and Europa League competitions.

"This was not the night to shine, this was the night to qualify for a final," Klopp said.

They are expected to be without talisman and joint league top scorer Mohamed Salah for three to four weeks after he suffered a hamstring injury with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations.

After a methodical first half, the pace picked up with both sides squandering chances including a frantic few seconds of action that saw Fulham's Andreas Pereira smashing a shot off the post, and then Harvey Elliott on the break firing straight at keeper Bernd Leno for Liverpool.

Darwin Nunez had a terrific chance when he spun around a Fulham defender but launched the ball just wide of the post, holding up his hands in disbelief.

Both sides will now turn their attention to their fourth-round FA Cup games, with Liverpool playing Norwich City on Sunday, while Fulham host Newcastle United on Saturday.

(Reporting by Lori EwingEditing by Toby Davis)