Such was the glorious frenzy of Liverpool's last visit to Istanbul that there was an inevitability about this anti-climax. A successful group campaign ended with a sloppy, if irrelevant, defeat to Galatasaray. Rafael Benítez will hardly care but, given that these are suddenly times of such optimism for this club, last night's show seemed inappropriate.
Three goals in six frantic minutes was as close as Liverpool's return came to that heady evening against Milan 19 months ago, though those were not all scored breathlessly by Liverpool, as they had been then, to retrieve a deficit. Benítez bemoaned the naivety of his inexperienced defence, whose errors gave the Turks a consolation win.
The temptation was to use the inadequacies of this virtual second string as evidence that Liverpool need to add more strength in depth, something which may be possible if Dubai International Capital complete a £450m takeover. The reality is that Benítez has long been purchasing with the future in mind. Daniel Agger and Gabriel Paletta, his two young centre-halves, were let down by those around them and will have better days. "My players tried and worked hard," added Benitez, "but we paid for our mistakes."
Nevertheless, with qualification to the knockout phase secured some time ago, Liverpool's future, both short and long term, appears appealing. A potential second-round contest with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Internazionale or Roma may await in the draw a week on Friday - any such tie would quicken the pulse. In contrast last night the banks of empty seats, hugged by a stinking smog which descended as the temperature plummeted, made this an eerie occasion, particularly with Liverpool's future effectively being shaped back on Merseyside.
The City financiers JP Morgan yesterday scrutinised Liverpool's books on behalf of DIC as the state-owned private equity firm prepares a bid for the club. Uefa expressed concern yesterday that a takeover might end up widening the chasm between football's haves and have-nots. "That is the immediate threat which, in the long term, might lead to inflation in wages and transfer fees and a concentration of power that could destroy the game," said their spokesman William Gaillard.
Liverpool's charity last night suggested otherwise. Their defending was at times reminiscent of the ramshackle display which facilitated Milan's 3-0 half-time lead on their last visit. Xabi Alonso's horribly misplaced pass split his own defence after 24 minutes for Necati Ates to shoot beyond Jerzy Dudek. Four minutes later, Paletta headed Marcelo Carrusca's corner high into the air and Okan Buruk, 25 yards out, volleyed through the clutter in the area and into the corner with the Pole, enduring a torrid return here, sprawling hopelessly.
The excellent Sabri Sarioglu should have added a third before the interval and Umit Karan flicked a header on to a post. But the Turks were not to be denied. Mehmet Guven went past John Arne Riise, leaving the left-back in a heap, and his pull-back was poked home by Sasa Ilic.
Much earlier Robbie Fowler had given his team the lead, bundling in Craig Bellamy's cross, and he capped a fine personal display by nodding Jermaine Pennant's centre into an unguarded net in the 89th minute. They were the 31-year-old's first goals in the Champions League proper.
Bellamy had departed stroppily, unimpressed at his replacement by Peter Crouch. "I'm sure he wanted to play 90 minutes but I was thinking about other things," said Benítez. So, too, were many of his team.
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