Liverpool grab golden ticket

The impossible was merely delayed. Steven Gerrard is the perfect person to round off the inconceivable comeback and, when the substitute Neil Mellor directed a knock-down to him in the 86th minute there was nothing speculative about the captain's strike. He smites a ball with the force of destiny; the 20-yarder ripped into the net and Liverpool hurtled into the knock-out phase of the Champions League.

Rafael Benítez's team needed to win by two goals. Once Olympiakos had gone ahead through Rivaldo, with Monaco on course for a simple win at Deportivo La Coruña, no lesser result would do for Liverpool. Since the transformation looked unlikely for a long spell, Anfield was to vault from the fatalistic to the euphoric.

If Benítez has his way, the club will not fall to earth again. This might be one of those transcendent victories that makes a team see itself in a new light. The manager is making a small habit of these occasions. Liverpool's conviction fed on the belief already generated by Mellor's last-minute winner against Arsenal.

Here the attacker made do with edging the side 2-1 in front in the 80th minute. He had only just come on but was in position to ram the ball home once the weak goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis had palmed down an Antonio Núñez header.

If there is anything to muffle Liverpool's jubilation it must be the suspension that Gerrard incurred with a booking last night. All the same, do not expect to find anyone moping at Anfield. Given the fightback here, they will believe themselves capable of anything.

For much of the evening their deficiencies in attack were obvious and they had to tolerate having goals by Milan Baros and Gerrard chalked off for prior fouls. The referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez certainly was not caught up in the excitement of an enthralled stadium.

From the outset Gerrard was the guarantor of accurate, high-tempo attacking. It was as if he had resolved personally to deliver the level of achievement at Liverpool that will make him content to stay. Olympiakos might have been reduced to debris immediately.

They usually lay shoddy foundations in English soil and had lost all five previous European matches in this country without recording a goal. Then again Olympiakos had never come here with Rivaldo in their ranks.

The Brazilian ran sparingly but also did so with discrimination. After 27 minutes he broke away from Xabi Alonso and was halted only by Sami Hyypia's foul. The midfielder took the free-kick himself and, with Núñez breaking out of the defensive wall, his shot flew through the gap and past an unsighted Chris Kirkland.

While Liverpool had menaced with their early barrage of corners, it was the Greek set pieces that had become genuinely ominous. On the verge of half-time Jamie Carragher brought down Rivaldo but, as the crowd winced at their mass premonition, the Brazilian made a mistake.

He lay on the turf long enough for a physio to be called and then had to leave the field. In his absence Predrag Djordjevic, a less gifted understudy, fired the ball straight into Kirkland's arms.

If this was good luck, Liverpool needed the encouragement. Though Baros was back after three weeks out with a hamstring injury, he lacked support until Benítez brought on Sinama-Pongolle at the interval, at the expense of Djimi Traoré. This had the valuable side-effect of shoving Harry Kewell back to his best position, on the left flank.

He continues to underachieve but an acceptance that he prospers most when running at full-backs might be a key to recovery. Two minutes after the restart the Australian eluded Anastasios Pantos to pull back the low cross that Sinama-Pongolle turned into the net.

Liverpool's target started to look achievable then and by the end of the night nothing at all was beyond them.

Copyright - The Guardian

Article links



We've got all the results from official games, appearance stats, goal stats and basically every conceivable statistic from 1892 to the present, every single line-up and substitutions!