Liverpool’s UEFA Cup aspirations remain alive and well following a battling semi-final first leg performance against Barcelona in the Nou Camp. A goalless draw was not what Gerard Houllier had predicted pre-match but it was enough to ensure his side have one foot in the Dortmund final.
The Reds, sporting an unfamiliar all-white strip, defended resolutely and silenced the vast Catalan crowd in a dour encounter. Michael Owen returned to the starting eleven in place of Robbie Fowler, while Emile Heskey lined up in an unusual left wing back position.
It became obvious soon after the kick off that Liverpool would be content to sit back and soak up the pressure applied by their hosts and for the majority of the game they did just that.
Brazilian superstar Rivaldo looked particularly dangerous during the opening exchanges, blasting a 20-yard effort off Sami Hyypia for a corner and setting up Luis Enrique for a shot on goal that flew well wide of the post.
That was as close as Barca came to breaking the deadlock in a frustrating first half, as the ever-dependable Liverpool rearguard coped comfortably with whatever the home side threw at them.
At the opposite end chances were few and far between and the Barcelona goal was rarely threatened, even following the introduction of Smicer and Fowler as second half substitutes.
Barcelona looked most likely to end the stalemate. Dutch duo Cocu and Kluivert both went close and with time ticking away Xavi forced Westerveld into his first real save of the match.
In the dying minutes Liverpool almost snatched a sensational victory against the run of play through Steven Gerrard. The England midfielder received a ball from Smicer and shot narrowly wide from outside of the area.
The final whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos from the disappointed Catalans among the 90,000 crowd and it was the travelling army of Liverpudlians who were undoubtedly happiest with this result.
It leaves the outcome of the tie hanging finely in the balance, although the Reds must now be favourites. The second leg in a fortnight’s time should provide a much better spectacle and another famous European occasion at Anfield is in prospect.
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