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Liverpool book a passage to Rome

In all of their 13 years of European competition, Liverpool can rarely have been so poorly tested as here in the Letzigrund Stadium when the Swiss champions, Zurich, fumbled and fell before no real pressure in this European Cup semi-final first leg. Liverpool have the formality of the return game at Anfield in a fortnight's time.

There can be no doubt that they will be in Rome next month for a final against either Borussia Moenchengladbach or Dynamo Kiev. It was both a relief and a surprise to Liverpool to find that this last step before achieving the goal of the final itself was less demanding than many matches played in earlier rounds over the years. They played calmly and never looked in danger in spite of giving away an early penalty from which they quickly recovered.

Liverpool had hoped to master the game without expending too much energy at this busy time of their season. Keegan immediately drifted back to the half way line and some early nervous mistakes by the Zurich defenders suggested that Liverpool would have their way, although the Swiss were strengthened at the last minute when their industrious captain, Kunh, was passed fit.

For Liverpool, concern flickered across their faces when Smith, playing with his customary disregard for caution no matter what the team tactics, bundled Botteron, a Swiss international, to the ground. That was in only the third minute and the referee disdainfully dismissed Smith's expansive protest that Botteron had "dived".

He was under the Turkish referee's close scrutiny from that moment and three minutes later, as Scheiwiler burst into the penalty area, Smith went with him and tackled heavily though hardly with ugliness. The referee saw the tackle as being more serious than Smith again indicated and gave Zurich a penalty that, for the moment, seemed a generous incentive. Risli's kick had enough power to hit the back of the net although Clemence did manage to deflect it.

For Smith there was more trouble to come when he again made a clumsy tackle on the winger, Botteron, whose speed was clearly too much for him. His name was taken and he must have been especially relieved when, after 15 minutes, Ziggerlig tripped Keegan, opening a way for Liverpool. McDermott quickly went down the wing as a decoy and Kennedy lifted the free kick high over the penalty area behind the defenders. Neal came in fast and controlled the ball on his thigh before hitting a shot into the far corner.

Zurich rarely finished the moves they begun in midfield and their overall performance was unimpressive. They were a considerably less effective threat to Liverpool's future in the competition than St Etienne had been in the previous round. When an offside trap was set, Jones swung a shot to beat the entire defence apart from the goalkeeper and it became clear that if Liverpool wanted to attack with strength, they could dismiss any thought of caution.

Whereas at St Etienne, Liverpool had to overcome the heat of an intense atmosphere, here the crowd reacted quietly and poilitely. They applauded Keegan's footwork but did not spur their own team who needed some encouragement as Liverpool's superiority became even more apparent in the early part of the second half.

Appropriately, Heighway, who has had such a fine season, especially in European games, played a full part in the two second half goals that must have made the second leg at Anfield one of the easiest Liverpool have played this season both in domestic and European competition. For the first, he attached himself to McDermott's pass not far inside the Zurich half.

He refused to be shaken from his mission, gliding gracefully past two defenders as he increased speed in the penalty area. The goalkeeper tried to meet him but was too late and though Heighway did, for a moment, seem in danger of losing control, his short, clean and crisp shot was accurate.

Zurich faded even more disappointingly and were not noticeably improved by the substitution of Rutschmann by Dickenmann. They then lost Weller with an injured leg and when Botteron faintly patted a shot around the post from two yards out, the result and surely Liverpool's place in the final was assured. After 67 minutes Fairclough gave Heighway another chance for an elegant sprint. Case's long clearance was too high for Fairclough to control, so instead he turned it inside from the touchline midway into Zurich's half. Heighway went away unchallenged until in the penalty area where Heer caught him and brought him down. Neal placed the penalty past Grob with the side of his foot.

Copyright - The Times

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