Liverpool revival comes too late

Liverpool not only fell among the ranks of the Uefa Cup contenders last night but also inflicted intricate torment on themselves. Which will they regret more? The humiliation when Basle cruised three goals ahead of them or the comeback they could not complete in the second half? Despite the melodrama, the histrionics must not prevent anyone from remembering that the Anfield club deserved to fail.

Basle prepared for this game at a training camp in the Black Forest, where the schedule was composed of videos, lectures and quizzing of the players. The team must have felt they were being indoctrinated into a cult. If so, they emerged with the zeal of true believers.

It was Liverpool who were initially engulfed by the crisis of faith. Gérard Houllier's strategy proved to be founded on a misconception. Knowing Liverpool had to win, he persuaded himself that he could afford to leave out the steady Salif Diao in the interests of fielding a more expressive line-up from the beginning.

It was easy to sympathise with his intentions, but they took too little account of Basle's gung-ho creativity. At St Jakob Park, there is a predatory edge to the already smooth passing of Christian Gross's side. Liverpool, though, should never been such meek prey at the outset.

Basle could have been troubled by the delicate situation of requiring just a point, but they cleared their minds with a wave of three goals inside 29 minutes. Their attacks were then reducing Liverpool reputations to a small pile of dust. In midfield especially, the visitors were powerless.

This was not the way in which Houllier would have chosen to rid himself of Liverpool's reputation for dourness. Outpaced at the back and outmanouevred at the centre of the pitch, they were a skittish bunch. Dietmar Hamann, the specialist at protecting the penalty area, rarely approached, let alone apprehended, the ebulliently creative Hakan Yakin.

Steven Gerrard was also humdrum before Diao replaced him, but it is futile to dwell on individual foibles when the first-half collapse was collective. At that juncture, it was a match beyond Liverpool's conception. No matter what lip-service was paid to Basel, they could not convince themselves that they would be sharing a pitch with opponents of this accomplishment.

The disregard for smaller nations is one sort of discreet racism that Uefa will never be able to kick out. The speed and technique of Basle were exceptional. Within moments, Liverpool understood the error of their ways and and may also have feared that they were lost.

In the second minute, Danny Murphy lost the ball to Antonio Esposito, who immediately snapped the offside trap with a through ball to Hakan Yakin. His low cross bounced uncomfortably but the careful Julio Hernan Rossi, who had also scored at Anfield, converted it.

There was exquisite movement at the second goal with Rossi pulling right to roll a square pass to Hakan Yakin as, with the Liverpool back four mesmerised, made the burst to to take the through ball and clip it past Jerzy Dudek. In the 29th minute, Dudek parried Yakin's free-kick, only for Timothee Atoubi to score from the rebound.

It seemed for a long time that the only Liverpool effort to be remembered was the drive by Emile Heskey that Pascal Zuberbühler tipped on to the bar with 10 minutes gone.

The route to parity was steep but Liverpool climbed it with impressive purpose and strength as Basle tired. Diao restored order and, after an hour, began the build-up that saw Murphy finish accurately after being teed up by Vladimir Smicer.

Smicer added a goal of his own in the 64th minute, stretching to force in a ball from Milan Baros. By the time Murat Yakan handled the ball on the ground as Michael Owen swerved around him there was almost euphoria. Owen's penalty was blocked by Zuberbühler, but he rolled in the loose ball.

Basle (4-3-1-2): Zuberbuhler; Haas, Zwyssig, M Yakin, Atoubi; Ergic, Cantaluppi, Esposito; H Yakin (Koumantarakis, 90); Gimenez (Barberis, 66), Rossi (Tum, 76).

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher (Diouf, 80), Traore, Hyypia, Riise; Murphy, Gerrard (Diao, h-t), Hamann, Heskey (Baros, 61); Smicer, Owen.

Goals: Rossi 2, Gimenez 22, Atouba 29 | Murphy 61, Smicer 64, Owen 85

Referee: C Colombo (France).

Copyright - The Guardian

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