Kuyt strikes late to save limp and lucky Liverpool

It was a tie that no one at Liverpool ever wanted to be memorable. Supporters, none the less, are forced now to remember it for the goal Dirk Kuyt stabbed home from the substitute Ryan Babel's cross when just two minutes of extra-time remained. There will be recriminations because that was the single goal of a tie in which Standard Liège had been superior for much of the 3½ hours it had lasted.

The assumption had been that this second leg would be a technicality to be completed before today's draw for the Champions League proper. As it turned out, the Belgians were far better than we, in our insular way, had guessed. Liverpool had nothing whatsoever to complain about before the referee Massimo Busacca uncharactersitically failed to oblige them when he instead declined to award a penalty for Oguchi Onyewu's apparent foul on the substitute Nabil El Zhar in the 113th minute.

So much was amiss in Rafael Benítez's line-up. There is still no finesse on the flanks and it is a moot point whether the expected signing of Albert Riera from Espanyol will address that concern. It was unsettling, too, to witness Steven Gerrard in difficulties physically and dropping deeper as the game went on. His groin injury will now keep the midfielder out for at least a fortnight.

This game, from its early exchanges, threatened Benítez with an anguish he had not known with Liverpool in the Champions League. Given the triumph of taking the trophy against AC Milan three years ago and the appearance in another final, the Spaniard has a handsome record. The trouble is that all too much depends on this one tournament until Liverpool can sustain a bid for the Premier League title. The result in the first leg with Liège was enough to summon up bleak imaginings.

Liège have several hulking footballers who are free of any hesitation about using that heft. The Anfield atmosphere was, if anything, a stimulus to them. Benítez, preferring Martin Skrtel to Daniel Agger in defence, had anticipated that the sheer power of the visitors must be countered.

The Belgians were not quelled until they wearied in extra-time. After an eager opening by Liverpool, they exercised the dominance that had been indisputable at Stade Maurice Dufrasne. The visitors set a high tempo and it was José Reina who pulled off the key saves in that period - Dieumerci Mbokani's 10th minute effort having to be turned behind. He had, too, to react in the same way when Marouane Fellaini connected with an Igor de Camargo cross from the left.

The Belgian champions were playing the better football. A couple of incidents in a two-minute span encapsulated that. When Mbokani overwhelmed Skrtel even Jamie Carragher could only halt him with a foul. A little later, Marcos Camozzato, under pressure in his own area, still selected a pass to Fellaini that let Liège move downfield.

There was no answering verve from Liverpool. Gerrard might have picked out Yossi Benayoun with a good pass in the 17th minute, but the applause after the Israeli's effort had gone behind rested on the trust that such a move was a harbinger of better play to come from the side. It was not to be delivered.

While Liverpool had to live in a state of anxiety, Liège treasured their night at Anfield. You could detect such an attitude in the actions of the manager Laszlo Boloni himself. When a particular decision went against his side, he looked round at the baying Liverpool fans and spread his arms as if appealing to their better nature. But it was Benítez who was obliged to react, bringing on Babel for Benayoun.

He might insist that the alteration had its impact and the Dutchman did indeed come up with a good delivery to break Liège. By then, it was much too late to hearten the crowd. Any euphoria was rooted in relief that the side now has an opportunity to improve in the group stage. They should not count on retaining the luck that clung to them over this tie.

Bookings Sarr 61, De Camargo 69 and Costa 98

Liverpool: Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio, Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun (Ryan Babel, 61), Robbie Keane (Nabil El Zhar, 83), Fernando Torres (Damien Plessis, 120)

Standard Liege: Rorys Aragon Aspinoza, Marcos Camozzato, Oguchi Onyewu, Adama Mohamed Sarr, Dante Bonfim Costa, Wilfried Dalmat (Milan Jovanovic, 87), Marouane Fellaini, Steven Defour (Benjamin Nicaise, 118), Alex Witsel, Igor De Camargo (Salim Toema, 101), Dieumerci Mbokani.

Copyright - The Guardian

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