First it was Uefa and now Liverpool have become the second European power to threaten Atlético Madrid with serious punishment only to grant them a reprieve at the last. A 100% start and a stranglehold on Group D were seven minutes away for Rafael Benítez's team at Vicente Calderón when their defence self-destructed and Simao returned to haunt them in the Champions League once again. The Spaniards must be beginning to believe they are immune from prosecution.
Fortunately for Atlético and Liverpool's travelling support, though not for those who missed Robbie Keane's 14th-minute opener due to problems entering the stadium before kick-off, this eagerly anticipated affair proved a test only of their team's suitability for the European spotlight. For the supporters and security staff who provoked a two-match stadium ban and £120,000 fine from Uefa last week, a ban postponed until after Liverpool's visit, they were merely subdued by the visitors' early superiority, then enthused by Atlético's stirring second-half response. With seven points apiece, the early pacesetters in the group remain firm favourites to advance to the knock-out phase.
Yet there will be regret gnawing at Benítez this morning and, with Sunday's trip to Chelsea in mind, some concern too. Liverpool impressed for large periods of this match and but for wastefulness in front of goal from Keane, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel, plus an ignored penalty claim from Albert Riera, they would have given their manager a triumphant homecoming to the Spanish capital.
Then tiredness visibly set in, evidenced by Steven Gerrard's withdrawal on the hour, and it took everything the Liverpool defence had left to prevent themselves becoming a victim of the sort of comebacks that have shaped their season. Perhaps too many relentless chases to the line took their toll here. It certainly looked that way as Jamie Carragher erred in the build-up to Simao's 83rd-minute equaliser and José Reina prevented the unmarked Miguel from giving Atlético a famous victory moments later.
The occasion was ultimately more satisfying than the contest thanks to the evident appreciation for a Liverpool side managed by a Madrileno and containing four Spaniards in the starting XI, though not the injured Fernando Torres, whose name still adorned the shirts of many in the home crowd 15 months after his departure for Anfield. It was reciprocated too, with Luis García and Florent Sinama-Pongolle facing their former club for the first time since leaving Liverpool. All told, this was never going to be a litmus test of the Atlético support after their censure by Uefa and enraged response to it.
Liverpool began with the efficiency that has been their hallmark in Europe rather than the Premier League this season. Atlético's hesitant, weak defence swiftly became of more concern to the majority in the Calderón than Uefa's slight on their reputation and they were prised apart with devastating results after only 14 minutes. Xabi Alonso instigated the move with a ball to Gerrard, who threaded a perfectly weighted pass between Alvaro Domínguez and Antonio López and Keane collected the delivery in his stride and drove a fine finish low under Leo Franco. It was simple yet superb and a passionate home support were silenced. Keane almost profited from more defensive uncertainty 60 seconds later as he and Domínguez chased a long ball from Carragher and should have scored from a Gerrard cross. The striker's over-elaborate finish was the wrong choice and the pass sailed between his legs.
The Atlético response was initially fitful until they were transformed in the second half and became rampant against Alvaro Arbeloa on the Liverpool right. Maniche was deprived a legitimate equaliser when he curled a right-foot finish beyond Reina but was wrongly adjudged offside as he collected Diego Forlán's pass into the area. Seconds later the Liverpool keeper made an outstanding save to tip a low drive from Simao on to the far post. Liverpool's accuracy in possession removed the sting from Atlético's recovery and Benayoun squandered a glorious opening when Alonso and Javier Mascherano fashioned a carbon-copy of Keane's goal only for the Israeli to delay his shot far too long. It proved a costly lapse.
With Liverpool under increasing pressure, Carragher misread a hopeful punt forwards and Forlán seized on the slip to release Simao wide on the left. The Portuguese international, who scored when Benfica ended Liverpool's defence of the Champions League in 2006, would not be denied by Reina this time, finding the far corner with an inch-perfect finish. Benítez and the watching Liverpool co-owner, George Gillett, were not amused.
Atletico Madrid 1 – 1
(HT 0 – 1)
Atletico Madrid's Percentage Liverpool's Percentage
Corners 5 62% 3 38%
Goal attempts 10 55% 8 45%
On target 6 54% 5 46%
Fouls 13 38% 21 62%
Offside 5 45% 6 55%
Atletico Madrid Leo Franco, Giourkas Seitaridis, Antonio Guerrero Lopez, Nuno Ribeiro Maniche, Luis Amaranto Perea, Alvaro Soto Dominguez, Florent Sinama-Pongolle (de las Cuevas Miguel, 75), Javier Sanz Luis Garcia (Sergio Aguero, 46), Diego Forlan, Ignacio Camacho (Escudero Raul Garcia, 72), Pedro Sabrosa Simao
Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Andrea Dossena, Xabi Alonso (Lucas Leiva, 75), Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard (Ryan Babel, 61), Robbie Keane (Dirk Kuyt, 53), Yossi Benayoun, Albert Riera
Referee Larsen, C B
Venue Vicente Calderon
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