The English and Spanish clubs move on to the verge of the knockout phase, but the Champions League is not entirely bereft of surprises. Atlético Madrid were aghast to see victory denied them in the third minute of stoppage time when the Swedish referee, Martin Hansson, eventually awarded the penalty, on the advice of a linesman, that brought an equaliser.
Steven Gerrard had appeared to jump into Mariano Pernía, but the defender was deemed to have been the offender. There was no sheepishness from the Liverpool captain, who swept home the spot-kick with his habitual confidence. While this phase looks a formality for these clubs, the sense of injustice was intense for Atlético.
Liverpool have earned their reputation for vigour in the closing phase of matches but that had not been particularly evident here. It was the visitors' outrage over the penalty that was unmistakable. After the caution for Pernía, bookings ensued for Luis Perea, John Heitinga, and Sergio Agüero. Atlético were more inclined to protest than restart the game.
Liverpool will contend that a penalty was owed them after Perea went undetected when he patted the ball in the 50th minute. This aspect of the game baffled officials who were even-handed in their unreliability. They were as indifferent to a tug on Daniel Agger in the box at the very outset as they were after the interval when Javier Mascherano, sliding to the ground, had his arm in the way of a ball from the lively Diego Forlán, who was invigorated by Anfield's animosity towards the former Manchester United figure.
For all the uproar, nothing much has actually happened to either club. The status quo is intact, with Atlético still leading Group D on goal difference. Liverpool might mull over their general lack of incisiveness. It was prudent not to hurry Fernando Torres back from a hamstring injury but Liverpool were unable cope as well without the striker as they had in the five previous games.
With Liverpool behind, a dissatisfied Rafael Benítez nonetheless deemed it necessary to bring on the youngster David Ngog for the costly Robbie Keane. It would be wrong to pretend, all the same, that defeat would have been ruinous for Liverpool who had, after all, gone down 1-0 to Marseille here in this phase of the tournament last season.
The crowd were conscious of that, sufficiently so to applaud the introduction by Atlético of Luis García, who scored a famed and much-disputed goal for Liverpool against Chelsea in this competition three years ago. The events here will have done Liverpool a service if any lingering presumptuousness has been shaken out of them.
The compensation for a lack of variety in the Champions League lies in the quality of the football from representatives of Spain and England in particular. That excellence wounded Benítez's side in the 38th minute.
Atlético were sharp of mind and body with a thrust down their right. When the full-back Antonio López rolled in a cross Maxi Rodríguez moved across a static Jamie Carragher and shot low past the goalkeeper José Reina. It was an incident to have the Anfield statisticians brooding over a record that had seen their side beat Spanish visitors only twice on the 11 previous occasions in European competition.
They might have murmured, too, that the last Liverpool player to find the net against Spanish visitors here in European competition had been Michael Owen in 2001. The setback was not so very great a shock even on the simple evidence of the early action last night.
There had already been a thrilling move by Atlético that ought to have given them an earlier lead. Maniche picked out Forlán after 19 minutes and he fed the left-back Pernía. The low cross was precise, too, and the accuracy only vanished when Simao lifted it over the bar.
There was no sense then that there was much at stake and half an hour had gone before a spell of vehemence was delivered by Benítez's team. Carragher's pass broke off Heitinga to put Keane clear but the goalkeeper, Leo Franco, made enough contact with the ball to direct the Irishman's shot away from the target.
Anfield was gripped by a contest that had taken all too strong a hold on a concerned audience who must have imagined that boredom was the main danger lying in wait for them. In truth it was with a distinct relief that they departed cheering the confirmation of Chelsea's loss in Rome.
Liverpool 1 – 1
(HT 0 – 1)
Gerrard (pen) 90
Maxi Rodriguez 37
Bookings Maniche 67
Liverpool's Percentage Atletico Madrid's Percentage
Corners 11 84% 2 16%
Goal attempts 18 78% 5 22%
On target 7 77% 2 23%
Fouls 7 31% 15 69%
Offside 2 100% 0 0%
Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano (Lucas Leiva, 77), Dirk Kuyt, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane (David N'Gog, 71), Albert Riera (Ryan Babel, 61)
Atletico Madrid Leo Franco, Antonio Guerrero Lopez, Mariano Andres Pernia, Johnny Heitinga, Luis Amaranto Perea, Paulo Assuncao, Maximiliano Maxi Rodriguez, Nuno Ribeiro Maniche, Diego Forlan (Sergio Aguero, 71), Escudero Raul Garcia, Pedro Sabrosa Simao (Javier Sanz Luis Garcia, 90)
Referee Hansson, M
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