Reds Hungary for more after winning Champions League start

LIVERPOOL have just secured one pot of gold and now the race is on for more riches.

The biggest shirt sponsorship deal in football history will significantly boost the Anfield coffers but even that yearly windfall will be dwarfed if this season’s European adventure lasts until next May.
The Champions League offers upwards of £30million to those who stay the distance and the Reds are up and running with their first tentative steps on the road to Madrid.

Of course things are rarely straightforward where Liverpool are concerned in this competition.

And spring in the Spanish capital seemed a long way off as they struggled to kill off the threat of Hungarian champions at a nervy Anfield last night.

The ruthless streak and fluency they displayed against Burnley was sadly lacking but crucially they got the job done. This side may not always showcase its quality but their character is unquestionable.

Group E represents a step into the unknown for the Reds with three opponents they have never faced before.

Lyon and Fiorentina will hardly be quaking in their boots after Dirk Kuyt’s solitary strike but at least neither have been handed a headstart.

It’s 35 years ago today since the club enjoyed the biggest victory in their history – an 11-0 thrashing of Norwegian side Stromgodset in the Cup Winners Cup at Anfield.

But they thoughts that Debrecen, making their first appearance in the group stage, would be the sacrificial lambs in Rafa Benitez’s 300th game in charge were swiftly dismissed.

The minnows, who deservedly milked their standing ovation from the home fans at the end, defended heroically and with a bit more composure up front could easily have grabbed a shock point.

It was Liverpool’s 100th European Cup win but this was the equivalent of bringing up your century with an edge through the slips.

Numerous chances were spurned and what should have been a routine victory had to be doggedly ground out.

Debrecen boast the accolade of being the only domestic champions in Group E and they arrived on the crest of a wave after eight successive wins in all competitions.

Swedish champions Kalmar, Levadia Tallinn of Estonia, and Bulgarians Levski Sofia had all been brushed aside on the way to Debrecen becoming the first Hungarian side to reach the group stage for 14 years.

Their success has provided a major boost to a nation who reinvented the way the game was played in Europe in the 1950s with magical talents such as Ferenc Puskas.

The last time they faced English opposition was in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League in August 2005 when they lost 6-0 on aggregate to Manchester United.

Benitez stayed true to his pre-match promise not to underestimate them as he kept faith with the side who demolished the Clarets on Saturday.

This was the biggest night in Debrecen’s 117-year history and the question whether they would be inspired or overawed by the occasion was soon answered.

Roared on by their vocal support, they stood firm against the early onslaught. Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Kuyt all went close but keeper Vukasin Poleksic didn’t have a save to make in the opening half hour.

Well organised and compact, with skipper Zoltan Kiss starring in front of his back four, the Reds increasingly struggled to break them down.

As time wore on, Debrecen grew in confidence and came out of their shell. Only Pepe Reina’s fingers tips denied them the opening goal in front of the Kop as the keeper turned over Norbert Meszaros’ sweet strike.

It seemed to be the wake-up call Liverpool needed and they finished the first half with a flourish.

Gerrard carved the visitors open but Albert Riera couldn’t provide the finish.

The left-winger saw plenty of the ball and found himself clean through again soon after only for Poleksic to make a sprawling save and for Kuyt’s effort to be hacked off the line.

When Gerrard side-footed wide from 12 yards the Reds’ frustration looked set to last until after the interval but on the stroke of half-time the deadlock was broken.

Torres’ low shot was only parried by Poleksic and Kuyt was alert to follow up and net the rebound.

It was the Dutchman’s 12th goal in 35 Champions League games for the club and that makes him Liverpool’s third highest European Cup goal scorer.

With the shackles off, the stage was set for the Reds to go on and bag a hatful in the second half.

However, the expected goal feast failed to materialise. Gerrard was a whisker away from a stunning second when his blistering volley skimmed the bar.

Then Benayoun twisted and turned into space before being denied by the keeper. Lucas nodded wide and Gerrard also had two penalty claims waved away after bursting into the penalty area.

With every misplaced pass the groans from the stands grew louder and Debrecen began to cause the Reds some anxious moments.

Summer signing from Antwerp, Adamo Coulibaly, missed their best opportunity when he fired wide under pressure from Martin Skrtel.

There was a welcome first appearance of the season for Fabio Aurelio late on and Javier Mascherano was also sent on to ensure the narrow advantage was protected.

The last time Liverpool faced Hungarian opposition it ended in bitter disappointment as they bowed out to Ferencvaros in the Cup Winners Cup in 1974.

This time disaster was avoided but tougher battles lie ahead which will demand much better performances.

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua, Benayoun (Mascherano 87), Lucas, Gerrard, Riera (Babel 80), Kuyt (Aurelio 90), Torres. Not used: Cavalieri, Voronin, Kyrgiakos, Spearing.

DEBRECEN: Poleksic, Bodnar, Komlosi, Meszaros, Fodor, Czvitkovics, Kiss, Ramos (Laczko 67), Leandro, Szakaly (Feczesin 79), Coulibaly. Not used: Pantic, Szucs, Bernath, Olah, Katona.

REFEREE: Pedro Proenca (Portugal).

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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