Match Report by Robbie Amins for Talklfc
Nostalgia was in the air. There was a lot of talk about 1977, St Etienne and David Fairclough scoring at the Kop End when the Reds needed a 3-1 scoreline. Twenty-seven years later, something similar had to happen. When Rivaldo scored from a soft freekick, Liverpool needed 3 goals if they wanted to play in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Rafa Benitez showed his aces which he left in the pack, Mellor and Sinama-Pongolle and they didn't disappoint. But what was to follow was simply superb. The skipper, Stevie Gerrard who earlier this week said that he would consider leaving if Liverpool continued to underachieve, scored the most important goal of his career to send the Reds through.
Despite people writing him off as a has-been, Rivaldo showed he still had some magic dust left on those boots of his. The Brazilian who was linked with a move to Anfield during Gerard Houllier's tenure at the club, held off Xabi Alonso's challenge, slalomed past a player before being brought down by Sami Hyypia. The freekick wasn't the best in his glittering career but right-midfielder Antonio Nunez somehow decided to follow the man beside him and left a big hole in the wall for Rivaldo to exploit. One-nil to Olympiakos and Liverpool needed a miracle.
The Reds were already denied a goal in the opening minutes of the match when Milan Baros' header was disallowed. The Czech Republic had a little climb on a Greek defender. Things looked bleak after the high-tempo start and it was looking as if it wasn't Liverpool's day. While Baros was back after three weeks out with a hamstring injury, the side had no other authentic striker. After the good start, the approach work had plenty of zest but never got close enough to the Olympiakos goalmouth.
Changes were inevitable and Florent Sinama Pongolle replaced Djimi Traore at the start of the second half. And the move worked within two minutes of the restart when Harry Kewell showed that he still had it in him. The Australian did very well to hold off a challenge and outpaced the fullback to find Pongolle in the six yard box with his low cross. The French teenager sidefooted home the equaliser.
Then Gerrard thought he had scored when an acrobatic volley from the edge of the box squirmed through the hands of Antonios Nikopolidis and rolled into the net. But in the build-up Gabriel Schurrer had gone down in a challenge with Baros. And the Spanish referee did fellow Spaniard Rafa Benitez no favours by awarding the Greeks a free-kick.
12 minutes to go and things were not looking too good for the home side. Neil Mellor was brought on in place of the tiring Baros. And Mellor instantly brought renewed hope when he he reacted quickest to tuck home the rebound from Nunez's header. With three minutes left, the superhero that the fans were waiting for arrived. Mellor's intelligent header teed-up Gerrard to unleash a powerful drive past the despairing dive of Antonios Nikopolidis. Yet another beauty in the Stevie G collection of spectacular goals and it is indeed the most important one.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez: "The goal was important for the team, the club, the supporters and for Steven more because he is the captain and he wants to win with this club and at the end it was a very, very important goal for everyone. We knew before the game that it was very important for the club to gain these extra finances. Now we have a gap between the next stage and we can fight for other things, but for the club this result is very, very important."
"Steven was excellent, he can play from one side of the pitch to the other. I told him he has freedom and he has talent, when you see performances like that you see how important he is to us. He can work from end to end and it was a wonderful display. I had decided as we came off at the break one down that we needed to change things and that we needed out substitute strikers, and they both paid off for us. But I felt that the difference between the sides was really our supporters, I cannot that them enough. I want to say thank-you to the supporters, they were magnificent tonight to help us achieve this result."
Olympiakos manager Dusan Bajevic: "When you are watching a game like that you do not believe you can lose in that way. But we brought the problems on ourselves, we did not create a chance from open play during the match. Liverpool were faster, stronger and better than us and when we conceded so early in the second half there was always the fear that they could come back at us. If we had held the lead a little longer maybe we could have done something."
"But this was the worst we have played for a very long time. We had very little up front and the pressure told on us in the end. Liverpool were just better on the night, we were under so much pressure and were not able to get out of our half to really turn the pressure on them. We are bitter, with 10 points we have still not progressed in the tournament. We did not give up but we did not lift the pressure on us. Liverpool's winner was a very good goal scored by a quality player who is one of the best players around Europe at the moment."
Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard: "Credit to the subs because they changed the game. They are two young lads and they came on and did the business for us. This is just a great night for the club. We didn't play too well in the first half and conceded a silly goal from a free kick, but we kept going and got the right result. I'd be lying if I said I was always confident tonight. At half time we were losing and we knew the Monaco score. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb but we climbed it and we're all delighted."
"I was delighted to get the winner. As the ball dropped it was spinning and I thought the shot was going to end up in the stands, but I caught it sweetly and it flew in. It's definitely one of the best goals I have ever scored. Because of what I said and how it looked in the papers I felt I was under pressure to put in a good performance tonight. I wanted to help us into the last 16 and do a job for the fans and for the club."