Liverpool edged out despite a spirited comeback

Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 00:00

Liverpool 3 Zenit 1 (Agg 3-3. Zenit win on away goals):There were 71 minutes remaining at Anfield and a Jamie Carragher error had left Liverpool in need of four goals against the champions of Russia to remain in Europe. Here was not only the ultimate test of Liverpool’s development under Brendan Rodgers but the character their manager believes has been lacking. They passed, but it was not enough to add Zenit St Petersburg to the list of great European comebacks.

Two exquisite free-kicks from Luis Suarez and a goal for Joe Allen produced a memorable victory after Hulk had appeared to put Luciano Spalletti’s team into an unassailable lead. The fourth eluded them, however, and it was an agonising way for Liverpool’s last hope of silverware to disappear.

The visitors offered little in attack but their intention to slow the game was evident each time they took possession. Suarez screamed for a penalty against Luis Neto when the ball bounced against the central defender’s upper arm. The Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, was not interested.

Then came a moment to haunt Carragher on his 150th European appearance for Liverpool. Zenit had threatened only once in the opening 20 minutes and it was Carragher’s experience that foiled them, the veteran leaning into Danny’s shoulder to prevent him reaching Shirokov’s flick into the area. Their next foray was a calamity for the defender. Sergei Semak’s challenge on Steven Gerrard rebounded to Carragher just inside the Liverpool half. His first touch was awkward, the second played an under-cooked back-pass into the path of Hulk who strolled forward and beat Jose Reina with ease.

Liverpool now required four unanswered goals to qualify. They sensed it was not beyond them. The first arrived after Daniel Agger had been unceremoniously dumped on the edge of the Zenit area by Nicolas Lombaerts. Suarez swept the resulting free-kick between Hulk and Danny at the end of the wall and into the unguarded half of Malafeev’s goal.

With two minutes remaining in the first half the tie and the comeback was alive for Liverpool. Jose Enrique exchanged passes with Henderson down the left and, from the byline, crossed onto the head of Joe Allen at close range. Malafeev saved the header but Allen converted the rebound.

Suarez won his appeal for a free-kick following a trip by Neto 25 yards from the Zenit goal. Liverpool’s number seven again took over the set-piece duties from Gerrard and Anfield erupted as he delivered a stunning finish that curled inside Malafeev’s left-hand post. Amid the pandemonium Rodgers introduced Jonjo Shelvey and Oussama Assaidi as Liverpool went all-out for an astonishing victory. The Zenit keeper was equal to a Gerrard half-volley as the pressure mounted, although it was not all one way and Reina produced a vital low save to prevent Hulk killing Liverpool’s hopes of recovery. Guardian Service

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