Liverpool 1 Debrecen 0: match report
Liverpool's 100th win in the European Cup came in Rafa Benítez's 300th game in charge but a landmark match will live longer in the record books than in the memory. Dirk Kuyt settled a nervy, disappointing encounter, launching another Champions League campaign successfully if unimpressively. Kuyt shone, buzzing around intelligently, taking his first-half goal well and departing to a standing ovation. But Liverpool lacked composure in the final third, although Debrecen deserved credit for their defensive organisation and resilience and were treated to lengthy applause by the Kop at the final whistle. Birmingham City v Stoke City previewAs well as the three points, Liverpool can also take pleasure from the returns from injury of Javier Mascherano and Fabio Aurelio. But against more adventurous opponents than Debrecen, Liverpool may need more than one goal. Until Kuyt finally broke down Debrecen's dogged resistance, pouncing just before the interval, all Anfield eyes had been on Steven Gerrard. Chasing the 33rd goal that would make him the most prolific Englishman ever in Europe, eclipsing Alan Shearer, Gerrard had again started in Xabi Alonso's old role, always available, always keen to dictate the tempo, always looking to release slide-rule passes forward yet frustratingly limiting his ventures upfield. Liverpool's captain surely set one mark in the first half, receiving arguably the most pedantic booking imaginable. The inexperienced Portuguese referee, Pedro Proenca, cautioned Gerrard for taking a free-kick when the official's back was turned. Laughable. Debrecen's midfield destroyers having illegally terminated a Liverpool move through midfield, Gerrard had every right to hurry up the dead-ball situation. In classic traffic warden mode, Proenca punished Gerrard for not waiting. Clearly annoyed, the England international soon conjured up the pass of the half, the ball bent at speed with the outside of his right boot into the path of Albert Riera, who dragged his shot wide, not for the last time on the night. As the game opened up, Riera had two more inviting opportunities, both well-saved by Vukasin Poleksic. Liverpool kept hammering away at the Hungarians' door. Debrecen had not come to entertain, certainly not in the expressive fashion of their fans relishing their visit to Anfield. Defending deep and in numbers, Debrecen left only Adamo Coulibaly in attack, although they worried Liverpool with a Peter Czvitkovics' drive that Pepe Reina did well to tip over. Having taken a warning shot across their bows, Liverpool probed more purposefully down all avenues to find a way through. Glen Johnson kept making good ground down the right, Yossi Benayoun roamed promisingly, Fernando Torres alarmed Debrecen's defence with his touch and sudden flicks at the accelerator while Gerrard headed over and shot wide. Close but no cigar. Most significantly, Kuyt was beginning to impose himself. Deployed in the attacking role Gerrard prefers, the Dutchman showed some great skill early on, weaving between Leandro and Luis Ramos, bringing Anfield to its feet in appreciation of his technique and enterprise. Kuyt was getting closer, his refusal to take the scenic route towards goal delighting Liverpool fans. When Riera had another shot saved, Kuyt was quickest to the loose ball, firing it goalwards only for Norbert Meszaros to clear off the line. There is a patience to Liverpool, an awareness of the qualities required to dismantle cautious opponents. Just as Debrecen thought they had survived to the break, Liverpool struck quickly. Benayoun caught the visitors out, sweeping a pass through the middle, the ball instantly adhering to Torres' foot. Three touches set up the shooting chance but Poleksic saved. Kuyt had refused to give up hope, nipping in ahead of Meszaros to drive the ball in. Liberated, Liverpool paraded their strengths as the second half began. Johnson again dribbled into the box while Gerrard unleashed one of those Kop end thunderbolts, a superb volley that flew just over. Gerrard then fired in a low 25-yarder that thudded into the ribs of the stooping Poleksic. Gerrard then thought he had won a penalty when dragged down by Meszaros but Proenca, correctly, ruled that the shirt-pulling had been 50-50. Now it was Benayoun's turn to lead the charge, dribbling in from the right in one glorious run and turning Ramos so suddenly that Debrecen's holding midfielder ripped a thigh muscle, eventually departing on a stretcher. Benayoun's run had climaxed with another save from Poleksic. Benayoun showed that Gerrard is not the only one who can deliver dangerous corners, whipping in a dead ball that Lucas headed wide. Benayoun has been in rich form recently, finally showing Anfield his quality. Another attacking talent, Ryan Babel, has still to win over Liverpool fans, and cut a strange figure warming up in his trainers. He soon got his boots on, replacing Riera. Although Babel hardly looked the answer, Liverpool needed some new impetus as Debrecen were threatening an equaliser. When Peter Szakaly lifted the ball over Liverpool's square defence, Coulibaly ran on and hooked the ball over Reina. Fortunately for the hosts, Jamie Carragher arrived in the nick of time to clear. With nine minutes remaining, Coulibaly raced through and only a well-judged interception by Martin Skrtel rescued Liverpool.
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