There was no holding their heads up high after Lisandro Lopez equalised Ryan Babel's magnificent goal, leaving Lyon qualified and second-placed Fiorentina five points clear of Liverpool with only two to play.
Related ArticlesArsenal 4 AZ Alkmaar 1Unirea Urziceni 1 Rangers 1Champions League actionChampions League tablesChampions League fixturesSport on televisionSome players walked alone. Javier Mascherano headed straight down the tunnel. Liverpool fans deserved better, merited some acknowledging of their passionate support. Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher duly went over to salute them on a dark night for everyone associated with Liverpool.
Liverpool fans had flocked in numbers to this handsome French city, soon filling the neat, noisy but hardly forbidding Stade de Gerland with their familiar anthems. Liverpool supporters had known the importance of this tie, how much a troubled team needed their backing. Loud and proud, they sang their hearts out, lifting Benitez's players during a scoreless first half of occasional hope.
Lyon have hardly been in the greatest of form themselves, and their captain Sidney Govou, so often their inspiration, was dropped to the bench, partly for enjoying the city's tempting nightlife too enthusiastically.
Claude Puel re-jigged his three-man front-line, which was led by the tall, sinewy Befetimbi Gomis, a second-division Adebayor, while the wide players attacked Liverpool's full-backs, perceived as the visitors' weak points.
Michel Bastos ran at Emiliano Insua, the nimble Brazilian forcing Liverpool's young Argentinian into an early mistake and unleashing a shot held by Pepe Reina. On the other flank, Lisandro raced at and beyond Jamie Carragher, who endured a nervy beginning, conceding a series of free-kicks.
Yet Carragher, showing some neat touches, began to venture upfield while Insua was also making good ground down the left.
After 11 minutes, Insua collected a ball off Yossi Benayoun and crossed low and hard towards Torres. Liverpool's lauded No 9 was clearly far from fit, his movement inhibited by his hernia problem, but always a threat in front of goal. Torres still failed to impart great power into the ball and Hugo Lloris saved with his legs.
Belief began to filter into Liverpool hearts. They realised that Puel's team, despite their victory at Anfield, were there for the taking.
Again Insua did well on the flank, lifting the ball in, Benayoun setting up Dirk Kuyt, whose snap-shot was brilliantly pushed over by Lloris.
Liverpool were imposing themselves physically, Lucas clattering Lisandro and Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger both wrestling over Gomis. The few real chances of a disappointing opening half mainly fell to Liverpool.
The best fell to Andrei Voronin. Javier Mascherano, suddenly turning into Xabi Alonso, drilled a magnificent ball through the middle, the only disappointment was that it was Voronin chasing it not Torres.
It was the sort of right-channel position where Torres had burned off Rio Ferdinand and scored against Manchester United. But this was Voronin, who managed to speed away from Jeremy Toulalan but his shot lacked conviction and Lloris saved with his feet. It would need something better to beat the France international.
At least, Liverpool were threatening Lyon's goal. Torres began to stretch the hosts' defence; only a well-timed challenge by Cris and then Ahly Cissokho prevented the Spaniard inflicting damage. Increasingly promising from open play, Liverpool still lacked menace at set-pieces partly because Voronin, in Steven Gerrard's absence, was taking corners and free-kicks.
Eventually, after the fourth wasted dead-ball opportunity, invariably hitting the first defender, Benayoun took responsibility off Voronin and Liverpool's threat increased.
After the break, Lyon began to awake. Cissokho whipped in a cross and Bastos headed over. Then Gomis loped through, having only Kyrgiakos to beat but surprisingly dithered allowing Voronin to foul him. Kim Kallstrom's free-kick whistled aimlessly over.
Ten minutes into the second period, news filtered through that Fiorentina were leading Debrecen, first 2-1 and swiftly 3-1, then 4-2. The pressure built inexorably on Liverpool to score. As it stood, Lyon were leading Group E with 10 points, the Italians were second with nine while Liverpool lay five points behind with two to play.
Liverpool had to score, had to commit more bodies to attack. The game was getting stretched and only some alert covering by Agger stopped a Lyon surge. Benitez gambled, sending on Ryan Babel, removing the undistinguished Voronin. The Dutchman's arrival gave Liverpool some welcome impetus and Torres some additional support.
Liverpool pushed and pushed, realising their whole season might ultimately hinge on these few minutes. Mascherano stepped up a gear. Kuyt kept breaking into the box. When Lucas forced a good save from Lloris, Kuyt met the loose ball with a superb overhead kick that Cissokho cleared off the line.
So committed to attack, Liverpool were living dangerously defensively, particularly when the unimpressive Kyrgiakos let the ball bounce, Lisandro nipped in and only Reina's smart reflexes rescued Liverpool.
By sitting so deep and leaving Lisandro so isolated, Lyon were playing a risky game. Seven minutes from time, Liverpool's heightened tempo paid off when Torres' decoy run punched a hole in Lyon's defence and Babel let fly, a thunderous right-footed 20-yarder flying into the back of Lloris' goal. It was always going to take something special to defeat Lyon's excellent keeper and Babel's strike was certainly special.
But then came Lisandro. Then came disaster for Liverpool. When Bastos, looking offside, headed the ball to the edge of Liverpool's area, Kyrgiakos' attempted clearance was poor, the ball bounced off Cris and fell to kindly for Lisandro. Reina advanced but the Argentinian's shot was too strong and embedded itself in the back of the visitors' net. Liverpool's European hopes hang by a thread.