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Reds indebted to last-gasp Kuyt
27 Aug 2008 - 22:55:58
A memorable Dirk Kuyt goal sent Liverpool through to the Champions League group stage after a nail-biting clash against Standard Liege at Anfield.
Just as in Belgium two weeks ago when Pepe Reina produced a stunning, clawed save after seven minutes and then a sharp penalty stop soon after, Liverpool left the pitch at half-time indebted to their Spanish goalkeeper.
Dieumerci Mbokani, who looked strong, quick and aggressive all night, forced Reina into his first save again just seven minute into the match.
The Congolese international picked up the ball 35 yards out and made a beeline for the Liverpool goal, slowing only to swing his leg viciously and drive a low shot to Reina's right where the 25-year-old acrobatically tipped the ball wide.
A long throw ten minutes later caused chaos in the Liverpool box and, in the scramble, Igor De Camargo found himself clean through but he took the ball too wide and instead crossed for Marouane Fellaini who forced Reina to make another top save.
The Reds never came close to matching the attacking intent shown by the Belgians, at no stage testing Aragon Aspinoza in the Standard goal.
Only an over-hit free-kick from Fabio Aurelio a few moments after Reina's first save gave Aspinoza a touch of the ball.
His flick away ended up causing more danger than the set-piece as first Fernando Torres and then Robbie Keane hacked at the loose ball, the Irishman finding more space than his partner but hooking his shot well over the bar.
Little better was produced by either side in the second half, despite Liverpool pinning the visitors back on the edge of their penalty box for most of the last 30 minutes of normal time.
Liverpool will have to name one particular stretch of grass after Alvaro Arbeloa, their Spanish right-back, who produced numerous crosses from their right flank which looked good without causing much damage.
Despite Liverpool's inability to create many good chances, credit must go to the reigning Belgian champions whose excellent defence won every header and gave the Reds no time on the ball.
Even in extra-time, when a goal for either side was likely to win the tie, Standard matched Liverpool for energy and effort, subsiding only with a few moments left.
207 minutes of this Champions League third qualifying round match had been goalless before Ryan Babel's excellent back-post cross found its way onto Kuyt's shin.
The Dutchman's scrappy goal may be priceless, although the cost of failure could have totalled £20million, but it will count for little if Liverpool fail to improve on their two poor European performances so far this season.