Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Liverpool end Champions legaue campaign with defeat

Liverpool's miserable Champions League campaign ended in defeat to Fiorentina. The visitors grabbed a late winner through Alberto Gilardino in the second minute of added time to clinch top spot in Group E.

Looking at the positives, Liverpool started with Alberto Aquilani at last - and Fernando Torres returned from a groin injury for the final 25 minutes.

Yossi Benayoun's first-half header gave Liverpool hope in a game they largely controlled, but defensive uncertainty gave Martin Jorgensen the chance to drive home the equaliser in the second period.

Fiorentina, aware that Lyon were hammering Debrecen, realised they needed to win to make sure of top spot in the group, and they piled on some belated pressure.

It paid off and Liverpool were to suffer yet another late goal disaster. It had happened in both games against Lyon, and now Fiorentina struck to steal their win in injury time.

Substitute Juan Vargas set up Gilardino for a fierce finish that sent the Fiorentina fans wild, and the club's coaching staff into delirious jigs of delight.

Liverpool rested Jamie Carragher, Jose Reina, Glen Johnson and Lucas and would have left out Dirk Kuyt had David Ngog not been taken ill earlier in the day.

Youngster Stephen Darby had a rare run-out at right-back, while Italian defender Andrea Dossena was used in the unlikely role of left-midfield.

The Italians, already secure in the last 16, were missing Stevan Jovetic, their most exciting attacker who scored both goals in their 2-0 home win over Liverpool in September.

The Montenegro international failed a late fitness test on an ankle injury which meant Fiorentina fielding only three of the starting line-up from the first match.

Another of Liverpool's support cast, second-choice goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri was soon into action as he raced from his line to block Cesare Natali's run onto a weak Daniel Agger back pass.

Aquilani was neat and inventive, but Liverpool failed to create anything significant before their Brazilian goalkeeper saved well from Lorenzo De Silvestri and Riccardo Montolivo to keep his side on level terms.

The game, sometimes with almost a testimonial feel about it, meandered on towards the break before Liverpool found themselves ahead after 43 minutes.

Manuel Pasqual's foul on Steven Gerrard gave the Liverpool captain the chance to lift a free-kick towards the near post for Yossi Benayoun to flick a header back into the far corner, despite Sebastien Frey getting a touch on the effort.

Liverpool dominated the early stages after the break, but were punished for poor judgement by Martin Skrtel, who allowed a cross-field pass to drift past him. Darby was left facing two attackers, and could do little to stop captain Martin Jorgensen driving home the equaliser after 63 minutes.

Torres had been standing on the touchline waiting to come on while all this was going on, and he eventually arrived before the restart for Kuyt. Benitez maintains that with Torres fit, Liverpool would never have been in the position of European also-rans. Torres tried his best to prove the point with some fine runs.

There had been occasional glimpses of Aquilani's talent, but he was taken off to give reserve striker Daniel Pacheco his debut. The 18-year-old is rated very highly by Benitez, and joined Torres in an all-Spanish front pairing.

Fabio Aurelio replaced the hard-working Javier Mascherano near the end, with Fiorentina searching for the crucial winner that would win the group. It arrived in added time and left Liverpool with their worst-ever Champions League group points tally.

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