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Kuyt´s late goal clinches win for Liverpool

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 28 Aug 2008

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Dirk Kuyt’s goal three minutes from the end of extra-time ensured Liverpool progressed to the group stages of the Champions League at the expense of an unfortunate Standard Liege.

Rafael Benitez’s side had been unconvincing all evening and the game appeared destined for penalties when Kuyt struck with a far post volley from Ryan Babel’s deep cross.

For Liverpool, twice finalists in the previous seasons and winners of the competition in 2005, the goal brought relief after a stuttering display that will have reinforced their manager’s determination to bring in new faces during the remaining five days of the transfer window.

Benitez had attempted to downplay the significance of the first leg draw in the build-up to this game, insisting his side would be better prepared than they were when the two sides met in Belgium.

Then, Pepe Reina’s penalty from Bonfim Dante had been largely responsible for Liverpool escaping with a scoreless draw.

And while the Anfield club’s form had been disappointing in their subsequent two league games, they came into this clash having secured back to back wins and with a growing self-belief that their season was about to fire into life.

But any suggestion Benitez’s side had done the hard work in escaping Liege on level terms were quickly blown away when Reina was again forced into action to prevent his team falling behind in the tie.

Liverpool centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher looked uncomfortable against the Belgians’ forward pairing of Dieumerci Mbokani and Igor De Camargo.

And it was Mobokani’s first time shot from De Camargo knock-down that drew a fingertip save from Reina much to the relief of the home side.

The Spanish keeper was forced to make another fine save eleven minutes later when alarming holes had again appeared in his defence.

A hopeful right wing cross was allowed to sail pass through Reina’s penalty area where De Camargo should have finished from just ten yards out.

But having missed a free shot, the forward collected the loose ball and crossed Marouane Fellaini whose volley was denied by Reina’s acrobatics.

The visitors were completely undaunted by Liverpool’s reputation in this competition and right-back Marcos Camozzatto’s dipping 35-yard volley summed up the Liege’s confidence.

By contrast Liverpool’s expensive strike duo of Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane still looked a long way short of becoming a partnership with Fabio Aurelio’s early free-kick marking the home side’s only first half chance of note.

The second half brought more sustained pressure from Benitez’s side although clear opportunities were still few and far between.

Long range efforts from Dirk Kuyt, Alonso and Steven Gerrard came close without ever truly testing Standard keeper Aragon Espinoza while Torres was twice guilty of ignoring better placed colleagues and taking a more direct route to goal.

With Peter Crouch having left for Portsmouth this summer, Benitez couldn’t turn to the tall England striker as he so often had in similar situations over the last few seasons.

And the limited options available to the manager became clear as the Spaniard introduced first Ryan Babel and then Nabil El Zhar with little effect as the game dragged into extra-time before Babel’s decisive break set up Kuyt’s winner.

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