Liverpool’s Champions League Dream Still Alive after Lucky Liege Draw
Maybe Champions League glory is just meant to be for Liverpool this season. Rafa Benitez was counting his lucky stars in Liege last night after watching his side scrape a very fortunate goalless draw against the Belgian champions on their home patch, meaning the dream of returning to Rome, scene of two previous European Cup wins for the club, in this season’s final lives on.Fate may just be on Liverpool’s side this year in Europe. After lifting the famous trophy in Italy’s capital in 1977 and 1984, Rafa Benitez will be hoping to lead his side to similar glory in the same scenery this time around. The path to success may throw up some extremely tricky situations and moments along the way, but fortune may eventually guide the club to the city where a large part of their history was once founded.The Estadio Olympico stadium has only ever hosted the final of the European Cup three times since the competition began in 1956, of which two of them were won by Liverpool. Standard Liege though, roared on by a fired up home crowd last night, did their very best to spoil what is meant to be a return to their second home for England’s most decorated club side.Rafa Benitez was pleased when he discovered the draw for their third qualifying round of the competition two weeks ago, citing the short travel distance that was required to make the journey to Liege. This may be true, but the low level of tiredness felt by his players as a result of the travelling was cranked up significantly after they were put through their paces by unfancied opposition.The Liege players never gave Liverpool any time on the ball throughout the match, and closed down stars like Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane to such great effect that they could not use their attacking capabilities to any sort of significance. In fact, it was only in the final ten minutes that Liverpool managed a shot on target, and that was a weak free-kick attempt from their substitute captain Steven Gerrard. No clear chances were created by the visitors all night, a stark contrast to that of their lively and vibrant hosts.Liverpool were fortunate not to be two goals behind inside the opening ten minutes in Liege yesterday. First, in as early as the sixth minute, Marouane Fellaini shouldered the ball against the inside of the Jose Reina’s right-hand post from a free-kick, before the Liverpool goalkeeper somehow clawed the ball from away from the goal when half of Liege’s players thought they had scored and were celebrating. The home team’s manager was furious that a goal was not awarded by the linesman, as he thought the ball had actually crossed the line before Reina retrieved it. Television replays were inconclusive on the matter, but what was for certain was that Liverpool escaped.Andrea Dossena was making his first competitive start for the away side, and his debut turned into a nightmare only four minutes later when a penalty was awarded against him for handball. In fact, he was very unlucky to be penalised as replays clearly showed he had handled outside of the box. Justice was done, however, when Reina easily blocked Dante’s weak effort from the spot. Standard Liege could not believe they were not ahead, and Liverpool could not believe they were still level.Those two glorious opportunities proved to be the best Liege got in the entire game, though they did manage one more glaring miss in the second half when De Camargo got on the end of Dante’s superb lofted ball into the box, before pushing his header inches wide to the despair of his fans and manager.Liverpool were poor throughout, and the only positive which they can take from the performance is the fact that they didn’t concede, mainly thanks to the ever impressive Jamie Carragher who managed to persuade the awful full-backs, Alvaro Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena, to keep things simple after they endured a woeful opening to the game. Xavi Alonso was probably Liverpool’s man of the match though, as he spread some lovely passes to team-mates at times and controlled the centre of the park as much as he could whilst his faltering colleagues gave the ball away time and time again.The forward partnership of Keane and Torres looked rusty and in need of some serious work on the training ground, but these things take time – which is something Liverpool don’t have in their desperate attempt to re-establish themselves as a Premier League title contender.Their European mission to Rome may prove more fruitful though, and Liverpool may just have fate steering them on their way to another glorious triumph in May. They will have to play a hell of a lot better than they did in Liege last night to achieve that though.