|Thursday 6th November 2003
STEAU BUCHAREST 1-1 LIVERPOOL
|MATCH REPORT - Steau Bucharest 1-1 Liverpool|
Liverpool clawed and battled their way to a UEFA Cup draw that says everything about their heart and bravery.
This second round first leg was nothing to do with pretty football, neat technique or fancy skills.
It was about surviving in near-impossible conditions, fighting for every inch of the battle field that was the awful pitch in the Ghencea stadium.
And it called for heroes. And they do not come much braver than the likes of Emile Heskey, Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy.
These three England men produced towering displays, with Heskey's magnificent physical effort just about grabbing the man-of-the-match award.
But Gerrard and Murphy tackled themselves to a standstill in midfield, and there was not a single shirker in Gerard Houllier's ranks as they claimed a vital away goal to take back to Anfield for the second leg in three weeks.
Any illusions Liverpool had that this would be anything less than an ordeal were shattered when they saw the state of the pitch.
Rolls of plastic had covered the surface all day, but gallons of water needed to be removed, and it took a long time for the handful of groundsmen to clear away the water.
Even a helicopter was called in earlier in the day to move the flood!
It had only limited success and promoted Houllier to pick a team for the conditions, with John Arne Riise in the side as an extra defensive midfielder.
Steaua had won every home game this season and conceded just three goals on their own pitch, so Liverpool knew they were up against it.
Liverpool soon discovered the unpredictability of the pitch, measured ground passing was an instant lottery as the rain poured down.
Neither defence should have even contemplated letting a long ball bounce, but both diced with disaster, Jerzy Dudek being given some uncomfortable moments by his back line.
But the same thing happened to Steaua, and when a Steve Finnan ball fizzed into the box, Heskey almost robbed Valeriu Rachita in the six yard area as the ball spurted away from the centre back.
Gerrard's short corner found Traore on the edge of the box. He cut inside, slipped, but got up to curl the ball into the far corner. It was his first goal for the club in his 67th appearance, and he celebrated in style!
It should have been two on 26 minutes when Gerrard's ball sent Harry Kewell clear. The Australian surged into the box, pushed the ball past Vasili Hamutovski, but just too far to retain full control.
But he still got a clear connection as he turned the ball towards an empty net, only for Pompiliu Stoica to somehow hurl himself and clear as he slid in.
Steaua should have equalised when Gerrard's pass back stuck in the mud and set Claudiu Raducanu clear in the box, but Dudek made an outstanding close range save to his right.
Next to squander a great chance was Riise. From Gerrard's free-kick El-Hadji Diouf sent in a cross that was deflected out to the Norwegian. His a diving header from 10 yards was wide.
Dudek, also outstanding on the night, then pulled off two fine stops to protect the lead.
First when Daniel Oprita was clear he dived instinctively to his right to stop the effort. Then the Pole plunged left to turn away a 25-yarder from Marian Aliuta.
Dudek was in action straight away in the second period, going down to hold onto a skidding 20-yarder from Gabriel Bostina.
Then Bostina got away again, crossed for Raducanu but the ball evaded the little striker.
However, Traore kicked it back onto the Romanian and watched as the rebound bounced wide of the far post.
Heskey had a close-range effort deflected wide, before Liverpool then replaced Diouf with Anthony Le Tallec on 57 minutes.
Heskey's display defied the elements and on 60 minutes he rose to send a Murphy free- kick dipping over the bar.
Heskey, having a storming game in the mud virtually on his own up front, picked up a lose ball on 63 minutes to fire an angled shot at Hamutovski, before Riise got clear but was defeated by the mud and lack of strength to find a way past the Belarus 'keeper.
Le Tallec then met a Kewell cross from the right to send a downward header wide of the far post on 66 minutes.
But after a long spell when Liverpool had been in control, the conditions conspired to get Bucharest level.
Substitute Adrian Pitu's pass skidded away from two slipping defenders and Raducanu was through to finally beat Dudek.
Dudek made a marvellous save to touch Dorel Mutica's drive onto the bar, before substitute Adrian Neaga sent a close-range header flying over the bar.
Murphy was booked for a late tackle, more in desperation than anything else, as Liverpool battled for their lives.
In the second minute of injury time Pitu saw as 30-yarder sail inches wide of the far post, but Liverpool did not deserve to lose like that and hung on for a brave draw.
Steaua Bucuresti Hamutovski, Dumitru, Rachita, Radoi, Stoica, Aliuta (Neaga 73), Bostina (Pitu 62), Raducanu, Falemi, Oprita (Nesu 86), Mutica.
Subs Not Used: Curt, Ogararu, Nanu, Tudor.
Booked: Falemi, Pitu.
Liverpool Dudek, Finnan, Hyypia, Biscan, Traore, Diouf (Le Tallec 58), Murphy, Gerrard, Riise, Kewell, Heskey.
Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Henchoz, Smicer, Hamann, Diao, Sinama Pongolle.
Booked: Diouf, Murphy.
Ref: Stefano Farina (Italy).
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BBC Sport 'Steau hold Liverpool'
|Match Report filed: 7th November 2003|