Tuesday 24th August 2004 (8.10pm)
Anfield, Liverpool

Milan Baros tries to show some composure

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Benitez competitive matches record: Played 4 Won 2 Drawn 1 Lost 1
MATCH REPORT - Liverpool 0-1 Graz AK

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Tokic 55

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Liverpool narrowly escaped a £14million foul-up as they scrambled into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League.

Rafael Benitez discovered in one painful 90-minute spell just why he has been brought to Anfield. All the problems from the Gerard Houllier era were there for all to see.

Graz, so disappointing in the first leg of this third qualifying round tie, increasingly took the game to Liverpool and it was no surprise that Mario Tokic pulled a crucial goal back during the second half.

From then on Liverpool just scrambled and scratched their way to the final agonising whistle.

Benitez fielded three players who have barely figured in his opening weeks in control at Anfield with Stephane Henchoz, Salif Diao and Darren Potter in the starting line-up.

Liverpool's first chance came when Harry Kewell pulled a free-kick back to Steven Gerrard on the edge of the box, and his low shot flashed inches wide.

John Arne Riise was more wayward from the same distance soon after.

Both Djibril Cisse and Milan Baros were more than prepared to run at retreating defenders but they produced little apart from one 40-yard dash from Cisse which almost created a chance on the far post for Gerrard.

The Austrian champions were prepared to mainly sit deep in their own half and invite Liverpool to try to thread their moves between a massed rank of blue, while continuing to look dangerous on the break.

The pace of Liverpool's game had slowed, giving Graz all the time they needed to mark and cover and it was hardly an entertaining spectacle. Emanuel Pogatetz was booked for bringing down Baros and Potter also received a yellow card for a challenge on Mario Majstorovic.

The problem for Liverpool was that the longer they were uninspired, the more confident Graz became, knowing even one goal would have the home side's nerves stretched as the fear of not getting through this qualifying round grew.

And they started the second period more than encouraged to attack Liverpool with neat inter-passing.

It was Liverpool who were now forced onto the defensive as they continually gave the ball away and the inevitable soon happened when Roland Kollmann's corner was only half cleared to Tokic, who was given too much time 25 yards out to blast a rising drive in off the underside of the crossbar with Jerzy Dudek clutching thin air on 54 minutes.

Benitez had seen enough by 58 minutes and put on another youngster, Stephen Warnock, in place of out-of-touch Kewell.

The goal sparked some life into Liverpool but Gerrard clearly tried too hard on one surge into the box and was booked by Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo for diving, much to the disgust of the Kop.

Baros and Cisse combined for about the first time all night for the Frenchman to lift a 12-yard shot over the top, but by now Liverpool were living on their nerves.

Samir Muratovic was booked for a foul on Gerrard before Benitez hauled off Cisse on 75 minutes to send on Florent Sinama-Pongolle.

Diao and Pongolle both had snap-shots which tested goalkeeper Andreas Schranz before Matthias Dollinger came on for Majstorovic.

But Graz could see their chance and eight minutes from time Dudek made a fine save at the foot of a post from a Kollmann header following Mario Bazina's long cross.

There was confusion late on when it looked as if referee Cantalejo had booked Rene Aufhauser for a second time and not sent him off, this time for a second foul on Gerrard.

A minute from time Dietmar Hamann was brought on for Baros to attempt to shore up a midfield which Graz had cut through at regular intervals but somehow Liverpool clung on.

Press Association

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Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise, Potter, Gerrard, Diao, Kewell (Warnock 59), Baros (Hamann 90), Cisse (Sinama Pongolle 75).

Subs Not Used: Harrison, Finnan, Biscan, Whitbread.

Booked: Potter, Gerrard.

Liebherr GAK: Schranz, Standfest, Tokic, Pogatetz, Majstorovic (Dollinger 79), Plassnegger (Muratovic 69), Sick, Aufhauser, Amerhauser, Kollmann, Bazina.

Subs Not Used: Ramusch, Almer, Sencar, Hassler, Erkinger.

Booked: Pogatetz, Plassnegger, Aufhauser, Muratovic.

Att: 42,950

Ref: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain).

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Rafael Benitez post match interview

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Match Report filed: 25th August 2004