ANFIELD ONLINE MATCH REPORT
|Sinama Pongolle 2
Luis Garcia 14
Liverpool produced attacking excellence and then sheer defensive defiance to claim what could be a priceless Champions League victory.
Two goals in the first 14 minutes from Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Luis Garcia gave the holders a foothold on the match they should not have conceded.
But after dominating the first period they found themselves under siege from the Spanish side making their debut in the competition.
Arzu pulled one back early in the second period and from then on it was a backs against the wall display which proved enough to give Liverpool the critical start they needed as they began the defence of their title in earnest.
The visitors performed like champions at times with slick passing and clever attacking movement, while showing steel in the shape of Mohamed Sissoko.
Manager Rafael Benitez sent out a team full of shocks for the opening Group G game with Steven Gerrard left on the bench.
It is understood he was not suffering from an injury, instead Benitez choosing a team based on his local knowledge of La Liga's fourth best club.
Crucially in the intense heat, Liverpool started with several players who knew all about the conditions; Djimi Traore and Josemi were the full backs, Mohamed Sissoko - at Valencia last term - took Gerrard's midfield role and Xabi Alonso returned while French youngster Florent Sinama-Pongolle played alongside Peter Crouch up front.
Betis had Sanchez Joaquin recovered from a knee problem but were without Luis Fernandez with a knee injury.
The Estadio Manuel Ruiz de Lopera was rocking with noise but the home fans were stunned within 90 seconds when Liverpool took the lead.
Carragher's long ball up Crouch and Sinama-Pongolle sparked instant fear in the Betis defence and Sinama-Pongolle took the ball out of the air with excellent skill.
It clipped Crouch inadvertently, and fell for Sinama-Pongolle to curl a delightful chip over a stranded Antonio Doblas.
Liverpool struck again on 14 minutes, and Crouch - being watched by England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson - played a major part.
He controlled and kept possession on the left, and searched for a telling target, eventually pushing the ball cleverly into Bolo Zenden's path.
The Dutchman's instant low cross was met by Luis Garcia arriving unmarked in the box and he clinically slipped the ball into the corner of the net past Doblas' despairing right arm.
Betis were stunned but slowly regained their composure and Brazilian danger man Ricardo Oliveira gave Sami Hyypia the slip before surging into into the box to force an excellent block from Jose Reina.
Reina was Liverpool's saviour again when a corner dropped into the six yard box and Oliveira stabbed at it, but the Spanish international fell on the ball right on the line, and he saved well again when he blocked an angled drive from Fernando.
Betis took off defender Gutierrez Juanito at the break and sent on wide man Munoz Xisco in an attempt to stretch Liverpool's defence.
Carragher was booked for a foul on the nippy Dani, and Betis' heavy early pressure in the second half produced a goal on 51 minutes.
Dani's ball evaded Hyypia and Arzu was clean through the middle of Liverpool's defence to easily beat an exposed Reina.
Liverpool brought on Djibril Cisse for Crouch, then John Arne Riise for Zenden before Gerrard took over from Sinama-Pongolle, but the relentless pressure continued from the Spanish side.
Reina - who was booked in the final seconds for kicking the ball away from a corner kick - again came to Liverpool's rescue when he plucked down a curling Marcos Assuncao free-kick after a foul by Traore on the edge of the box.
Real Betis Doblas, Melli, Juanito (Xisco 45), Rivas, Oscar Lopez, Arzu (Capi 72), Fernando (Dani 35), Assuncao, Joaquin, Varela, Oliveira.
Subs Not Used: Contreras, Miguel Angel, Nano, Castellini.
Liverpool Reina, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Luis Garcia, Sissoko, Alonso, Zenden (Riise 66), Sinama Pongolle (Gerrard 74), Crouch (Cisse 58).
Subs Not Used: Carson, Finnan, Hamann, Warnock.
Booked: Carragher, Reina.
Ref: Konrad Plautz (Austria).
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|Match Report filed: 15 September 2005|