Wednesday 9th August 8.20pm @ Anfield

Tell us your view of this game in the Forum > > >


GOALS: Boccoli 29, Bellamy 33, Gonzalez 88
Click here for video highlights of the game

TEAM: (4-4-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Pennant, Sissoko, Alonso, Zenden (Garcia 55); Gerrard (Gonzalez 86); Bellamy (Crouch 65).

Subs: Dudek (g), Kromkamp, Paletta, Peltier.

Booked: Sissoko.

Att: tbc
Ref: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)

Maccabi Haifa: D(4-4-1-1) Davidovitch; Harazi, Keinan, Olarra, Magrashvili; Boccoli, Anderson, Dirceo, Masudi; Katan (Melichson 86); Colautti. Subs: Almadon (g), Kanan, Swan, Meshumar, Hemed, Gazal. Booked: Magrashvili, Colautti.

Stevie G and Rafa interview (News)
Jermaine Pennant audio interview

Craig Bellamy scored the reds equaliser


The scene was almost too romantic. As the first sentimental chords of You'll Never Walk Alone sounded for Anfield's opening match of the season, a rainbow appeared high over the Centenary Stand.

But Liverpool still have work to do if they are to pocket the crock of gold that represents qualification for the Champions League.

If their debutants, Craig Bellamy and Mark Gonzalez, had not secured victory after Maccabi Haifa had reduced the great stadium to a queasy silence by grabbing the lead, their task would have been harder still.

As it is, whether the second leg of this Champions League qualifier is played in Cyprus or Ukraine, a 1-0 defeat will see Liverpool out and for much of the evening a home victory appeared unlikely.

There was a little over a minute of normal time remaining when a chip from Xabi Alonso, via Peter Crouch's head, found the Chilean midfielder who had only been on for seconds.

Gonzalez had to dig the ball out from under his feet but the finish was impressive, not least to Liverpool's accountants.

Those same accountants had sanctioned Gonzalez's transfer last summer only to see his work permit refused, which forced him to spend a season on loan at Real Sociedad.

Rafael Benitez had paid £4 million for the winger and the winner with only his second touch would have made the Liverpool manager's wait worthwhile.

There was, however, a general recognition that performances would have to improve to guarantee another season among the European elite.

Benitez thought the away leg, in which Haifa will be forced to go forward rather than rely on the counter-attack, might actually suit Liverpool, although a round trip of around eight hours flying will not.

Had Xavir Anderson's second-half header been fractionally better aimed or Jose Reina not saved with his feet from Roberto Colauti in stoppage time, or had the war in Lebanon allowed the game to be staged in Israel, Haifa might actually be favourites.

Liverpool have not usually had great difficulty in making the Champions League, although their recent record at Anfield at this stage of the competition has been dismal - the two 1-0 defeats by Graz and CSKA Sofia were, however, inflicted when the ties were already settled. This, at least, was a win.

Bellamy understands all too well the perils of qualification. Three years ago, he was part of a Newcastle side that inexplicably collapsed against Partizan Belgrade, a blow from which Sir Bobby Robson's young and often thrilling team never really recovered.

Last night, however, Bellamy did what every centre-forward who grows up supporting Liverpool dreams of on their debut. He scored. The Welshman, watched by his international manager, John Toshack, took his chance very well.

Benitez chose to play him as a lone striker, supported by Steven Gerrard, who in the first half hour had come tantalisingly close to slipping him through.

Liverpool had been behind for four minutes when their captain fed Momo Sissoko, whose shot from the edge of the area the Israeli international keeper, Nir Davidovitch, could only fend away.

Gerrard and Bellamy both reacted before any of the Haifa defenders and Bellamy clipped the ricochet neatly into the roof of the net.

Until then, while playing some neat, attractive football against a big, physical and highly-competent side, Liverpool's best chances had come from their defenders and their finest move was a low cross from Gerrard that dipped and swerved and deserved to find Bellamy's boots rather than mere air.

Haifa's response was a sublime move involving two of their South American-born players as Colauti, from Argentina, fed the Brazilian, Gustavo Boccoli. He outpaced Sami Hyypia with ease and approaching the penalty spot had just Reina to beat.

Logically, it should have a simple finish but the importance of the moment suggested a miss.

Instead, Boccoli produced a finish in keeping with the country of his birth, slipping it sweetly home to ensure that whatever happened in the next hour Liverpool could not start counting the revenues from the Champions League just yet.

Tim Rich

(Back to top)


BBC Sport
Liverpool stutter to victory

Gonzalez strikes late to spare Liverpool's blushes

Gonzalez announces arrival in style
The Scotsman
Gonzalez marks debut with crucial goal

(Back to top)


Match Report filed: 9th August 2006