Liverpool left it till 3 minutes from the end of this 3 and a half hour stalemate between the Belgian Champions and Liverpool before booking our place in the group stages of the Champions League.
Liverpool left Belgium shell-shocked two weeks ago after a battling display by Standard Liege. Unfortunately the reds failed to heed that warning and rode their luck for most of the first half as Liege out-paced, out-thought and out-fought the men in red.
Benitez, who is beginning to adopt a more settled side than in recent years, was visibly uncomfortable in the dugout as his side lacked the guile expected on a big European night.
A Liege goal would have meant the reds needed two, and Liverpool looked anything like scoring even one. Anxiety was high and Reina had to make a couple of excellent saves in the first half. The reds were easy to defend against. Lacking any width, all the play was concentrated in the middle third of the pitch and the Belgian side smothered the majority of Liverpool’s attacks.
Although Liverpool improved, slightly, after the break most of the best chances were from 30 yard attempts as the frustration grew amongst the Liverpool players.
After Babel and El Zhar had replaced the ineffective Benayoun and Keane, Liverpool’s wings slowly opened up.
When the match appeared to be heading for penalties, Dirk Kuyt, arrived at the far post to meet an excellent Ryan Babel cross with his feet and poke the ball past the keeper. It was Dirk’s 100th Liverpool appearance, and his goal helps Liverpool to the group stages, to the £18 million Champions League cash, and avoids what could have been a catastrophic start to the season.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Benayoun (Babel 61), Keane (El Zhar 83), Torres (Plessis 120).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Spearing.
Goals: Kuyt 118.
Standard Liege: Aragon, Camozzato, Onyewu, Sarr, Dante, Dalmat (Jovanovic 86), Fellaini, Defour (Nicaise 118), Witsel, De Camargo (Toama 101), Mbokani.
Subs Not Used: Devriendt, Goreux, Mikulic, Ingrao.
Booked: Sarr, De Camargo, Dante.
Ref: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).