Liverpool lit up the Stadium of Light with a 9th minute backheel before the referee sent off Ryan Babel, disallowed a Liverpool goal then gave Benfica two penalties – as the pressure from the illegal fire-crackers began to tell.
Liverpool’s only change from the weekends excellent win over Sunderland was the replacement of the cup-tied Rodriguez with Lucas.
Contrary to many people’s expectations the reds opened exceptionally brightly, dominating the opening exchanges and taking an early lead.
Steven Gerrard was felled just outside the box, one of many cynical fouls from the Portuguese side.
The resultant free kick showed that the reds set-piece work continues to be a training ground priority. A slide-rule pass found Daniel Agger who backheeled in to the goal. It was just desserts for the Danish defender, who had been searching all Sunday at Anfield to get himself on the scoresheet.
Aimar and Di Maria began to get involved in the game and were landing some crosses on to Cardozo’s head. But the chances were too far out and the player could not get sufficient power to trouble Pepe Reina.
In the 30th minute though it was time for Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson to take some of the limelight. Luisao hacked down Fernando Torres with a cynical tackle from behind and was yellow carded. Babel approached the player and an altercation resulted in Babel raising his hand to push the player away.
The referee brandished the yellow card again at the player before showing Babel the red card. Confused, so were we.
As the half wore on Benfica grew with their one man advantage. Towards the end of the half Insua was booked , meaning he misses the next leg. With Aurelio and now Martin Kelly injured – this could present the reds with a problem.
Liverpool had a goal ruled out for offside which on replay was not clear-cut.
The second half saw Benfica kicking towards their favoured end of the ground – and the firecrackers thrown on to the pitch to cloud Pepe’s judgement were a significant danger. The goalline official looked nervous, on more than one occassion walking away to speak to the referee.
On the hour the referee gifted Benfica a free kick after Agger had clearly taken the ball. From the free kick which rebounded off the post Insua haplessly brought down Aimar. Cardozo smashed in the penalty to level the result.
Following this, the game ebbed and flowed again – the reds should have scored when Torres was put one on one with the keeper – his shot going wide.
Jamie Carragher then sealed the reds fate when he handled the ball, again, from a Di Maria cross. Cardozu was on hand to put the penalty away.
Liverpool were unlucky to get beaten – and coped as well as they could with 10 men for most of the game. Next Thursday’s game will be interesting – Liverpool will certainly be out for revenge.
Man of the Match: Daniel Agger
Post Match Comments
“It is half-time for us. We have one more game and we have to be confident we can progress.”
“The performance was good as we played for 60 minutes with 10 players. I am disappointed because we had some chances and could have done better.
“We knew Benfica are a good team with quality and pace and they were dangerous.
“To concede two goals to two penalties and have one goal disallowed is disappointing, but still it is a good result.”
“I was surprised because a foul from behind is more serious for me.
“It’s difficult to understand and impossible to change so we have to move forward and think about Anfield and our fans behind the team.
“Always when decisions are made against your team, you don’t like it. But you cannot change it and the only way now is to try to be positive and think about our fans behind the team and playing with 12 men at Anfield.”
“I have confidence we can do well and it will be totally different at Anfield. With the fans behind us, we can score goals and progress.
“I think tonight is a very good example of what the fans can do when they are pushing their team.
“Our fans are fantastic and they know if they are behind the team and push the players, they will work as hard as today and we can do a good job.