Liverpool victory not enough
Debreceni VSC 0 – 1 Liverpool
The final whistle of a torrid 90 minutes of football saw Liverpool limp tamely out of the Champions League in much the same manner as they had begun their campaign.
A dour 1-0 win on a waterlogged pitch in Hungary was not enough to prevent elimination at the group stages for Rafa Benitez’s side.
Even as the players dejectedly watched the monitor showing the last moments of the crucial clash between Fiorentina and Lyon, it was clear by Steven Gerrard’s furrowed brow that the skipper knew he would be competing in the Europa League after Christmas.
The night had started in a positive fashion for Liverpool.
Debrecen had crammed their midfield with five players as they clearly intended to frustrate the visitors for the entire match and settle for hard-earned point.
Yet this illusion was shattered within four minutes when David N’Gog ensured that Liverpool put maximum pressure on Fiorentina from the offset.
A deep in-swinging cross from Fabio Aurelio was met by Jamie Carragher at the far post. He headed the ball back across the face of the goal and N’Gog produced a tidy back-flick which brushed the post and trickled into the empty net.
With the early goal in their favour, it seemed inevitable that Liverpool would grab the game by the scruff of the neck and build up a healthy-looking goal difference in Group E.
But it proved not to be the case as the visitors stumbled their way through the rest of the game.
Debrecen grew in confidence with every touch of the ball. The Hungarian champions were spurred on by a boisterous home crowd and their ball retention steadily improved.
Liverpool looked careless, lacklustre and lacked any bite to their infrequent attacks. Indeed they had opportunities to launch dangerous counter attacks but failed to find the telling ball and were all to willing to surrender the initiative.
As the second half commenced, Liverpool’s staff and players were aware that their fate was now firmly in the hands of French side, Lyon.
There was little thrust to the match and the tempo didn’t improve in the second period. It bore more similarities to a pre-season friendly than a crucial Champions League group game.
On 57 minutes Liverpool finally crafted a move of worth as Mascherano and Lucas combined, with the Brazilian slotting Gerrard through on goal.
The Liverpool skipper had his shot well blocked by the Debrecen goalkeeper Poleksic.
Benitez refused to introduce Alberto Aquilani, with the Italian impatiently stalking the corner flag as he warmed up, casting wishful glances towards the pitch. Benitez instead opted for Yossi Benayoun as he looked to add extra spark to his tired midfield.
But as the game lumbered towards full time it was Debrecen who seemed more likely to conjure up an equaliser. The referee blew his whistle and Liverpool hurried off the pitch, eager to discover if Lyon dealt them any favours.
They were left disappointed as Gilardino and company held on.
The five-time European champions now face the prospect of competing with the likes of FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League after Christmas, as opposed to glamorous ties at the San Siro or the Camp Nou.
Debrecen: Poleksic, Bodnar, Meszaros, Mijadinoski, Fodor,
Szelesi, Kiss, Szakaly, Czvitkovics, Laczko, Rudolf.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Kuyt, Lucas, Mascherano, Aurelio, Gerrard, N’Gog.
Man of the Match: Daniel Agger