Liverpool scraped into the group stages of the UEFA Champions League last night, despite losing 1-0 to Grazer AK at Anfield.
The four-time European champions’ 2-0 lead from the first leg was enough to see off the threat from the Austrians as the Reds went through 2-1 on aggregate.
Both sides failed to produce any meaningful chances in a dismal first half. Liverpool skipper, Steven Gerrard, went the closest but his free-kick sailed just wide of the post.
The second half was no better for the hosts but the Austrian double winners took an unlikely lead after 55 minutes silencing the already subdued Kop end. Croatian, Mario Tokic, smashed home magnificently from 20 yards. Liverpool goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek, had no chance as the ball crashed in off the underside of the bar.
The Anfield faithful were left sitting on the edge of their seats after the goal as the visitors set up a tense last half-hour. But the Merseysiders held on and receive the £15m windfall for Champions League group stage qualification – but only just.
Liverpool boss, Rafael Benitez grimaced at his team’s performance. He accepted as much of the blame as his players. He stressed before kick-off that qualification was the most important factor, but he admits the match was hard watching.
The former Valencia supremo said: “I didn’t like the game. We had problems, we were nervous and lost a lot of second balls.
“I am part of the team and everyone was to blame. This is a problem for us all, not just one man, and not just the team but for me also.
“But we have a good squad and we will have to work harder, learn from this and understand what was bad about it.”
The match also saw Spanish referee, Luis Medina Cantalejo, failing to send off Grazier AK captain Rene Aufhauser after booking him twice in ten minutes.
The official’s remarkable misjudgement will be scrutinised by UEFA officials. Andy D’ Urso’s made the same mistake in the Premiership last weekend. landing himself in trouble with the FA.
A UEFA spokesman said: “Under UEFA rules, we are not able to comment at the moment, but a report will be sent to UEFA for them to consider the incidents.”
Shelbourne’s Champions League adventure wilted in the heat last night after they lost 3-0 to Deportivo La Coruna at the Riazor Stadium.
But the Irish minnows bow out with their heads held high. The Irish team held out for the entire first half after the goal less first leg in Dublin but were undone in the second half by the classy Spanish outfit.
The match began slowly with shots on goal few and far between and the crowd being unusually subdued. But in the second half, last-year’s semi-finalists started to turn the screw and got their reward on 57 minutes. Victor Sanchez drilled the ball past Steve Williams in Shelbourne’s goal.
The striker doubled the home’s side advantage six minutes later with a speculative long-range effort that had Williams clutching at air. Walter Pandiani secured the win for Deportivo with a magnificent free kick three minutes from the final whistle.
The Irish side fought hard and bravely. But matters turned sour when manager Pat Fenlon was ordered away from the dugout and Alan Moore dismissed for two bookable offences.
The Dubliners will now compete in the UEFA cup.
Inter eased into the group stages with a comfortable 4-1 win over Basle in the San Siro last night.
Inter coach, Roberto Mancini, made one change from the side that drew in Switzerland in the first leg. Edgar Davids replaced Esteban Cambiasso giving the hosts more bite in midfield.
The Italian giants set their stall out early and took the lead in the opening minute when Adriano latched onto Dejan Stankovic’s pass and fired a low shot inside the far post.
Provider then turned to scorer as Stankovic doubled Inter’s lead on 13 minutes after a neat one-two with Adriano.
Basle edged their way back into the match and were handed a lifeline four minutes after the break when Mile Sterjovski skipped past Stankovic and scored with his right boot.
But hopes of a Basle revival were short lived when Adriano’s left foot drive from outside the box found the net on 53 minutes restoring Inter’s two-goal lead.
The victory was complete on the hour after Alvaro Recoba controlled Juan Sebastian Veron’s long pass, turned and fired home from 23 yards.
Monaco confirmed their place in the group stages after thrashing Slovenian side Gorica 6-0 at Stade Louis II.
The French side were always favourites in this match after winning 3-0 in Slovenia in the first leg. Didier Deschamps men go into Thursday’s group draw with a crushing 9-0 aggregate victory.
But last year’s runners-up began with a team that included just two players that started the club’s last home Champions League match. The French club have had many stars walk out this summer but this performance of their replacements showed promise.
One new signing is Uruguayan Ernest Chevanton who opened the scoring on 18 minutes. Lucas Bernardi made it 2-0 with a shot from the edge of the box.
Gorica’s cause was not helped on 40 minutes when Marko Suler was given his marching orders after collecting a second yellow card.
Two minutes late, Monaco added a third when Hassan El Fakiri bundled home a loose ball from Mitja Pirih’s long throw.
After the break, Mohamed Kallon made it 4-0 meeting Emmanuel Adebayor’s low cross.
With the hosts in charge, the tempo dropped and Pontus Farnerud added a fifth on 66 minutes. The rout was completed six minutes from the end when Adebayor won and converted a penalty, a goal that the youngster richly deserved.
Anderlecht produced an early shock of the tournament when they defeated Portuguese giants Benfica 3-0 at Constant Vanden Stock.
Much credit must go to Anderlecht coach, Hugo Broos, who conducted training this week behind closed doors to try a new system as he looked to overhaul a 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
And his attacking intentions paid off as Anderlecht were in control for large parts of this match. Broos employed three strikers in a bold starting line-up and all three were a constant menace for the team from Estadio da Luz.
The hosts took a deserved lead on 34 minutes when Aruna Dindane rose highest to meet Besnik Hasi’s free kick and head home.
With the aggregate scores tied, the home side went for broke and took the lead in the tie on 61 minutes. Skipper Walter Baseggio teed up Dindane and the striker’s shot found the corner of the net.
The crowd became tense fearing an away goal from Benfica but the 20, 107 people sighed relief when Nenad Jestrovic’s shot was handled on the line by Argel. The defender was sent off and Jestrovic converted the 73rd minute spot kick to the delight of the Belgian side.
Rosenborg had to battle back from two goals down to clinch a 3-2 second-leg victory against Israel’s Maccabi Haifa at the Ramat Gan stadium in Tel-Aviv last night.
The Norwegian club go into Thursday’s draw with a 5-3 aggregate victory in a match that went into extra time.
Only a magnificent injury time free kick from Rosenborg’s Harald Brattbakk stopped the Israeli’s from progressing to the group stages of Europe’s elite competition.
After losing the first leg 2-1, the hosts were leading 2-0 thanks to goals from Walid Badir and Gustavo Boccoli on 31 and 38 minutes respectively.
But after Brattbakk’s injury time heroics, Daniel Braaten on 94 minutes and Orjan Berg on 120 minutes sealed the win for the Scandinavians.
Maccabi played most of the match reduced to ten men when defender Najwan Ghrayib was shown a straight red card for a terrible late tackle on Jan Gunnar Solli.
But the home side regrouped quickly and scored twice before half time, before losing their rhythm after the break when several floodlight failures caused long breaks in play.
The delay helped the visitors, enabling them to force extra-time and go on to win the tie.