Group G
Real Betis 1-2 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard was among the surprise absentees as a weakened Liverpool side held out for a 2-1 victory away to Real Betis in their opening Group G match.

Two goals in the first 15 minutes ensured that the reigning champions went into the half time interval with a commanding lead.

Although he didn’t score himself, Peter Crouch played an integral part in both goals. With 87 seconds gone, the forward’s towering physical presence was sufficient to unnerve Betis’ centre-backs, allowing Florent Sinema Pongolle – making his first Champions League start, ahead of compatriot Djibril Cisse – to latch on to Jamie Carragher’s long pass, and dink a tantalizing chip over the advancing Antonio Doblas.

For the second, the ex Southampton man adroitly retained possession in an advanced area on the right flank, rolling the ball into the feet of Bolo Zenden, who’s low register cross was tapped in by Luis Garcia.

After controlling much of the first half, the visitors were forced to adopt a more attritional stance in the second, as Betis strove to curtail their lead. And they did so when, 6 minutes after the restart, Arzu connected with Dani’s clever through ball and nutmegged the on rushing Pepe Reinna.

Betis were unlucky not to salvage a point from their inaugural Champions League match: Both Joaquin and Olivera had chances to level, and only a fine save from Reina could stop Assuncao converting a 25 yard free kick.

Speaking of his decision to omit Gerrard amongst others – from the starting line up (though the Liverpool captain would come on as a 73rd minute substitute) Benitez explained: “Steven was very tired, so we tried to protect him and some other players in the same condition. I just felt we needed some fresh legs.”

Gerrard himself remarked: “We’ve got a big squad of fantastic players, and I think the manager will use them throughout the season. We came here to get the three points, and we did that”.

Real Betis 1-2 Liverpool

Betis: Arzu 51

Liverpool: F Sinama Pongolle 2, S Luis Garcia 14