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Masterclass from Di Natale leaves Kop with memory best forgotten


Anfield does not take any European night lightly and if this was not one to compare with those in their quest for the European Cup it provided a finish that was the equal of any.

Having seen a half-time lead swept aside by a commanding performance from Antonio di Natale, Liverpool strained every sinew to force a draw once Luis Suarez had curled a free-kick into to the net beneath the Kop. At the end of it all, they finished in an exhausted heap with qualification from their group having gone from "likely" to "difficult" in the space of a single half. For these men, the Europa League matters.

For Stewart Downing, more than perhaps anyone else in this Liverpool side, it was a night to be approached with trepidation. The winger is 28, an age when time begins no longer to be on your side, and his manager had just delivered a fairly direct warning in the pages of the Liverpool Echo. "He had a wonderful left foot but talent alone is not enough," said Brendan Rodgers, above, interestingly using the past tense. "If you don't fight, then in the longer term you won't be here."

Downing replied that he intended to "fight and fight every day". His first significant intervention, a corner met by Sebastian Coates's head, almost led to Liverpool's opener. The second did.

The move was begun and finished by Jonjo Shelvey. He found Downing and then raced into the area to receive the cross which was fabulously delivered. Shelvey met it beautifully.

Udinese's confidence had suffered from their elimination from the Champions League in the final qualifying match but in the compact shape of Di Natale, they possess a forward who can wound on any stage.

The Italian had walked around Anfield on Wednesday night on the grounds that, approaching 35, he might not appear here again. He left some memories of his own.

With the second half 30 seconds old, he took a square ball from the newly introduced substitute Andrea Lazzari, fractionally before Coates and drove it into the net.

It was time for Rodgers to introduce Steven Gerrard and Suarez. The latter struck the post and sent Downing through only for the winger to be dispossessed by a tackle that would have been wonderful had the sport been rugby.

Soon, however, silence came to rest over Anfield as Coates scored the kind of header he should have converted in the first half – but this time it was past his own keeper. Then, Giovanni Pasquale sent a shot screeching into the corner of Pepe Reina's net after Di Natale had played keepy-uppy in the area, another memory that lingered.