Liverpool exited the Europa League last night and they will not be missed. In eight months, they produced one performance worthy of the club's history – the Steven Gerrard inspired defeat of Napoli – scored one goal in five away games and racked up an awful lot of goalless draws.
This particular goalless draw proved fatal. Braga wasted time outrageously, tackled with a streak of nastiness and fell over without too much provocation and yet few at Anfield would have begrudged them their celebrations.
They were a small club entering one of the palaces of European football and when their manager, Domingos Paciencia, was asked if this was the greatest day in Braga's history, he agreed. They may have beaten Arsenal at their extraordinary stadium, built into the side of the Monte Castro quarry, but this was the first time they had ever reached a European quarter-final.
This, however, was a defeat that would have cut deeper than Manchester City's elimination. They will be playing European football next season but unless they put together a remarkable run in the Premier League, Liverpool will be absent even from this stretched and diluted form of the game. Naturally, this was not something Kenny Dalglish was prepared to concede unless it was mathematically impossible.
Nevertheless Dalglish admitted that an attack led by Andy Carroll from the start for the first time was not nearly sharp enough. "Working the keeper is not important," he said. "You need to put it past him.
"To win after losing the first leg you need luck or creativity. We did not have much good fortune over the two legs and like every team in the world we could certainly do with more creativity. It would not be deflating for me not to be in Europe. I don't think you can call being involved with Liverpool in any shape or form deflating."
Nevertheless, this was a Liverpool side that had taken Manchester United apart in their last game at Anfield and were reinforced by the bull-like presence of Carroll in his first start for the club that paid £35m for him.
His was not a bad beginning, though he was caught repeatedly offside, but it says something that the best opportunity of a second half shot through with frustration fell to Martin Skrtel, who shot into the goalkeeper's spread-eagled body.
It was not enough. Last season Liverpool had destroyed a Benfica side far superior to this one. Last night they did not hurt Braga and that alone tells a tale of regression.
Carroll began in the thick of things. Braga were a side who looked to go down at the first swish of Carroll's ponytail but he unquestionably should have had a penalty when pushed in the back by Paulao.
Six minutes into the second half he launched himself into the centre-half by the advertising hoardings on the Kop, which sparked a general scuffle as Fabio Capello chatted to a rather less confrontational Liverpool striker, Ian Rush, in the directors' box.
Unlike Luis Suarez, who was signed with him, Carroll did not require moments to find the net but his impact was immediate. His first knockdown was seized on by Joe Cole, to force a fine two-handed save from Artur. It was followed by a header that whistled wide and soon the minutes began to scamper by.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Wilson; Rodriguez (Spearing, 76), Lucas, Meireles, Cole (Ngog, 75); Kuyt, Carroll. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (gk), Pacheco, Kyrgiakos, Poulsen, Flanagan.
Braga (4-1-4-1): Artur; Garcia, Paulao, Rodriguez, Silvio; Vandinho (Kaka, 73); Alan, Salino (Mossoro, 89), Viana, Paulo Cesar; Lima (Meyong, 84). Substitutes not used Cristiano (gk), Helder Barbosa, Dani, Peterson.
Referee G Rocchi (Italy).
Lens ruins Rangers' night
Rangers crashed out of the Europa League in disappointing style after failing to recover from the loss of an early goal against PSV Eindhoven at Ibrox.
The Light Blues' prospective new owner Craig Whyte – whose reported £33m takeover of the club is set to be confirmed next week – watched from the main stand as Jeremain Lens scored in the 13th minute which was enough to send the Dutch side into the quarter-finals on a 1-0 aggregate scoreline.
Rangers struggled to break free after going behind but had an encouraging spell of pressure in the second half when Maurice Edu missed a great chance, moments before a decent penalty claim was denied when Atiba Hutchinson looked to have handled the ball on the line.Reuse content