Dalglish admits sloppy Liverpool were fortunate to escape lightly
Braga 1 Liverpool 0
Friday 11 March 2011
Should Liverpool reach the Europa League final, the club's commercial department may be tempted to release a DVD of the full campaign. The away legs will, however, need to be fast-forwarded or cut out. Thus far, they have travelled through the Netherlands, Italy, Romania, the Czech Republic and now Portugal, amassing thousands of air miles and a single goal.
It was difficult to imagine that this was practically the same team that had taken Manchester United apart at Anfield. It was like coming across an old friend who has had Botox; they looked familiar but various bits were not moving as they should.
On Sunday, Andy Carroll had made his Liverpool debut as the United game turned into a triumphal procession. Here, football's most expensive Englishman caused Braga rather more problems than anyone else before receiving an elbow in the face from Kaka – not the one everybody has heard of but a Brazilian defender signed on loan from Hertha Berlin. "I'll do my impression of Arsène Wenger and say I didn't see it," his manager, Kenny Dalglish, commented afterwards. There was much, much more he would have wanted to avoid viewing again.
Braga's stunningly designed stadium is known as "The Quarry" and it would be tempting to say that Liverpool need digging out. True, they were beaten and the electronic scoreboard in front of the Monte Castro rock face was showing 67 minutes when home goalkeeper Artur was required to make his first real save, tipping over a drive from Dirk Kuyt. However, they were not buried alive, as perhaps they might have been.
Dalglish thought Liverpool fortunate to have only been beaten by a single goal. Celtic and Arsenal lost rather more comprehensively here this season, although significantly Braga were beaten at Celtic Park and humiliated at the Emirates Stadium. As he takes his side to a training camp in the Algarve, Dalglish might fancy Liverpool's chances of overturning this result on their return to Merseyside next week.
"Not if we start the way we did here," he interrupted. "Nobody can be pleased with the performance or the result. We won't be able to assess if we have contributed to our downfall until Thursday night."
Braga has a reputation for being the most conservative city in a conservative country, the Tunbridge Wells of Portugal, although their football team plays in a stadium that is positively radical – two vast stands each holding 15,000, with one goal framed by the side of a quarry, the other by a grassy bank.
It looked as if Liverpool were playing a spectacularly wealthy Sunday League side, an impression reinforced when the goalscorer was announced as Alan.
Perhaps appropriately given the setting, Sotirios Kyrgiakos demonstrated a caveman's touch when attempting to challenge Mossoro, conceding a penalty that Alan Osorio da Costa Silva, known simply as Alan, put away in the goal in front of the grassy knoll. The Alan known as Shearer could not have buried the spot-kick any more emphatically.
Braga deserved and should have scored a second when, after Liverpool failed to clear an inventively taken free-kick, Silvio unleashed a superlative volley from outside the box that clattered against Pepe Reina's crossbar. A few inches lower and Silvio would have scored one of the goals of this European season.
Much of Braga's best midfield work was carried out by Hugo Viana, which may have caused a quizzical eyebrow to be raised at Newcastle United. At roughly the same time, English football's two managerial knights, Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alex Ferguson, bought Sporting Lisbon's two most glittering talents. One is on half the billboards in Portugal, the other is not, but there were times yesterday evening when Viana's game did not seem so very different from Cristiano Ronaldo's.
Only if Braga show more resistance than they mustered at Arsenal, the club that inspired their foundation, will this result be seen in its full context. "We are optimistic," said their manager, Domingos Paciencia. "But we have to be very careful when we go to Anfield because Liverpool are one of the sides that can win this competition." Not on this evidence.
Braga (4-2-3-1) Artur; Garcia, Kaka, Alberto Rodriguez, Silvio; Salino, Viana; Alan, Mossoro (Paulao 69), Paulo Cesar (Helder Barbosa, 89); Lima (Meyong, 77). Substitutes not used Cristiano (g), Dani, Paterson, Capela.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Johnson; Poulsen (Carroll, 56), Lucas; Spearing, Meireles, Cole; Kuyt. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (gk), Pacheco, Rodriguez, Wilson, Ngog, Flanagan.
Referee S Gumienny (Belgium).
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