Galatasaray 3 Liverpool 2: Defeat confirms Liverpool have other priorities

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The Independent Online

Back inside the ground where a fifth European Cup triumph started Liverpool on the path from renewed recognition to the brink of lucrative foreign ownership, Rafael Benitez tasted defeat for the first time in this Champions' League campaign last night.

A place in the knockout draw on 15 December already assured before the pilgrimage to Istanbul, the Liverpool manager handed out three European debuts and was repaid with a predictably disjointed display plus several unforced errors that gifted Galatasaray their only victory in Group C.

Today Real Madrid, Barcelona, Internazionale and Roma lie in wait among Liverpool's possible next opponents, but their priorities patently lay elsewhere last night. Neither the chairman, David Moores, nor the chief executive, Rick Parry, were present as they attended to the more pressing matter of meeting representatives from Dubai International Capital ahead of a proposed £450m takeover.

The youngsters Lee Peltier, Danny Guthrie and Gabriel Paletta got their first starts for the visitors, and while defeat posed questions about the strength in depth of the Liverpool squad - a problem they are unlikely to face if DIC assume control - their inexperience might be immaterial once the Champions' League resumes in February and Benitez reverts to standard practice rather than experimentation. "We knew it would be difficult for some players but I am pleased they have had this game," said Benitez, whose only serious concern was the disgruntled reaction of Craig Bellamy to his 74th-minute substitution. "I need my players to play well on the pitch and to understand when I want to change things," he added.

Although the stakes and surroundings could not have contrasted more sharply with 25 May, 2005 - with the European Cup replaced by a dead rubber, and the locals' discontent with their side playing at a stadium over an hour's journey from Istanbul revealed inan atmosphere lacking the intensity of their volatile home, the Ali Sami Yen - the night began well for the visitors.

A delicate chip into the area from Bellamy in the 22nd minute presented Robbie Fowler with his first Champions' League goal for Liverpool since a qualifying tie against FC Haka over five years ago when he beat Faryd Mondragon to the cross and turned the ball into the net with his thigh. Fowler registered his second goal of the night, and in the tournament proper, in the 89th minute when he headed home an inviting cross from the otherwise subdued Jermaine Pennant, but by then Galatasaray had struck three times.

Liverpool led for only two minutes before Xabi Alonso made a dreadful clearance that landed at the feet of striker Necati Ates, who shattered Jerzy Dudek's hopes of a clean sheet in the stadium where he enjoyed his finest moment for Liverpool. An outstanding 25-yard volley from the midfielder Okan Buruk, gave Galatasaray the lead in the 28th minute , and the substitute Sasa Ilic punished yet more slack defending, this time from John Arne Riise, to seal victory 11 minutes from time. Though Fowler raised the prospect of a draw in the final minute, there was to be no repeat of the miracle against Milan.

Galatasaray (4-4-2): Mondragon; Cihan Haspolatli, Tomas, Emre Asik (Seyhan, h-t), Ergun Penbe; Sabri, Inamoto, Okan Buruk, Carrusca (Mehmet Guven, 75); Umit Karan, Necati Ates (Ilic, 45). Substitutes not used: Aykut Ercetin (gk), Hasan Sas, Topal, Hasan Kabze.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Peltier, Paletta, Agger, Riise; Pennant, Alonso (Miki Roque, 85), Carragher, Guthrie (Garcia, 66); Fowler, Bellamy (Crouch, 74). Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Kuyt, Anderson, Darby.

Referee: O Benquerenca (Portugal).

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