Liverpool clinch top spot in Eindhoven

PSV Eindhoven 1 Liverpool 3
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The Independent Online

Liverpool had to come from behind against PSV Eindhoven to clinch top place in Group D, but in the end this Champions League victory was achieved at a canter at the Philips Stadion.

Boss Rafael Benitez rested Steven Gerrard and sent out a much-changed side against the Dutch champions and found themselves behind when Danko Lazovic struck after 36 minutes.

Dutchman Ryan Babel found an equaliser just before the break and from then on there was only ever going to be one winner. Albert Riera belted home a 30-yarder for the second before French youngster David Ngog added a third to ensure the night ended comfortably for the Reds.

Benitez would have been further contented after he was able to blood three local youngsters in European football - Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly all getting their first taste of Champions league football.

PSV needed to win to have any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Cup, but they fell away badly after going ahead, while Liverpool will now go into next week's draw for the last 16 as group winners and certain of playing at home in the second-leg of their tie.

Liverpool left out Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Jose Reina with Robbie Keane recalled to play up front alongside Ngog. Babel was included on the wing while Lucas started in midfield.

Diego Cavalieri got a rare run-out in goal, with Jamie Carragher captaining the side.

Despite their much-changed side and the fact qualification for the last 16 had already been achieved for the sixth time in seven seasons, Liverpool began full of energy.

A second minute Andrea Dossena cross was headed just wide by Riera, while Babel almost created a shooting opportunity as he glided in off the right flank.

Babel, because of his former association with Ajax, was jeered by the home faithful.

PSV's first attempt on goal came after 15 minutes when Timmy Simons let fly from 20 yards and Cavalieri opted to punch away when he could have caught the effort.

Then after Nordin Amrabat ran from half way, he was muscled out of a shooting chance by Carragher in the box.

There was little urgency or pace about the game, but it was brought to life after 36 minutes when PSV took the lead.

Liverpool were furious with the goal and Riera was booked for arguing with a linesman who had failed to spot Lazovic a yard offside before he fired the ball home from a couple of yards.

A corner from the right had bounced off Dirk Marcellis straight to Lazovic, with Liverpool defenders certain he was offside before he beat Cavalieri from close range. Television replays showed they were right.

Four minutes later Alvaro Arbeloa and Simons were booked after a confrontation following an Arbeloa foul on Lazovic.

But with just seconds of the half remaining, Babel rose to head home a Lucas free-kick for the equaliser.

Babel, so often a peripheral figure when he gets into Liverpool's starting line-up, was showing far more intensity and when he cut in from the right after 59 minutes, he slammed a low shot into the side netting.

Lucas then got a cross in from the left and Keane, trying to get the ball onto his right foot, saw the chance slip away from him just 10 yards out.

PSV still needed the win to keep their UEFA Cup hopes alive and kept coming forward at pace. It took a fine saving header from Arbeloa to stop Amrabat reaching a far-post cross.

After 67 minutes Edison Mendez was cautioned for following through into Lucas' ankle.

But two minutes later Liverpool were ahead when Riera lashed a 30-yard shot past Andreas Isaksson.

Benitez sent on youngster Darby for Arbeloa before the re-start for his first taste of European action.

Benitez was soon to introduce another of Liverpool's local youngster when Spearing replaced Riera after 75 minutes.

Two minutes later the game was virtually all over when Keane's fine ball sent Ngog racing away from the half-way line to coolly slide home the third.

PSV sent on Reimond Manco for Mendez, while another Liverpool teenager, defender Kelly for his debut in place of Carragher.

Mascherano took over as skipper before PSV made a change of their own with Stefan Nijland replacing Otman Bakkal.

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