The result will suggest that Liverpool qualified very comfortably for the latter stages of the Europa League but they will mislead as much as any Fifa delegate when asked for his vote.
Roy Hodgson's young side were outplayed in Utrecht; in Naples they were heroic; and here in the frozen air of eastern Europe they survived, qualifying in first place and learning the kind of lessons they cannot teach at Melwood. "I was concerned for them," said Hodgson. "I asked a lot, bringing a side containing footballers who had hardly played at all in the first team to go to Bucharest and get a result. Danny Wilson, for example, has played one game – and that at left-back. It was a big ask for some of those players to stand up to the pressure and the quality football Steaua produced and end up winning the group."
Liverpool were denied victory when Pepe Reina allowed a header from Eder Bonfim to slither between his legs and over the line. "I thought one of their players was offside for the goal but I've watched replays and it's my fault," said Reina, who complained about having a laser pen directed at him during the game. "He was obstructing me but I should have reacted much better than I did."
Steaua created a chain of chances but Milan Jovanovic was more accurate in steering Ryan Babel's cross surgically into the corner of Ciprian Tatarsanu's net after 19 minutes. It was only the Serb's second goal this season. His first had been in the humbling by Northampton in the Carling Cup. This came in what is proving a more successful cup competition.
Steaua Bucharest (4-2-3-1): Tatarusanu; Bonfim, Alves, Gardos, Latovlevici; Gomes, Bicfalvi (Angelov, h-t); Nicolita, Surdu (Szekely 80), Tanase; Stancu. Substitutes not used Lungu, Emeghara, Abrudan, Martinovic, Angelov, Matei.
Liverpool (4-1-3-1-1): Reina; Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Fabio Aurelio; Poulsen; Pacheco (Lucas Leiva 90), Shelvey, Jovanovich (Eccleston 79); Cole (Ngog 76); Babel. Substitutes not used Jones, Skrtel, Flanagan, Robinson.
Referee B Yildirim (Turkey).
Results so far Liverpool 4 Steaua Bucharest 1, Napoli 0 Utrecht 0; Steaua 3 Napoli 3, Utrecht 0 Liverpool 0; Napoli 0 Liverpool 0, Utrecht 1 Steaua 1; Steaua 3 Utrecht 1, Liverpool 3 Napoli 1. Steaua 1 Liverpool 1; Utrecht 3 Napoli 3.
Remaining fixtures 15 Dec Napoli v Steaua; Liverpool v Utrecht.