Blackburn Rovers 0 Liverpool 1: Liverpool step into Europe through offside loophole

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The Independent Football

Last summer they were central to the moral issue over whether a Champions' League winner should defend their trophy at the expense of the fourth-placed team in the division, a decision only resolved when legal threats and concerted pressure produced the offer of a wild-card entry from Uefa. Yesterday they won their place among the European élite with a victory over Blackburn Rovers whichexposed another loophole that football's governing powers should close.

Interpretations of the offside rule have varied wildly since Fifa confused the subject of interfering with play and at Ewood Park on Easter Sunday it was Djibril Cissé's turn to expose the folly of current guidelines. Standing three yards offside as Robbie Fowler chested a long throw from John Arne Riise into the Rovers penalty area, the French international stuck out a leg then withdrew it to allow the onside Fernando Morientes to collect possession.

Not an act of interference, according to assistant referee Barry Sygmuta, and Morientes duly returned the ball to Fowler who secured an afternoon of derision for referee Alan Wiley, a minimum of third place in the table for Liverpool and perhaps his own future with the game's only goal.

"Too much is open to interpretation now," said a fuming Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes. "We don't know what the rules are any more. The guy was offside and from the moment he made a movement to touch the ball he was interfering with play, yet the linesman said he didn't give it because he didn't touch the ball.

"The linesman was standing 60 yards away. He only formed that view after watching it on television at half-time. The goal changed the shape of the game, it allowed Liverpool to sit back and get everyone behind the ball. We tried to draw them out but Liverpool were not prepared to do that."

Though Hughes' view of the game that surely ended his side's hopes of the fourth Champions' League place is somewhat skewed - Liverpool had several opportunities to score but, unfortunately for them, most fell to Cissé - his attack on officialdom was supported by Rafael Benitez. "We don't need seven cameras and seven referees to judge offside," added the Liverpool manager. "If it is offside it is offside. Simple. They have to change the rules because [Fifa] have created more problems for referees."

The first goalscorer always appeared destined to settle the issue and it fell to Fowler, with his fourth goal in four starts, to deliver in the 29th minute. His latest, decisive contribution generated inevitable questions about the 31-year-old's future, and the usual denials from the Spaniard, but it seems inconceivable Liverpool will not offer Fowler a one-year contract this summer, particularly if they manage to sell Cissé, Fernando Morientes or both.

With Steven Gerrard suffering a tight hamstring and Peter Crouch rested, Liverpool also had thoughts on Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea but defensive resilience is now second nature. This was their 33rd clean sheet of the season, one shy of a club record, but Blackburn will simmer over how theirs was spoiled for a long time yet.

Goal: Fowler (29) 0-1.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Khizanishvili, Nelsen, Gray; Bentley, Savage, Reid, Pedersen; Bellamy, Dickov (Kuqi, 67). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Emerton, Mokoena, Peter.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Warnock (Kewell, 68); Cissé, Sissoko, Alonso, Riise; Fowler (Garcia, 63), Morientes (Kromkamp, 81). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Traoré.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Booked: Blackburn Savage, Bentley, Neill. Liverpool Sissoko, Alonso.

Man of the match: Hyypia.

Attendance: 29,142.