Concerns grow that Sissoko could lose eyesight

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The Independent Football

Mohamed Sissoko will visit an eye specialist on Merseyside today amid concerns the Liverpool midfielder's career may have been brought to a premature end at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday night.

Rafael Benitez's team returned from their Champions' League defeat by Benfica in the early hours of yesterday without the Mali international, who was kept under observation in a Lisbon hospital after being kicked in the face by the Brazilian midfielder Beto.

Preliminary scans confirmed that the £5.5m former Valencia player had damaged his right retina in the first-half collision and, while further tests will reveal the extent of the injury this afternoon, reports in Portugal last night indicated he could lose his eyesight and, by implication, his Premiership career.

"He has undergone specialist care here," said Dr Joao Paco, "but we are reserving judgement."

Sissoko arrived back in England accompanied by the Liverpool club doctor, Mark Waller, yesterday afternoon with his vision still badly impaired. Worryingly for both the player and Liverpool, surgery on the 21-year-old's retina has not been discounted and may become a necessity if his career is in the balance.

Sissoko is the second Premiership midfielder to have suffered a serious eye injury this season, with Paul Scholes' campaign ended by the clash of heads at Birmingham City on 28 December that left the Manchester United star with blurred vision. Beto, booked by referee Konrad Plautz for catching the Liverpool player with his studs, said last night: "I caught him accidentally with my boot and unfortunately it opened up a wound. I want to apologise to him, because I did not mean to injure him.

"It was just a typical midfield challenge. I tried to apologise to him at the time when he was receiving treatment and I want him to know I am really sorry."

While the Benfica midfielder was full of remorse, his team-mates were consumed by confidence after Luisao's late header consigned Liverpool to their first Champions' League defeat outside the qualifying stages for 15 months.

That, however, would appear to be a dangerous ploy given the reigning champions' evident superiority over Ronald Koeman's side and the fragile disposition of a Benfica defence that will be severely tested at Anfield on 8 March. "I am really surprised by how Liverpool performed," said Laurent Robert, the former Newcastle maverick who has endured a poor start to his career in Portugal. "Liverpool had two very big games against tough sides in the last week and some of their players looked tired."

Benitez left Steven Gerrard on the bench for 78 minutes in Lisbon as a precaution against the dead leg the Liverpool captain collected in the FA Cup victory over United last Saturday. "I would rather lose Stevie for 78 minutes than one month," insisted the Liverpool manager, though his team again lacked invention and drive without the midfielder. The Benfica striker Nuno Gomes revealed: "It was a little bit strange that Gerrard didn't play from the start and then came on. But we hope he will be fit and playing in the next game because then nobody can say that Liverpool were not at full strength if we win it."

While Liverpool remain favourites to reach the quarter-finals, there is frustration at Anfield at their self-inflicted predicament and an acceptance that they cannot afford another of the profligate nights that has hindered recent progress. "We can take inspirations from what we did last season," insisted the central defender Sami Hyypia.

"We have to think we can beat Benfica 2-0."