Liverpool 3 Bayer Leverkusen 1
Liverpool 3 Bayer Leverkusen 1
Five games to the final. Liverpool supporters left Anfield daring to calculate what it will take before they might begin preparations for a mass exodus to the Champions' League showpiece in Istanbul, but their position going into the second leg of their first knock-out round tie in Leverkusen would have been much stronger but for a calamitous last-gasp error by Jerzy Dudek.
Dietmar Hamann's stoppage time strike, from a free-kick needlessly conceded by the rattled Bundesliga outfit, added to first-half goals by Luis Garcia and John Arne Riise to give Liverpool an apparently unassailable lead. There was still time, though, for Dudek to spill a shot by Dimitar Berbatov, allowing Sena De Souza Franca to steal in for a potentially crucial away goal.
Rafael Benitez had spoken of the need for Liverpool to establish a quick tempo, and the opening minutes saw them attempting to hustle Leverkusen out of their stride. Harry Kewell, restored to the attack after a two-month absence through injury, epitomised the home side's early industry with some neat interplay with John Arne Riise on the left flank.
Leverkusen looked to have weathered the storm, which was more like a light shower, and began to move forward with confidence. Carsten Ramelow, the German international, was surprisingly adventurous, linking cleverly with the busy Brazilian, Robson Ponte, to set up a series of counter-attacks. In the 11th minute, Paul Freier danced past Djimi Traoré, beating Dietmar Hamann for good measure, only for his precise cut-back to be skied into the Kop by Ponte.
When another shot, by Berbatov, was fumbled by Dudek, Leverkusen appeared to be assuming control. The events of the 15th minute shattered such perceptions, as well as demonstrating that the absence of the suspended Steven Gerrard did not have to mean Liverpool would be devoid of creativity. Igor Biscan twisted past both Ramelow and Freier in a tight position before rolling a deft pass in behind the back four. Luis Garcia had timed his run to perfection, touching the ball past the onrushing Hans-Jorg Butt.
Leverkusen's response was anything but negative. Berbatov sent a 20-yard drive narrowly wide in the 18th minute, and as the half-hour approached he wasted a much easier opportunity to equalise. When Steve Finnan's back-header hit Sami Hyypia, the ball fell obligingly for Berbatov, but with only Dudek to beat he sent it a yard wide.
His profligacy took on an ominous significance for Klaus Augenthaler's side as Liverpool doubled their advantage 10 minutes before half-time. The free-kick which followed Placente's foul on Kewell appeared to invite a cross, but Riise had other ideas. From the angle of the penalty area, the Norwegian beat Butt for power and placement on his near post.
Anfield was exultant; Leverkusen's 1,800 followers fell silent. Having looked so assured in possession, the visitors began to commit niggling fouls in the face of Liverpool's exuberance. Ponte was cautioned before half-time for dumping Riise to the turf, to be followed early in the second half by Freier, who felled Traoré.
Liverpool's principal task was to keep a clean sheet, but the mood in the stadium militated against caution. Milan Baros was giving Silveira Dos Santos Juan a hard time with his strong running; Biscan revelled in the responsibility normally dominated by his missing captain; and Kewell also played his part in keeping Leverkusen under pressure.
Dudek, far from being placed under siege by Leverkusen's need for an away goal, was a spectator for much of the second half. He was doubtless relieved when Leverkusen's best move left Andrej Voronin in the clear, but again the shot sailed over. Even after that, Liverpool had chances to embellish their lead. Baros, sent free by Kewell in the 72nd minute, saw his shot brush Butt and go for a corner, following which the goalkeeper managed to block Jamie Carragher's effort at point-blank range.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Luis Garcia, Hamann, Biscan, Riise (Smicer, 90); Kewell (Le Tallec, 77), Baros (Potter, 86). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Nunez, Warnock, Welsh.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-1-3-2): Butt; Schneider, Callsen-Bracker, Juan, Placente; Ramelow; Freier (Bierofka, 83), Ponte (Donovan, 69), Krzynowek; Berbatov, Voronin (Franca, 68). Substitutes not used: Starke (gk), Fritz, Dum, Castro.
Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).Reuse content