Kewell sums up night of frustration for Liverpool

Liverpool 0 - Deportivo La Coruña 0

Liverpool's hopes of reaching the second round of the competition they once dominated are very much on hold after a night of frustration against a disappointingly negative Deportivo La Coruña last night.

Liverpool's hopes of reaching the second round of the competition they once dominated are very much on hold after a night of frustration against a disappointingly negative Deportivo La Coruña last night.

After seeing several chances go begging in the first half, Harry Kewell came off the bench and was close to sealing victory with a late free-kick. But the ball drifted tantalisingly wide of the far upright, leaving Liverpool level on four points with Olympiakos, both clubs trailing Monaco by two points.

Group A has been the group of dearth in this season's Champions' League, producing fewer goals in the opening two rounds of games than any of the other seven. Liverpool's matches with Spanish opposition have tended to be low-scoring affairs - with their 5-4 victory in the 2001 Uefa Cup final against Alaves a glorious glut of an exception - yet both sides were desperate for the victory on this occasion.

Deportivo knew that anything less would almost certainly leave them needing to win all three remaining fixtures to qualify for the knock-out stages. Liverpool at least had the cushion of the three points they took at home to Monaco, but the ensuing defeat by Olympiakos put them in a position where they had to go for goals. Rafael Benitez's selection acknowledged as much, with Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé being paired together despite early signs that they did not make natural partners.

The game began in subdued fashion, with the long, prancing dashes of Anders Frisk catching the eye as much as anyone during the opening 10 minutes. The Swedish referee was making his reappearance in European competition after sustaining a head wound when an object was thrown from the crowd in the match between Roma and Dynamo Kiev, and soon showed a yellow card to Albert Luque for kicking the ball away.

Liverpool, fielding three Spanish players, gradually gained the ascendancy, though not before enduring an escape after a 15th-minute corner by Luque. Cesar rose to glance the ball goalwards, only for John Arne Riise to head off the line from his station by the far post.

Starting midway through the first half, Liverpool then created four chances in 15 minutes as Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Hamann began to slip through the gears. Manuel Pablo made a brilliant last-ditch tackle to divert Cissé's shot over the bar; Cissé met Baros' low cross with a first-time volley that Jose Francisco Molina parried to safety; Baros raced on to Hamann's pass and rounded the keeper before Manuel Pablo slid in to repeat his heroics; and when a fierce shot by Alonso was charged down, Luis Garcia's follow-up was touched into the Kop by Molina.

News of Michael Owen's first goal for Real Madrid brought a magnanimous cheer from the home supporters during the interval. Those fans may also have voiced concern to their neighbours that, for all Liverpool's creative approach work, the clinical finishing which brought Owen 158 goals for the club had been conspicuous by its absence.

Pleasingly for their manager, Liverpool did not resort to hit-and-hope football, instead continuing to build patiently before attempting to spring Baros or Cissé in a run on Molina's goal. Yet they found Deportivo obdurate opponents, a far cry from the supine side that had contrived to lose 8-3 at Monaco en route to the semi-finals last season.

Indeed, the Galicians were looking ominously comfortable by the time they lost one of their two defensive midfielders, the Brazilian Mauro Sliva, on the hour. Immediately, they carved out as clear an opening as the contest had seen, Victor crossing from the right to find that Juan Valeron had stolen in unmarked near the far post.

Liverpool appealed forlornly for an offside flag, but Valeron spared us the heated debate that would have followed by scooping the ball feebly over the bar.

Benitez promptly sent for Kewell, whose first real involvement took him past the dogged Manuel Pablo. The cross, though too high for Baros, fell obligingly for Cissé, whose crisp shot forced a sprawling save from Molina. It was a sure sign of Liverpool's frustration, though, that Mr Frisk's decisions were greeted with mounting levels of incredulity.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Luis Garcia (Sinama Pongolle, 84), Xabi Alonso, Hamann, Riise (Kewell, 65); Barros, Cissé (Finnan, 76). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Diao, Biscan, Warnock.

Deportivo La Coruña (4-2-3-1): Molina; Manuel Pablo, Cesar, Jorge Andrade, Capdevila; Mauro Silva (Scaloni, 59), Duscher; Victor, Valeron (Fran, 86), Luque; Pandiani (Romero, 84). Substitutes not used: Munua (gk), Diego Tristan, Munitis, Pablo Amo.

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).

Elsewhere in group A

Monaco blew the group wide open with a 2-1 home victory over Olympiakos. Monaco seemed to be easing to a comfortable win over the Greek side, who had gone into the match as group leaders, with Javier Saviola and Ernesto Chevanton putting them 2-0 up inside 10 minutes and a rout seemed to be on the cards. But Olympiakos re-grouped and managed to reach the interval without conceding more. After the break, they went on the attack and on the hour mark Yiannis Okkas reduced the deficit. But the French side held on to claim the victory. They are now two points clear of Olympiakos and their next opponents Liverpool.

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