Liverpool canter into last eight as Garcia and Baros rediscover the winning touch

<preform>Bayer Leverkusen 1 - Liverpool 3<br><i>Liverpool win 6-2 on agg</i></preform>
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Against a backdrop of chemical plants belching fumes into the Rhine Valley, Liverpool ensured that Bayer Leverkusen's hopes of reaching another Champions' League final went up in smoke last night. Luis Garcia proved toxic for the 2002 finalists, the former Barcelona winger striking twice in five minutes during the first half before Milan Baros completed the rout midway through the second period.

Against a backdrop of chemical plants belching fumes into the Rhine Valley, Liverpool ensured that Bayer Leverkusen's hopes of reaching another Champions' League final went up in smoke last night. Luis Garcia proved toxic for the 2002 finalists, the former Barcelona winger striking twice in five minutes during the first half before Milan Baros completed the rout midway through the second period.

Jacek Krzynowek finally pulled a goal back for Leverkusen with an 87th-minute shot. Nevertheless, the margin did not flatter a Liverpool team who were brilliantly led by Steven Gerrard. The four-time winners will fear no one when the draw for the quarter-finals is made a week tomorrow

Forty years had passed since Liverpool last relinquished a two-goal lead from the first leg of a European tie, and it was clear there was to be no repeat of the defeat by Internazionale in Milan after Garcia's first-half double. It had been said that their task would have been easier had Jerzy Dudek's error not allowed Leverkusen the away goal which turned their second-leg requirement from a 4-0 win to a 2-0 one in the last seconds. But with Leverkusen a tactical shambles, often leaving Garcia free on the right flank, the Liverpool keeper's first-leg fumble mattered less and less as the opening 45 minutes unfolded.

True, Leverkusen had endured a spate of injuries and suspensions. Yet the coach, Klaus Augenthaler, still felt confident enough to leave out Andriy Voronin, who played a leading role in the rout of Real Madrid, Roma and Dynamo Kiev last autumn. Franca, the Brazilian who scored at Anfield, took his place, but it was his lone equivalent in Liverpool's ranks, Baros, who featured more prominently as the visitors exploited the space left by Leverkusen's eagerness to pile forward.

After only three minutes, Baros was unmarked as he took Garcia's pass and shot from 18 yards, Hans-Jorg Butt putting his right hand on the ball to stop it dead. Eight minutes later, with Liverpool seeking to douse the passions of the crowd through some neat possession football, Baros surged on to another pass from Garcia and was cut down by Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker. The Czech demanded a penalty; the referee gave the 20-year-old defender the benefit of slender doubt.

Leverkusen's anxiety was betrayed by "air" shots from Landon Donovan and Franca. Liverpool showed greater composure and in the 28th minute, as they maintained the pressure after Butt touched behind a thunderous drive by Gerrard, the captain swung in a cross from the right. Garcia met the ball with a flick of the boot and Butt was beaten.

Four minutes later, Liverpool struck again to leave a Leverkusen side who had just substituted their injured leading scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, needing five goals. Gerrard's corner was headed on by Igor Biscan for Garcia to turn in his second goal, and the Spaniard would have had an 10-minute hat-trick but for an acrobatic save by Butt.

Liverpool's followers were in euphoric voice, combining their songs of homage with the mocking refrain of "You're going out with United" and "Are you watching, Manchester?" Gerrard was in particularly inspired form, demonstrating the full range of his passing ability and generally highlighting the crassness of those Liverpool fans who had criticised him following his own goal for Chelsea in the Carling Cup final.

Leverkusen withdrew the American, Landon Donovan, who had an impressive World Cup in 2002 but looked out of his depth here. Amid their disarray, Franca strove hardest for a consolation goal. In the 55th minute he volleyed into the ground from Daniel Bierofka's cross, the ball rearing up and over the bar. Dudek then had to parry the Brazilian's rising drive at his near post, but Liverpool promptly underlined their capacity to carve open the German defence by setting up an apparently simple chance for Baros, who contrived to miskick in front of goal.

With 24 minutes remaining, Baros finally claimed the goal his selfless foraging deserved. This time a left-sided build-up involving Vladimir Smicer led to Baros being released to run at Butt, who he beat emphatically with a low shot. Rafael Benitez even had the luxury of taking off Dietmar Hamann and Jamie Carragher, who were both within one yellow card of missing what will now be a keenly awaited quarter-final.

Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2): Butt; Callsen-Bracker, Ramelow (Castro, 68), Placente; Schneider, Bierofka, Donovan (Fritz, 53), Krzynowek, Babic; Franca, Berbatov (Voronin, 32). Substitutes not used: Starke (gk), Ozturk, Dum, Randon, Rottger.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan (Nunez, 74), Carragher (Welsh, 68), Hyypia, Warnock; Luis Garcia, Biscan, Hamann, Riise; Gerrard (Smicer 61); Baros. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Le Tallec, Raven, Potter.

Referee: A Sars (France).

Comments