Liverpool rewarded by Traoré's first goal

Steaua Bucharest 1 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online

Liverpool battled in exceptionally difficult conditions to secure an away draw in this Uefa Cup second round, first leg here last night. After Djimi Traoré had put Gérard Houllier's side ahead with a superb 25-yard effort midway through the first half, Claudiu Raducanu saved the hosts from their first home defeat of the season with an equaliser after 68 minutes.

Liverpool battled in exceptionally difficult conditions to secure an away draw in this Uefa Cup second round, first leg here last night. After Djimi Traoré had put Gérard Houllier's side ahead with a superb 25-yard effort midway through the first half, Claudiu Raducanu saved the hosts from their first home defeat of the season with an equaliser after 68 minutes.

Any illusions Liverpool had that the game in Bucharest would be anything less than an ordeal would have been shattered when they saw the state of the pitch. Rolls of plastic had covered the surface all day, but gallons of water had to be removed, and it took a long time for the handful of groundsmen to brush that away. The clean-up operation had limited success and prompted Houllier to pick a team for the conditions, with John Arne Riise as an extra defensive midfielder and Vladimir Smicer on the bench.

Houllier was pleased that Liverpool secured the draw against a side who had won every home game this season and conceded just three goals on their own pitch. "Taking into account the conditions it was a good result," he said. "We are in a good position [for the second leg], but we still have a job to do.

"We had enough chances in the first half - and at the start of the second half - but we had to dig deep and had a bit of luck late on."

The smell of flares and fireworks filled the air at the start, as did the noise from organised, rhythmic chanting. Liverpool soon discovered the unpredictability of the pitch. Measured passes were an instant lottery as the rain poured down.

Bucharest were, surprisingly perhaps, more prepared to hit long balls, and early uncertainty in both penalty areas caused worrying moments. When Steve Finnan fired the ball into the box on 13 minutes, Emile Heskey almost robbed Valeriu Rachita in the six-yard box as the ball skidded away from the centre-back.

Liverpool went ahead after 23 minutes. Steven Gerrard's short corner found Traoré on the edge of the box. He cut inside and slipped, but got up to curl the ball into the far corner. It was his first goal for Liverpool on his 67th appearance for the club.

It should have been two on 26 minutes when Gerrard's ball sent Harry Kewell clear. The Australian surged into the box, pushed the ball past Vasili Khomutovski, but just too far to retain full control. He managed to turn the ball towards an empty net, yet Pompiliu Stoica somehow hurled himself to clear.

Steaua almost equalised on 35 minutes when Gerrard's pass back stuck in the mud and put Raducanu clear in the box, but Jerzy Dudek made an outstanding close-range save to his right. The goalkeeper continued to pull off some fine stops, turning away a 25-yarder from Marian Aliuta and, early in the second half, holding a skidding 20-yarder from Gabriel Bostina.

Then Bostina got away again, and crossed for Raducanu, but the ball was too far away. However, Traoré kicked it back on to the Romanian and watched as the rebound bounced wide of the far post.

After a long spell when Liverpool had been in control, the conditions conspired to put Bucharest level. Adrian Pitu's pass skidded away from two slipping defenders and finally Raducanu was through to beat Dudek as he surged through.

Liverpool, from a position of control, were now hanging on. Dudek made a marvellous save to touch Dorel Mutica's drive on to the bar, before the substitute Adrian Neaga sent a close-range header flying over.

Murphy was booked for a late tackle, more in desperation than anything else, as Liverpool battled for their lives. In the second minute of injury time Pitu saw a 30-yard shot sail inches wide of the far post.

Steaua Bucharest: Khomutovski; Dumitru, Rachita, Radoi, Stoica, Aliuta, Bostina, Raducanu, Falemi, Oprita, Mutica. Substitutes not used: Curt, Pitu, Neaga, Nesu, Ogararu, Nanu, Tudor (gk).

Liverpool: Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Biscan, Traoré, Diouf, Murphy, Gerrard, Riise, Kewell, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Henchoz, Smicer, Hamann, Diao, Le Tallec, Sinama-Pongolle.

Referee: S Farina (Italy).

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