Liverpool sweat as Gerrard watches

Liverpool 0 - CSKA Sofia 1 (Liverpool win 3-2 on agg)

A below-strength side conceded an early goal, could have let in a couple more and generally struggled against opponents they had dominated in their first meeting. Liverpool have had some great European nights of late; this was not one.

With the tie apparently won in the first leg two weeks ago, it was doubtful whether Steven Gerrard would have played in this game under any circumstances. As expected, he sat it out with a calf injury, with Dietmar Hamann taking his place in midfield, and he remains a major doubt for the European Super Cup against CSKA Moscow in Monaco on Friday, not to mention the next two England internationals.

With Milan Baros finally departed for Aston Villa and Peter Crouch still unavailable, Rafael Benitez was left with a strike force of Djibril Cissé and Fernando Morientes, who had already shown a liking for the Bulgarian defence with two goals in Sofia. Darren Potter was in a wide midfield position that could soon be occupied by Stelios Giannakopoulos if rumours of a move from Bolton are true.

Those with long memories might have been wary of CSKA on the grounds that they knocked Liverpool out of what was then the European Cup in 1982 after losing the first leg. There was little sign of that as Liverpool went close after five minutes, when Dejan Maksic saved at the feet of Cissé who soon drove another effort wide when set up by Morientes. Morientes himself fired over as Liverpool continued to find it relatively easy to get within sight of the Bulgarian goal.

Then, after 15 minutes, the unthinkable. Mohamed Sissoko was adjudged, perhaps a little harshly, to have fouled Radoslav Zabavnik out towards the right corner flag, the free-kick was rolled into the middle by Iordan Yurukov and Valentin Iliev struck a curling right-footer wide of the despairing dive of Scott Carson and just inside the far post.

It could have been worse. Yordan Todorov chipped just over after Carson saved at the feet of Guillaume Dah Zadi. A couple of feet lower and what had seemed a routine tie could have been level on aggregate.

Cissé had a fierce shot saved when set up by Hamann's free-kick, but the European champions were looking edgy and Sami Hyypya had to clear when Zadi whipped the ball across and again when Yurukov broke .

Sofia were looking infinitely more dangerous than in the first leg, with Todorov and Emil Gargorov repeatedly stretching an unconvincing Liverpool defence when they counterattacked.

There was little bite to Liverpool's work at the other end of the field either, with Sissoko's mis-hit shot past the upright the best effort they could muster in the minutes leading up to half-time.

There was drama in the last two minutes as Sissoko hit the bar and Velizar Dimitrov had a goal disallowed for offside, but Liverpool lived to fight another day and surely play much better than this.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Carson; Finnan, Hyypia, Josemi, Warnock (Zenden, 64); Potter (Garcia, h-t), Hamann, Sissoko, Riise; Morientes, Cissé (Sinama-Pongolle, 82) Substitutes not used: Reina (gk),Alonso, Carragher, Barragan.

CSKA Sofia (4-2-3-1): Maksic; Zabavnik, Iliev, Gueye, Silva; Hdiouad, Todorov; Gargorov, V Dimitrov, Yurukov (Sakaliev, 72); Zadi (P Dimitrov, 84). Substitutes: Kyuchukov (gk), Olegov, Zafirov,Ivanov, Matic.

Referee: Stark (Germany)

l The tiny Swiss club Thun secured a most unlikely place among the élite of European football by clinching their place in the group stages of the Champions' League last night when they defeated the Swedish champions, Malmo, 3-0 in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie at Wankdorf Stadium in Berne, thus achieving a remarkable 4-0 aggregate victory.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?