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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital