Saviola inflicts cruel blow as Liverpool's wounded pile up

Monaco 1 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Online

Javier Saviola, the Monaco striker who is nicknamed "The Rabbit", last night conjured up the goal which leaves Liverpool needing to win their final first-round game, at home to Olympiakos of Greece, to have any chance of reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions' League. But the Argentinian's winner, which came soon after half-time, provoked protests from Liverpool that he had used a hand to control the ball.

Javier Saviola, the Monaco striker who is nicknamed "The Rabbit", last night conjured up the goal which leaves Liverpool needing to win their final first-round game, at home to Olympiakos of Greece, to have any chance of reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions' League. But the Argentinian's winner, which came soon after half-time, provoked protests from Liverpool that he had used a hand to control the ball.

While not as shameless as his compatriot Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England in 1986, Saviola's strike gave Liverpool good cause to feel aggrieved. They must now defeat Olympiakos by two clear goals to be sure of advancing, a task possibly rendered more difficult by injuries to Luis Garcia and Josemi here.

In a contest of few chances, the visitors almost snatched a draw in the 85th minute, only for Sebastian Squillaci to clear Sami Hyypia's header off the line.

Casinos pepper the Monte Carlo landscape and in the absence of his first-choice forwards, Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé, Rafael Benitez gambled on Neil Mellor, for whom Sheffield United recently had a £500,000 offer rejected. Mellor, 22, was asked to forage alone, with Luis Garcia and the fit-again Steven Gerrard supporting from midfield.

That, at least, was the theory. Yet with 100 seconds played, Liverpool lost another attacker to the curse of the injured strikers when Garcia crumpled to the turf clutching a hamstring following an accidental brush with a defender. Josemi was summoned to play at right-back, with Steve Finnan switching to the wide role where Garcia had started.

Monaco have fared disappointingly in the French League, putting Didier Deschamps' position under pressure just six months after he led them to the Champions' League final. However, in both their previous home fixtures in Group A, against Deportivo La Coruña and Olympiakos, they had scored twice inside the first 10 minutes, so Liverpool's solidity in the face of the hosts' early flurries seemed to bode well for Benitez.

In a humdrum opening half it was the 36th minute before Igor Biscan missed the first chance, scuffing a shot wide after John Arne Riise contested a high ball after a throw-in by Finnan. Chris Kirkland had still not made a save before Monaco threatened for the first time in the 44th minute. Ernesto Chevanton's corner was helped by Douglas Maicon to Saviola, whose shot passed through a crowded penalty area but wide of the far post.

Monaco's initial post-interval surge, which featured a shot by Saviola that flew wide and a cross by Maicon which Kirkland cut out athletically, indicated that Deschamps had demanded a higher tempo. If that was the case, the former Chelsea player must have felt vindicated as Monaco broke the deadlock in controversial circumstances in the 56th minute.

By contrast, Benitez gesticulated angrily from the touchline - believing, like his furiously protesting players, that Saviola had used his right hand to control the ball before firing low past Kirkland after the ball broke to him following Traoré's challenge on Shabani Nonda.

Traoré gave way to Harry Kewell, but almost immediately Liverpool's injury crisis deepened. An accidental clash of heads between Josemi and Patrice Evra led to Luis Garcia's replacement departing on a stretcher and the new France international resuming with a bandaged head. Liverpool could have been forgiven for feeling fate had it in for them, but responded positively, Gerrard's driving run ending with a fierce drive that Flavio Roma held with some difficulty.

Monaco (4-4-2): Roma; Maicon, Squillaci, Givet, Evra; Saviola, Zikos, Farnerud, Plasil; Nonda, Chevanton (Perez, 68). Substitutes not used: Audard (gk), Modesto, Kallon, Oshadogan, Adebayor, El-Fakiri.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Kirkland; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré (Kewell, 60); Luis Garcia (Josemi, 5; Warnock, 65), Biscan, Hamann, Gerrard, Riise; Mellor. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Xabi Alonso, Diao, Sinama-Pongolle.

Referee: C B Larsen (Denmark).

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