Urgency of Biscan keeps Liverpool in the hunt

Deportivo La Coruña 0 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online

The rain in Spain fell mainly on La Coruña yesterday, but it was Liverpool who reigned in the Riazor Stadium. Jorge Andrade's early own goal put them in strong position to reach the second round and ensured that the goal-free zone known as Deportivo were effectively eliminated from the qualification equation.

The rain in Spain fell mainly on La Coruña yesterday, but it was Liverpool who reigned in the Riazor Stadium. Jorge Andrade's early own goal put them in strong position to reach the second round and ensured that the goal-free zone known as Deportivo were effectively eliminated from the qualification equation.

Liverpool have two games left in Group A, the first away to a Monaco side who now trail them by a single point. They finish at Anfield against Olympiakos, whose victory over Monaco last night put them ahead of Rafael Benitez's team by dint of having beaten them earlier in the campaign.

If Liverpool were to triumph in Monte Carlo and the Greeks defeated Deportivo at home ­ and last season's semi-finalists have failed to score in their last six outings in the Champions' League proper ­ their meeting would be tantamount to a play-off to decide who finished top.

Benitez, making his first return to his native country with Liverpool, said: "We played well, and as a manager you have to be satisfied when you get three points. Now our destiny is in our own hands, and that's important."

The Spanish sports paper Marca had photographed Benitez's recruits from La Liga at The Cavern and billed them as "The Benitles". Only half the quartet made Liverpool's starting XI, although Xabi Alonso defied a calf strain to appear as a late substitute and thereby finished on the winning side against Deportivo for the first time in 10 attempts.

His understudy, Igor Biscan, had one of his best games for Liverpool. The burly Croat was the creative force behind most of their threatening attacks ­ including the goal ­ to the extent that Alonso was hardly missed.

Progress from this group had previously looked likely to be a long and winding road, as the other Fab Four put it, and the section has still produced the fewest goals. But the confidence with which Liverpool opened pointed to another hard day's night for Deportivo.

With only 30 seconds gone, Biscan and Luis Garcia sent Milan Baros clear to run at Jose Molina. The keeper timed his plunge to perfection, yet the ease with which Deportivo were carved open proved a taste of what was to follow.

In the 14th minute, Biscan strode forward from midfield before finding John Arne Riise on the right. The resultant cross found Baros bearing down on the ball, a fact which disconcerted Jorge Andrade sufficiently to turn it into his own net before Molina could say "Help!".

Deportivo looked a dispirited bunch. It was indicative of the space Riise was allowed that Harry Kewell's pass set him up for not one but two free shots shortly before half-time. Molina parried the first, while Andrade slid the follow-up off the line.

Javier Iureta seemed to have rallied his troops for the second half, for there was, briefly, a sense of purpose about Deportivo. Aldo Duscher, unmarked at the far post, inexplicably failed to put his head on a free-kick. Chris Kirkland was knocked out amid the bustle of bodies but resumed after lengthy treatment.

The introduction of Diego Tristan, who had scored all Deportivo's previous three goals, added to the feeling among the Galician faithful that all may not be lost. However, the player he replaced was Walter Pandiani, the lone spearhead, at a point when Liverpool might have expected to face two forwards.

Benitez had withdrawn the low-key Kewell and sent on Steve Finnan to bolster the midfield. The ploy restored Liverpool's solidity: they could have doubled their lead but for carelessness by Luis Garcia, while Kirkland did not make a save worth the name before fielding Pablo Amo's header in the final minutes.

Deportivo La Coruña (4-2-3-1): Molina; Hector (Scaloni, 65), Cesar (Pablo Amo, h-t), Jorge Andrade, Romero; Sergio, Duscher; Victor, Valeron, Luque; Pandiani (Diego Tristan, 58). Substitutes not used: Munua (gk), Fran, Munitis, Capdevilla.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Kirkland; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Luis Garcia (Xabi Alonso, 87), Biscan, Hamann, Riise; Kewell (Finnan, 55); Baros (Sinama-Pongolle, 80). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Henchoz, Diao, Warnock.

Referee: W Stark (Germany).

ELSEWHERE IN GROUP A

Argentian central defender Gabriel Schurrer hit the net six minutes from time to give Olympiakos a 1-0 victory over Monaco. Both defences strangled the game with their offside traps, but Olympiakos produced the lion's share of the chances, Rivaldo coming close twice and Giovanni hitting the post. They were also unfortunate to have a penalty claim denied. Just as it looked as though they would have to settle for the draw, 33-year-old Schurrer latched on to a free-kick to fire home from close range.

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