Liverpool loss caps European gloom

Clubs cannot cope with differing needs at home and abroad. Guy Hodgson reports
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The Independent Online
The news from Europe is becoming like dispatches from the front. Every fortnight or so a bulletin arrives in Britain and every time the message is one of gloom - that from the Uefa Cup second round second legs possibly the darkest so far.

On Tuesday morning, bookmakers would have produced enticing odds on Raith Rovers being the only British team to score in four matches against Continental opposition. Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, it was assumed, were all but in the third round, while Leeds promised to go down fighting against PSV Eindhoven.

By the end of the evening the sum total from a Halloween night of tricks and few treats was a fortunate aggregate victory for Forest and one consolation goal for Raith against Bayern Munich. Leeds, meanwhile, went down 8-3 on aggregate and seemed spineless.

The most surprising result of them all, however, was at Anfield. Liverpool, supposedly the most Euro-friendly team from these shores, were nullified by a Brondby team who, hard working though they were, would hardly rank among the great forces in Europe.

"We were outclassed by Genoa and Spartak Moscow," John Barnes, their England midfield player, said referring to other recent reverses at home, "but not by Brondby. It was a disastrous result. Going out of Europe hurts."

It hurt most not because Liverpool became the first English team to lose to Danish opposition in Europe but because they had so much of the possession and did so little with it. Half-chances arrived in bunches but in among them there was barely a clear-cut opportunity.

This was due in part to Liverppol's supposed strength: their passing. Throughout the game Jamie Redknapp and company painted pretty pictures on the pitch but the need to embellish move after move allowed Brondby time to regroup even when danger loomed. The penalty area became congested and the only route to goal was down the flanks where Steve Harkness and Rob Jones lacked the technique to prosper.

"I suppose the old thing about us being naive in Europe will come out," Roy Evans their manager, said, "but on another day we would have won."

On another day, someone might have answered, Forest would also be mulling over failure, too, if Auxerre had been lucky with just two out of five efforts that were cleared off the line over two legs. Forest's resilience was admirable but even their manager, Frank Clark, who described Auxerre as the finest side he had encountered in his time as a manager, admitted the debt his side owed to fortune.

"They will be feeling very hard done by with the result," he said. "But we achieved the most important thing there ever is in cup football - we got into the hat for the next round."

Clark is too astute to let the result be the end all and he emphasised the need for British clubs to catch up with the rest of Europe. "We can't hope to match the technical ability of the Ccontinentals," he said, "until the structure of our game is changed at the grass roots.

"We are hopefully moving towards it. At least we are now allowed to get kids at nine and 10 and start coaching them and teaching them properly. But at the top level here there are still pressures on clubs getting results in the Premier League and giving the public excitement on Saturday afternoons."

Talking about the Auxere game in particular, he added: "I wish we could have passed the ball better and given support quicker and better from the back to players further up the field. But after three years of instructing players how to go about winning at domestic football I've suddenly got to tell them different things to perform in Europe. It's hard to blame them when they find it a struggle.

"I'm sad the other teams like Liverpool and Leeds and Manchester United have gone out because we've no particular wish to seek the higher profile which we'll probably get now as the only British side playing in Europe."

So far scrutiny has tended to expose failure. There was little on Tuesday night to suggest Forest will prove an exception.