Kuyt strike has Dalglish beaming in Euro zone
Sparta Prague 0
(Liverpool win 1-0 on aggregate)
Published 25/02/2011 | 05:00
From Boyzone to the Eurozone, Kenny Dalglish has access all areas.
One of the Irish pop group's most famous fans, the Liverpool manager enjoyed another night out at a packed, sold-out venue on Merseyside.
The Liverpool Echo Arena one evening, then Anfield. Yet Dalglish's 26-year wait to manage Liverpool in Europe at his beloved Anfield was hardly proving the most auspicious of occasions until Dirk Kuyt scored four minutes from time.
Then Dalglish was punching the air, lighting up the place with that megawatt smile. "It was quite enjoyable," he deadpanned afterwards.
Quite enjoyable. For Dalglish, all that mattered was the victory, the suppression of occasionally awkward Czechs and the progress into the last 16. Yet there was a tenderness in the way Dalglish touched the 'This Is Anfield' sign before kick-off, and a pride at seeing the stadium full, that reflected the strength of emotions beating within.
Dalglish's first spell as manager here ended before the Heysel ban was lifted. His sense of unfinished business always included that desire to lead the club in Europe. The Europa League is hardly the European Cup, akin to comparing Boyzone with the Beatles, but Dalglish relished the moment.
"It was my first European game here as a manager," he said. "It's a fantastic football club and I was a lucky man to be asked to come back in unfortunate circumstances.
"I am only here managing in the Europa League because of the good work done before me by the players and Roy (Hodgson). It is a great honour for me to be in charge of the football club and an even bigger honour on a big European night -- and a winning one."
The occasion was largely disappointing, scarred by below-par contributions from the likes of David Ngog. Only when Kuyt moved more central in the second half did Liverpool boast a more consistent attacking threat.
The first half was uninspiring. Partly through ineligibility (Luis Suarez) and injury (Glenn Johnson), Dalglish had rung the changes again. Yet the system remained the same, 4-2-3-1, and a few of the pleasing themes of the Scot's new era were also swiftly seen. Martin Kelly again impressed with his surges down the right until departing at the break with an injury.
Raul Meireles was typically busy, while this was a big night for Joe Cole, a chance to prove his worth to Dalglish, and he showed some neat touches but failed to score when presented with two good opportunities.
Sparta had their chances, although lacked conviction. The visitors sought to trouble Pepe Reina in front of the Kop. The Spaniard saved well from Vaclav Kadlec, the highly regarded attacker.
The second half was better, first enlivened by a genuinely comic cameo. Tomas Repka, who endured an eventful spell at West Ham, decided to take on the Kop. He swore, then gesticulated at 12,000 people, who responded with fairly toxic ribaldry.
Sparta's defence was going into slight meltdown and Liverpool exploited the uncertainty with four minutes remaining. The way Kuyt took his goal was exceptional, seeming to idle on the line as Meireles weighed up the corner. The Dutchman then drifted back, moving into the congestion zone around goalkeeper Jaromir Blazek. His marker, Pamic, failed to keep up, allowing Kuyt to leap up and flick a header home.
Kuyt's 15th goal in Europe took him alongside Terry McDermott as Liverpool's fifth most prolific player in Europe. Stretching out in front of him are the illustrious names of Roger Hunt, Ian Rush, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard.
Kuyt's goal was also his first since January 16 when he struck against Everton. "It's about time," he smiled. Kuyt will certainly have Liverpool fans smiling with the additional news that his contract talks are "already looking positive". He hoped to have "some good news in one or two weeks". His manager was delighted with his players' "determination and effort", adding: "The pride they take in themselves and the club was rewarded in the end."
Unfortunately, victory came at a cost. "Martin Kelly felt a twinge at the top of his leg and had to come off. Daniel Agger got injured and then Soto Kyrgiakos split his head."
Dalglish concluded by voicing his praise for Jamie Carragher, whose 137th appearance in Europe made him the most experienced British player ever in Europe, moving ahead of Ryan Giggs. "Carragher's record sums up his contribution to the football club," said Dalglish. "He has been a magnificent servant." (© Daily Telegraph, London)