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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Reds' Euro hopes hanging in balance

Liverpool 2
Young Boys 2

Published 23/11/2012 | 05:00

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Liverpool's European hopes remain in the balance after a disappointing Anfield draw.

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Brendan Rodgers' side were unable to claim the win required to make their final group game in Udinese a dead rubber. Joe Cole thought he had won it with his first goal since April 2011, but Elsad Zverotic's 89th-minute equaliser keeps the group alive.

Jonjo Shelvey had earlier put Liverpool in charge with a 33rd-minute header.

Raul Bobadilla's superb volley early in the second half retained Swiss hopes of sneaking through, and Zverotic's stunning strike from 18 yards means Liverpool may have to beat Udinese to get through.

Anzhi Makhachkala's victory over Udinese meant Liverpool knew before kick-off a victory would guarantee qualification courtesy of a superior head-to-head against the Swiss.

It ensured Liverpool went into the fixture with tentative hopes of maintaining what is becoming a quietly efficient few months at Anfield.

With mayhem currently elsewhere in the Premier League, the opportunity presented itself for Rodgers to discreetly, diligently, and effectively build on an encouraging recent run.

He is grateful for the time to build at a sensible rate. One of the most eye-catching remarks he made ahead of the final Anfield group game was that the club's American owners were virtually apologetic for the hand he has been dealt since taking over. This first six months was always going to be the toughest as Rodgers has barely started to construct his own playing personnel yet.

He will feel that if he can get through the next five weeks still in Europe and no further away from the top four, that awkward settling-in period will have been negotiated better than might have been expected.

Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard started on the bench. Cole, the Anfield boomerang (no matter how much he is discarded, somehow he always comes back) reappeared. So too did Stewart Downing.

Adjusting to more changes, Liverpool started sloppily and could have trailed within 10 seconds. Straight from kick-off, Raphael Nuzzolo broke down the left, and his cross was volleyed over by Gonzalo Zarate.

With their only striker on the bench, it was unsurprising Liverpool initially struggled for penetration. Cole and Jordan Henderson's tame shots from distance offered the only immediate trouble to Young Boys' keeper Marco Wolfli, and it seemed inevitable Suarez or Gerrard would eventually be summoned.

The Liverpool captain arrived early after full-back Andre Wisdom suffered a knee injury after half an hour. Two minutes later, Liverpool went ahead.

Cole and Suso exchanged passes, and Shelvey headed in following the former England international's clever flick over the on-rushing keeper. Suso almost added a second, an inch wide two minutes before the interval with his side-footed finish, but now it seemed the home side was hitting its stride.

The visitors' ambitious approach was commendable, ensuring – as in their first meeting – that this was an entertaining evening.

Alexander Farnerud and Zverotic issued warnings with shots from 20 yards early in the second half, reminding Liverpool there was still plenty of work left to secure qualification.

Denied

Cole could have doubled the lead on 51 minutes but he was denied by Wolfli's feet.

Within a minute Young Boys had revived the group by equalising through Bobadilla's brilliant back-post volley.

Suarez appeared after an hour, replacing Suso, as Rodgers desperately sought the winner to make the trip to Italy in a fortnight an irrelevance. He immediately probed the Swiss defence, but Martin Rueda's side were showing why they had transformed the group with recent wins over Udinese.

Cole restored the lead 18 minutes from time after linking with Suarez and Gerrard. The trio exchanged passes on the edge of the box, before Cole applied the final touch.

He was replaced almost immediately, but after so many disappointing evenings in a red shirt, this was an evening he could cherish – until Zverotic's late intervention. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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