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Toulouse brushed aside by Liverpool

Toulouse brushed aside by Liverpool

By Henry Winter at Anfield
Last Updated: 1:53am BST 29/08/2007

Liverpool (1) 4 Toulouse (0) 0 Agg: 5-0

Liverpool cruised into tomorrow's Champions League draw in Monaco with all the elegant ease of an expertly crewed schooner entering the fabled Riviera harbour. Goals from Peter Crouch, Sami Hyypia and Dirk Kuyt, twice, took the wind out of Toulouse's sails, and few teams will relish being pitted against Rafa Benitez's confident side now.

Toulouse have a strong history in the European Cup, but only in rugby union's version which they have won three times, and they were no match for Crouch and company last night. Liverpool's 50th European Cup win at Anfield could not have been easier.

Toulouse brushed aside by Liverpool
Flying high: Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt celebrates his first goal

As well as securing passage to the group stage jet-set in Monaco, Benitez will have particularly enjoyed bright displays from some of his lesser lights, such as Crouch, Yossi Benayoun, Momo Sissoko, and Javier Mascherano. "You could see the competition for each position,'' Benitez said. "That was the most positive news for me. This squad is stronger than last year.''

This was the first time in 103 European games that Liverpool had taken to the field without either Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher, but they made light of the absence of their home-grown inspirations. Hyypia deputised ably for Carragher at the back, and took his second-half goal well.

Sissoko charged about, spraying around some fine passes, his licence to create granted by Mascherano's impressive diligence in deep midfield. When Sissoko was withdrawn midway through the second half, the midfielder was given a lengthy salute by the Kop. Lucas Leiva, newly arrived from Gremio, darted on to assist Mascherano. Such luminaries as Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Jermaine Pennant never even made it off the bench. Liverpool's squad is certainly rich in class.

The Merseysiders first showed class of another kind. The evening began with raw emotion swirling around Anfield as Liverpool paid a deeply moving tribute to Rhys Jones, the 11-year-old Everton fan murdered in Croxteth last week. Ancient footballing rivalries were put aside as a city united in grief.

Rhys' parents, Melanie and Stephen, and his brother Owen, stood on the touchline, clad in Everton blue, glancing at the Kop as Z Cars, Goodison's theme tune, emerged from Anfield's speakers for the first time. The Kop applauded, and then launched into an impassioned rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, as if sending a message to Rhys' family. So did Benitez. Liverpool's manager stepped from the dug-out, took the three or four steps to the mourning family and hugged Melanie Jones. Benitez appeared to wipe away a tear, his mood also darkened by the tragic death of his compatriot, the Sevilla player Antonio Puerta, a popular character well known to Liverpool's Spaniards.

With typical dignity, Benitez prefaced his post-match comments with well-chosen words. "First, I want to give my condolences to the Jones family, and to the Puerta family and Sevilla Football Club,'' he said. "This was two pieces of bad news.''

With the air so thick with emotion, it was a credit to Liverpool's professionalism that they settled so quickly against energetic opposition, seizing the lead through Crouch after 18 minutes and keeping the foot on the accelerator. The gangling England striker, who has been grumbling recently about a lack of opportunity, certainly made the most of his chance here, looking lively from the start and soon poaching his eighth goal in his last 10 Champions League starts.

When Kuyt darted down the inside-right channel, Crouch made his move, loping towards the far post to meet the Dutchman's deep cross. It was a difficult chance, with Crouch under pressure from Mohamed Fofana and the angle narrowing like a door being shut quickly. Crouch's response was magnificent, stretching out his right leg to flick the ball home. "Crouch will have more confidence after that goal,'' Benitez reflected.

Crouch should have had more, but wasted a fine delivery from the busy Benayoun. So did Kuyt. Even such misses could not dampen Liverpool's belief. Nor could occasional defensive mistakes, such as when a weak kick by Jose Reina let in Pantxi Sirieix, who sounds like one of Asterix's mates but patently lacked the menace of Gaul's finest.

With Reina so far off his line, Sirieix could have shot, but he dithered and the window of opportunity was immediately locked shut by Liverpool's defenders.

Otherwise, Liverpool were scarcely troubled, their control strengthened by the industry of Mascherano and Sissoko. Early in the second half, Mascherano broke up a Toulouse move and charged forward, driving down the right flank and eventually winning a corner in front of an admiring Kop. Benayoun swung the ball over, and Hyypia headed powerfully in.

Liverpool finished in style. Kuyt exchanged passes with Ryan Babel and shot firmly home. Then Benayoun slipped the ball through the middle, and Kuyt lifted in his second. Anfield celebrated loudly, chanting "Toulouse, Toulouse'', a gesture of respect quickly reciprocated by the visiting contingent. Liverpool's thoughts now turn to another spot on the French footballing landscape - Monaco. Another European adventure is under way.

Match details

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Arbeloa, Hyypia, Agger, Riise; Benayoun, Mascherano, Momo Sissoko (Lucas, 67), Leto (Babel, 74); Crouch, Kuyt. Subs: Itandje (g), Finnan, Torres, Alonso, Pennant, Babel, Lucas. Toulouse (5-1-2-2): Douchez; Paulo Cesar, Fofana, Cetto, Ilunga, Mathieu; Dieuze; Sirieix, Emana (Fabinho, 76); Gignac (Bergougnoux, 54), Elmander. Subs: Riou (g), Jonsson, Mansare, Batlles, Moussa Sissoko. Referee: W Stark (Germany). Att: 43,118


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