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Off-colour Liverpool hold on for point

Off-colour Liverpool hold on for point

By Tim Rich in Oporto
Last Updated: 2:12am BST 19/09/2007

Porto (1) 1 Liverpool (1) 1

In a city where the Cockburn's warehouses stand on the wharves by the River Douro, this was almost a monumental cock-up by a club supposedly equipped to win the Premier League and the Champions League.

As Rafael Benitez stood by the touchline where his great enemy, Jose Mourinho, had plotted Porto's drive to the European Cup, the Liverpool manager could take one great positive back to Merseyside.

Off-colour Liverpool hold on for point
Over the top: Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant was needlessly sent off

However poorly his side had played, and in patches they were dreadful, Liverpool had collected a point they would probably have taken before kick-off and would have grabbed greedily when Jermaine Pennant was dismissed for a tearaway tackle that was almost closer to the advertising hoardings than it was to the pitch.

Usually Benitez defends his players, but not on a night when he was reduced to 10 men for more than half an hour. "Any point you win with 10 players is a good one," he reflected. "The sending-off was right. Maybe Jermaine will learn from it. He did not need to make the challenge and before the game we were talking about staying on your feet, so it was difficult to understand."

Nothing Benitez said in the dressing-room before kick-off would have prepared him for the opening quarter of an hour. As they struggled to maintain even the basics of possession and control, they appeared something they have never been under either Benitez or Gerard Houllier. Liverpool were actively incompetent.

Dirk Kuyt, whose goal temporarily restored some balance to the match, did not attempt to shelter behind banalities. "It was not good out there," he remarked. "We simply did not play well, especially in the first half when we had problems with our passing. We just could not pass the ball to each other or even string three or four passes together. But at least we got a draw from our toughest game in the group."

Even though Jose Reina gave away a penalty as early as the eighth minute, Porto might already have been two goals up. A succession of dreadful attempts by Liverpool to clear their lines presented first Lisandro Lopez and then Ricardo Quaresma with glaring opportunities. The first struck Reina on the shoulder while the second was driven in the vague direction of the Liverpool supporters, who half-filled their section of the stands.

An injury to Xabi Alonso had caused Benitez to reorganise his midfield, but resting Daniel Agger in favour of Sami Hyypia ensured the heart of Liverpool's defence was critically short of pace. And this was to be horribly exposed before the match had time to settle.

Bob Willis was once cruelly likened to a wounded camel when running after a cricket ball, and there was something painful about the way one of Liverpool's great servants, who will celebrate his 34th birthday next month, attempted to pursue Tarik Sektioui as he ran on to Lucho Gonzalez's pass.

Hyypia's difficulties committed Reina; there was contact between goalkeeper and forward and, despite the flamboyant dive, Liverpool had conceded their fourth penalty of a still-young season. At Portsmouth last Saturday, Reina had saved from Kanu; three days later in another of Europe's great seaports, he was comprehensively beaten.

Against a side that had begun their defence of the Portuguese title with a string of victories, Liverpool, dithering like a maiden aunt on being offered a second walnut slice, might have been routed. Instead, Hyypia, who was later to clear off the line from Lopez, gained a stiff measure of redemption as Liverpool forced almost their only serious attempt on goal, nodding Steve Finnan's free-kick across the Porto area for Kuyt to head home.

As a goal, it was very similar to the one the Dutchman had scored in the final game of Liverpool's last European campaign, which ended in the barren despair of Athens. This may be the toughest encounter Liverpool will face in Group A and it is early days but, deep in this soft Portuguese night, another final seemed far away.


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