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22 Feb 2007 10:30
Only a few days ago, Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise were battling each other in a training-camp fracas, but the pair joined forces to give Liverpool a memorable 2-1 win at Barcelona on Wednesday.
One goal from each man made Liverpool the overwhelming favourites to progress to this season’s Champions League quarterfinals.
The two teams will meet again at Anfield on March 6 in the second leg of the last-16 encounter between the past two Champions League winners.
Barcelona—whose only previous home loss to English opposition had also been to Liverpool in 1976—started strongly and put the pressure on the visitors from the outset.
Deco opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a glancing header to the bottom corner of the goal, just edging past the outstretched arms of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
The Portuguese international’s second goal in the Champions League this season came after some outstanding work by Gianluca Zambrotta down the left flank
The Italian 2006 World Cup winner outpaced the static Liverpool defenders before sending over an exquisite left-foot cross for Deco to latch on to from just beyond the six-yard box.
Javier Saviola and Deco both had good chances to put Barca further ahead in the next three minutes as Liverpool struggled to get off the ropes after the early blow, but the men from Merseyside gradually recovered their composure.
Bellamy, who was a surprise starter after his bust-up with Riise, went close to equalising after 39 minutes. The fiery Welsh left wing found the space to have a decent header on goal from a Steven Gerrard free kick, although the ball went into the side netting.
However, he made no mistake three minutes later with a superb diving header from a Steve Finnan pass, having been left unmarked by the Barcelona defence once again.
Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes stopped the ball, although Dirk Kuyt hammered it home to make sure Liverpool were back on level terms, but Greek referee Kyros Vassaras judged that it had crossed the line and Bellamy got the credit.
Bellamy then made light of all the lurid reports of his recent behaviour by celebrating with a golf swing, a deliberately ironic and questionable gesture in light of the fact that he apparently assaulted Riise with a golf club.
Liverpool left the field at half-time with a more noticeable spring in their stride than they had 45 minutes earlier.
The second half saw them much more organised at the rear, often operating with a six-man defence with their back four helped by midfielders Xabi Alonso and Mohamed Sissoko.
Barcelona looked increasingly impotent against such conservative but effective tactics, much to the frustration of their 93 000 spectators compared with just 5 000 increasing vocal Liverpool fans in the Nou Camp.
The Reds had a great chance to take the lead after 67 minutes when Valdes handled a back pass from Ludovic Giuly, but Steven Gerrard’s free kick from inside the area wasn’t cleanly struck and Barca rode their luck.
The respite didn’t last long. Sensing that Barca were struggling at the back, Liverpool made further forays forward and Riise bagged their second goal after 74 minutes.
The Norwegian defender fired home after Kuyt had his close-range effort only partially blocked by Valdes and Rafa Marquez failed to clear the loose ball.
The defeat was Barcelona’s first in their Nou Camp stadium in any competition this season and their first in the Champions League since April 2003.—Sapa-AFP
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