Liverpool crash out of Champions League

Five-time champions Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage on Tuesday as a 1-0 win for Group E rivals Fiorentina against Lyon took the Italians into the knockout phase.

Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Hungarian minnows Debrecen was only good enough to ensure a place in the knockout stage of the Europa League.

Premier League rivals Arsenal, by contrast, eased into the knockout stage when they beat Standard Liege 2-0 to finish top of Group H.

Champions Barcelona can also be more upbeat about defending their title.

They had faced a risk of elimination but first newly crowned Russian champions Rubin Kazan could only draw 0-0 at home to Dynamo Kiev and then the Catalan giants put on a grand display to beat Inter Milan 2-0.

Barca now lead Group F on eight points, two clear of Inter and Rubin, who play each other in Milan in a fortnight.

At least Liverpool have the consolation of the Europa League, whereas Scottish football plumbed new depths as Rangers lost 2-0 at home to Stuttgart in Group G.

That result, combined with Unirea Urziceni’s 1-0 victory over Sevilla in Romania, left Walter Smith’s men without any hope of reaching the second-tier European competition.

Liverpool got the start they needed when they took an early lead through David Ngog but were unable to make much of an impression after the news filtered through that Fiorentina had taken the lead via a Juan Vargas penalty.

It was no more than Fiorentina deserved, having twice hit the woodwork against a Lyon side that could not be described as under-strength.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez refused to be downbeat about his side’s worrying form but with just two wins in their last 11 matches he will need a quick turnaround in their fortunes to help ease the pressure.

“When you are in the Champions League five years in a row and you haven’t qualified, it’s part of the game,” said Benitez.

“Now we have to do well, win [the last group game] against Fiorentina and see what happens in the Premier League. I’m 100 percent sure we’ll finish in the top four.”

Barcelona—whose shamed French star Thierry Henry made his 100th appearance for the club—got off to a dream start by taking the lead through Gerard Pique and added a second as youth academy graduate Pedro shot home.

Inter coach Jose Mourinho was for once generous in defeat.

“Barcelona were the only team that played and they played very well,” said Mourinho, who used to work as a translator for the late Sir Bobby Robson at the Catalan club.

“They were far superior and we can’t have any complaints about the victory.”

Arsenal took the lead through Frenchman Samir Nasri in the first half and added a second through a stunning long-range effort by Denilson shortly before the half-time break.

“It’s really good for the team [to qualify] because we still have a game to go and we can relax a little and give some rest to some players, and make sure that some of the players who don’t play too much can get a game,” said the Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas.

Rangers’ hopes of salvaging something looked to be dead in the water early on as a much more vibrant Stuttgart side took an early lead through Sebastian Rudy.

The German side—who are struggling in their domestic league—wrapped it up early in the second-half as Rudy turned provider, setting up Zdravko Kuzmanovic to head home and end Rangers’ European campaign.

Rangers manager Smith, who has become increasingly frustrated in the past few weeks over what he sees as the banks controlling his side’s pursestrings, conceded that losing all three home matches had done for his team.

“That has been our biggest problem over the three home matches we’ve had, considering the fact we’ve taken points and looked comfortable away,” Smith said. “We have never looked that way at home.”—AFP

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Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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