|Turning point: Inter Milan’s defender Marco Materazzi reacts after being sent off [AFP]|
Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard scored late goals to give the embattled club a 2-0 win over 10-man Inter Milan in the first leg of the second round of the Champions League.
The defending Italian champions were forced to play with a man down because Marco Materazzi after sent off in the 30th minute for twice attempting to drag Fernando Torres back on surging runs.
But it took until the 85th minute for Kuyt to break the deadlock for the five-time champions, latching onto substitute Jermaine Pennant’s cross, bringing the ball down with his chest and on the swivel slicing over Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Gerrard ensured the Reds will travel to Milan with a two-goal advantage in three weeks with another goal in the 90th.
The Liverpool captain split the Nerazzurri’s defence with a low shot inside the far post after Pennant dragged the ball back for him.
The loss damaged Inter’s hopes of marking its centenary by landing Europe’s elite competition for the first time since 1965.
For Liverpool, the victory handed manager Rafa Benitez a lifeline, with European glory seen as the last salvation amid his tortuous relationship with the club’s American owners.
“It is a great win, but we need to play another game, so we must be careful,” Benitez said.
“We have confidence, but we know Inter are a good team.”
Gerrard, Torres and Jose Reina returned to the starting lineup after being rested for Saturday’s FA Cup loss to Barnsley, a result that again focused the scrutiny on Benitez’s tactics.
The Kop roared defiant chants backing the struggling Spaniard and the support was reflected with a high tempo start on the field.
“Rafa, the team, the fans, the people upstairs, everyone at the club, it was a big win for everyone,” Gerrard said.
“We’re not going to get carried away. They were playing for 0-0 so it was important that we were patient.”
Blunt attack from Inter
The visitors, topping Serie A by 11 points after two straight league titles, looked a shadow of its dangerous domestic force once it was reduced to 10 men.
Materazzi, the only Italian starting for Inter, received his first booking in the 12th after clipping Torres as he raced onto Gerrard’s ball.
With his frustration boiling over at being unable to contain the fleet footed Torres, the 34-year-old defender was shown a second yellow card after he made contact with the Spain striker back by his shoulder in the 30th as he raced toward goal.
However, the former Atletico Madrid striker needed little encouragement to hit the ground after either tussle.
The perennial criticism Benitez has levelled at his players is the inability to convert chances into goals, and that cutting edge in the final third was still lacking after the break after the Italians looked comfortable in the first half.
Gerrard twice had shots blocked and Hyypia reduced to a long-range effort in the 52nd.
Torres raced forward in the 58th and was denied by the diving Cesar’s fingertips.
A minute later, Kuyt whipped a cross with too much power for Hyypia to direct a downward header.
Torres then sent in a low shot that crept wide of the post in the 64th.
But the goals finally came and Inter Milan now have a mountain to climb should they wish to remain in the competition.
|Chelsea’s Avram Grant will take the slightest
advantage back from Greece [AFP]
Chelsea and Olympiakos go goalless
Meanwhile, Olympiakos held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw in the first leg encounter.
The two teams produced few chances at Karaiskakis stadium, where Olympiakos played its first knockout match in Europe’s top club competition in nine years.
Chelsea manager Avram Grant kept captain John Terry on the bench, while Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard made late substitutions.
“We played a very tough team and we got a good result,” Olympiakos defender Tassos Pantos said.
“We’ll do everything we can for the second game in London. Those games are always special, so we’ll see what happens.”
The hosts nearly took the lead in the 30th minute when Vassilis Torosidis failed to connect with a header into the goalmouth from Ieroklis Stoltidis.
Predrag Djordjevic also had a shot on target in the 57th, but it was blocked by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Chelsea’s best chance came in the 71st minute with a well-placed shot from Florent Malouda grazing the bar.
Substitute Salomon Kalou could have snatched an injury time winner for the Londoners, but he failed to control the ball before Olympiakos goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis pounced on a loose ball.