Thursday, March 17, 2011

Liverpool 0-0 Braga (Braga win 1-0 on aggregate) - Carroll's full-debut best forgotten about.

Liverpool's hopes of silverware in the 2010/11 season came to an end on Thursday evening, as a goalless draw with Braga at Anfield sent the Reds crashing out of Europe at the 'Round of Sixteen' stage.

Kenny Dalglish's side were unable to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit, and must therefore finish in one of the top five Premier League places in order to qualify for continental competition, next season.

It should have been an evening to remember, what with principal owner John Henry witnessing Jose Manuel Reina's 300th appearance as a Liverpool player, coupled in with the full debut of £35 million acquisition Andy Carroll, who was deemed fit to start for the first time since his arrival in the January transfer window.

The recently instated number nine's (thought he had to wear '29' in this match, due to UEFA regulations) first opportunity to show his new supporters what he can conjur up came in the eighth minute, as his towering header made its way through to Joe Cole, who found the angle too narrow to force the ball past goalkeeper Artur. From the loose ball, Carroll attempted to steal his first Liverpool goal, but saw his shot deflected wide.

The Portuguese outfit found it difficult to settle down in the opening stages of the game, but enjoyed the better of the chances in the first half, with Alan, who scored in the first leg, and Lima both coming close to handing Domingos Paciência's side a crucial away goal.

Over the course of the game, Liverpool had several shouts for a penalty denied, with claims of a handball and a foul on midfielder Lucas Leiva being waved away by the officials.

The final chance of a somewhat underwhelming first half again fell to Carroll, though it was always going to be difficult for him to inject enough power into the Maxi Rodriguez left-sided cross.

The Reds' territorial advantage continued in the second period, as a Rodriguez volley and a looping header from Raul Meireles saw Liverpool come close to levelling the tie before the hour mark, but the frustration was beginning to creep in as the score remained goalless.

Dalglish made changes, with Joe Cole and Maxi making way for the Wirral-born Jay Spearing and the rarely used David Ngog. This did breathe life into the hosts once more, with the young Frenchman forcing a tidy save from Artur almost immediately.

With the clock slowly but surely ticking towards elimination for Liverpool, a Martin Skrtel scissor kick was denied by Artur, as the Braga goalkeeper flung himself at the ball to keep the home side out.

There was then further agony in the final few minutes of the match, as an unmarked Ngog appeared inches away from saving his side; but the match concluded with the joyous visitors progressing, and hopes and dreams of another European final for Liverpool being put to bed (for another season, at least).

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