A hat-trick from Michael Owen helped Liverpool FC gain an important 3-1 victory over FC Spartak Moskva and eliminated the Russian side from this season's UEFA Champions League.
The English Premiership leaders had to recover from a goal down after Aleksandr Danishevski had smashed the Russian side ahead midway through the first half. But Owen's quick equaliser was followed by two close-range strikes after half-time to strengthen the visitors' position in Group B and put qualification for the second stage beyond their hosts.
Spartak coach Oleg Romantsev made four changes to the side beaten 5-0 when the sides met at Anfield three weeks ago, notably bringing back Artem Bezrodny to the starting lineup. His trickery on the Spartak left coupled with Aleksandr Pavlenko's width on the opposite flank made for a stretched game and Liverpool struggled to find their feet in the opening quarter.
Captain goes close
Missing the influential duo of Stéphane Henchoz and Steven Gerrard, Gérard Houllier's side were unable to establish an early rhythm and it was the hosts who created the game's first real opportunity. Captain Vladimir Beschastnykh, at the hub of everything in a spirited Spartak midfield, carried the ball forward and beat two players before firing a low drive which zipped across the turf but just wide of Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek's left-hand post.
At the other end, Czech Republic striker Milan Baroš had two good chances to break the deadlock. The 21-year-old first latched on to Danny Murphy's corner but failed to force the ball past Spartak keeper Maxym Levitzky. A minute later Baroš had far more time and space, but cracked a right-foot effort wide.
Liverpool's frustration turned to despair two minutes later when Pavlenko found Danishevski with a neat infield pass and the striker had time to take a touch before unleashing a ferocious eleven-metre effort high past Dudek into the Liverpool net for Spartak's first goal in this season's competition.
But only six more minutes had elapsed when, after John Arne Riise stretched to intercept Beschastnykh's dangerous pass forward, Liverpool turned defence into attack and found an equaliser. The Norwegian worked the ball out wide - eventually finding Jamie Carragher - and the right-back delivered a terrific cross which Owen rose to head downwards past Levitsky.
Six minutes into the second half it seemed Liverpool would take the lead as Owen raced into the area, kept his feet under pressure from two Spartak defenders and shaped to shoot 13 metres out, but a terrific sliding tackle from Valeri Abramidze denied the 22-year-old.
Dudek came to Liverpool's rescue midway through the second period, making a wonderful near-post save from Danishevski, whose first-time volley from Pavlenko's right-wing cross had seemed destined for the back of the net. But with 20 minutes remaining, Liverpool took the lead. Sami Hyypiä crashed a header against the bar from Murphy's free-kick and the ball fell to Owen, who stabbed the ball over the line with his left foot from close range.
Owen's hat-trick was sealed during four minutes of added time when, with Spartak pressing in search of an equaliser, Murphy found room in the area on the counterattack and his square ball was tapped in by the England striker.
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