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Dirk Kuyt ensured Liverpool FC made a winning, if low-key, start to their Group E campaign, the Dutchman's goal in first-half stoppage time securing a narrow victory against UEFA Champions League newcomers Debreceni VSC.
Kuyt's close-range finish was reward for an opening 45 minutes where Liverpool peppered the Debrecen goal with shots. But the home side failed to build on their advantage and while Liverpool emerged with the points, Andras Herczeg's tournament debutants will return home with confidence intact after a creditable display that earned generous applause from the home crowd.
Containment the aim
As Hungary's first UEFA Champions League participants in 14 years, Debrecen could be forgiven for their seemingly nervous start. They may have arrived at Anfield on an eight-game winning run but they set out to contain, dropping ten men behind the ball when Liverpool had possession with Adamo Coulibaly alone up front. Yet they did not help themselves by giving the ball away cheaply during the early stages, inviting pressure.
For all Liverpool's probing it was Ádám Komlósi's failure to clear that let in Albert Riera for the first chance of note but the Spaniard dragged his shot wide, the first in a sequence of near misses by the winger. After firing past the far post when released by Steven Gerrard he went closer still soon afterwards, only for goalkeeper Vukašin Poleksić to get a hand to his low shot. Kuyt, first to the follow-up, was unable to beat defender Norbert Mészáros on the goalline.
Debrecen almost gave their 2,000 travelling followers something to celebrate on the half-hour when Martin Škrtel's clearance fell to Péter Czvitkovics and the midfielder returned the ball with interest, his rising drive bringing a fingertip save out of Pepe Reina. Buoyed by that near thing, Czvitkovics then attempted an ambitious volley from Luis Ramos's far-post cross but the ball flew wide.
Liverpool soon regained control and, if not at their fluent best, their pressure finally told on the stroke of half-time. After Riera had driven a shot into Poleksić's body and his cross had been dragged wide by Gerrard, it fell to Kuyt, a lively presence, to score. Fernando Torres tried his luck from the edge of the box and when Poleksić could only parry his effort the Duchman steered the loose ball into the corner.
If not as dominant as a subdued Kop might have wanted, Liverpool pushed for more goals in the second period. Gerrard almost added a second when he skimmed the roof of the net with a spectacular volley. Yossi Benayoun then drew deserved plaudits with a jinking run past four white shirts and low shot that Poleksić turned behind at the near post.
Debrecen began to scent the opportunity of an equaliser, notably when Leandro slipped a pass beyond the home defence for Coulibaly. The French striker lifted the ball over Reina but not towards goal and Carragher headed clear, before László Bodnár had a shot deflected wide from the ensuing corner. At the other end Benayoun and substitute Ryan Babel both threatened but a solitary goal proved enough for Liverpool on a night where the points, not performance, mattered most.
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