Liverpool FC 1-0 Bayer 04 Leverkusen
A Sami Hyypiä goal late in the first half was enough to see Liverpool FC take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The Liverpool captain struck after 44 minutes, just as it seemed that the home side might be entirely overwhelmed by some resolute play by Leverkusen in midfield. John Arne Riise's corner from the right-hand side found Michael Owen at the far post, the England striker controlled it, swivelled and drilled the ball back across the face of goal for Hyypiä to stab home from close range. It was a harsh piece of luck for Leverkusen whose attempts to stifle Liverpool's powerful midfield players in the first half looked to have worked.
With five men in midfield, Leverkusen denied their opponents any space as they aimed to weave the ball through for Owen and Emile Heskey. Until Hyypiä scored, it looked as though all that Liverpool would have to show for their efforts at half-time would be Heskey's off-balance attempt on goal after ten minutes. The powerful English international did well to turn defender Carsten Ramelow but his shot went just wide of Hans-Jörg Butt's left-hand post.
With that seemed to go any hope of Liverpool opening the scoring as Leverkusen regained their composure and dictated the pace of the game. They rarely conceded possession and, as the half drew on, began to build in confidence going forward. Liverpool's goal was something of a sucker punch - though Leverkusen should have taken a warning after Vladimír Šmicer headed wide from Steven Gerrard's cross two minutes earlier - but it did little to dampen the visitors' enthusiasm.
Relief at full time
In the second period, Leverkusen gradually again took control of the game, and when the full-time whistle blew, it was an enormous relief for Liverpool who had been defending further and further inside their own half as the match went on. Liverpool continued to threaten on the break but the nearest they got to adding to their tally after the break was when Riise's overhead kick from a Šmicer corner was pawed wide by Butt.
However, for all of their pressure, Liverpool's determined defending repeatedly denied Leverkusen shooting practice and the 1. Bundesliga's joint-leading scorer, Michael Ballack, twice showed his frustration by launching long-range drives which went well over Jerzy Dudek's crossbar.
Ballack shoots wide
Ballack, German football's finest talent, came closest to finding an equaliser for his side after 67 minutes following superb work on the left flank by Yildiray Bastürk and Zé Roberto. The latter darted a ball across the penalty area for the unmarked Ballack but, with the goal gaping, the midfield player jabbed his shot wide of Dudek's left-hand post.
A constant threat
From then on, Leverkusen continued to throw everything they had at Liverpool. With the introduction of wily substitute Ulf Kirsten they seemed to be forever one killer pass away from an equaliser. However, it never quite turned out that way and Liverpool will travel to the BayArena on Tuesday holding a slender one-goal lead in the tie. Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller will need to do more thinking if he is to undo the Champions League's meanest defence.