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A goal in each half from captain Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool FC victory in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first leg at Austrian champions Grazer AK on Tuesday night.
The England midfield player produced two powerful, well-placed strikes at the Arnold Schwarzenegger stadium in Graz, first breaking the deadlock in the 22rd minute and then adding the second with eleven minutes left to play to give the English side an important two-goal cushion for the home match.
New Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez opted to leave England striker Michael Owen on the substitutes' bench, amid rumours of a possible move away from Anfield. Instead, Czech Republic striker Milan Baroš – the top scorer at UEFA EURO 2004™ with five goals – and French forward Djibril Cissé, a summer signing from AJ Auxerre, started and they looked lively early on as the visitors began the better and threatened to take the lead in the opening moments.
GAK gradually worked their way back into the match and Roland Kollmann had a golden opportunity to give the home side an unexpected advantage in the 19th minute only to shoot wide from a promising position.
Four minutes later, Liverpool went in front. Australian forward Harry Kewell was the orchestrator of the move, knocking the ball back for Dietmar Hamann and the German midfield player in turn moved it into the path of Gerrard to unleash a sweet drive into the top corner from outside the penalty area, giving goalkeeper Andreas Schranz no chance.
Baroš and Cissé then wasted good chances to double Liverpool's lead, but the English side kept up the pressure in the second half as GAK lost momentum. Gerrard had another scorching shot into the net disallowed but scored his and Liverpool's second of the night on 78 minutes with another powerful strike into the far corner. Benítez's team, who have won the European Champion Clubs' Cup four times, can be confident of reaching the group stage ahead of the return leg at Anfield on 24 August.