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Mark González had been on the field for no more than two minutes when he announced his arrival as a Liverpool FC player in the best possible way, scoring the Reds' late winner in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League third round qualifying tie against Maccabi Haifa FC.
Up to the Chilean's 88th-minute strike, the Israeli champions had looked poised to earn a draw following a confident display in the backyard of the five-times winners. Not only did Maccabi frustrate Liverpool for long spells, they also stunned the Anfield crowd by taking the lead through the nippy Brazilian Gustavo Boccoli just before the half-hour mark.
Israeli football's players' player of the year ran from inside his own half and exchanged passes with Roberto Colautt before finishing coolly in the corner past the on-rushing Pepe Reina. Liverpool were back on level terms within four minutes, however, as Mohamed Sissoko's strike was parried by Nir Davidovich and another debutant, Craig Bellamy, reacted quickest to sweep the rebound into the roof of the net.
The home side had approached the match anxious to put the record straight after three consecutive friendly defeats, but with the rain falling heavily on Merseyside, Rafael Benítez's team were forced to wait as referee Wolfgang Stark delayed the kick-off for ten minutes due to crowd congestion outside the ground.
Gerrard pushed forward
Liverpool lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Steven Gerrard pushed forward into an advanced role supporting Bellamy, and Boudewijn Zenden and Jermaine Pennant tasked with providing the ammunition from the flanks. Other than Bellamy's strike, however, a powerful John Arne Riise drive that flew comfortably wide was the best of their first-half efforts.
For Maccabi, the lively Congolese, Alain Masudi, caught the eye on the right flank while Brazilian midfielders Dirceu Xavir, Xavier Anderson and Boccoli displayed no lack of creativity. Indeed even after the introduction of Luis García and Peter Crouch in the Liverpool attack, the visitors looked threatening as the clock ticked down. Roberto Colautti's header across goal missed by a whisker, with Reina credited for a fingertip save. As it was the winner arrived at the other end but Maccabi retain reason for optimism ahead of the second leg at a neutral venue on 23 August.
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