Liverpool FC supplied the win they needed as a minimum requirement in Budapest, but their evening ended in misery as victory for ACF Fiorentina against Olympique Lyonnais knocked the Merseyside club out of the UEFA Champions League at the first hurdle.
The five-time European champions were too strong for Debreceni VSC en route to recording their second Group E success, both against the Hungarian titleholders, but the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 now beckons after Fiorentina overcame Lyon 1-0 to advance with their French opponents. Liverpool's disappointment is sure to be acute, though the damage was done before tonight's contest, which could hardly have started better for Rafael Benítez's men when David Ngog struck the only goal of the game from point-blank range after four minutes.
Missing the injured Fernando Torres for this must-win occasion, Liverpool's travelling supporters were asked to put faith in lone forward Ngog. The 20-year-old Frenchman does not enjoy the rarefied reputation of his Spanish colleague, yet it was he who settled any early nerves, leaping to flick past Vukašin Poleksić after Jamie Carragher had headed back across goal following a short corner. It was the third time in three home matches that Debrecen had conceded inside the first six minutes and they almost fell further behind when Dirk Kuyt plunged in vain to meet a Steven Gerrard cross.
The visitors' monopoly on possession should perhaps have sparked a second goal, as Ngog fired straight at Poleksić following some bustling work from Kuyt. Finally, with 33 minutes gone, András Herczeg's team had a glimpse of their own at the target, but the promising Gergely Rudolf nodded wide and normal service was resumed when Ngog forced Poleksić to save impressively with a curling effort.
The news from Florence must have been dispiriting to Liverpool ears at the interval, yet they quickly settled back into their pattern of domination after the restart. Tangible chances proved harder to come by, however, though fit-again defender Norbert Mészáros had to be quick to block a Gerrard attempt and Poleksić then saved low down from the Reds' captain after his colleagues had worked the ball around from the ensuing corner.
Lucas was next to try his luck with a glancing header too fine to find the net from Kuyt's cross, before a foraging Daniel Agger run allowed Gerrard to let fly a defiant strike from distance that fizzed over. Debrecen were certainly faring no better, despite the introduction of the lively Adamo Coulibaly, but any conviction looked to be slowly seeping out of the Premier League outfit, with the knowledge that this comfortable display could ultimately count for nothing.
They even began ceding opportunities in the closing minutes as both Coulibaly and Rudolf tested Pepe Reina, the duo seeking to post Debrecen's first point of the section. They will have one last chance away to Lyon on 9 December, when Liverpool will aim to exit the competition on a high at home against Fiorentina.