Alberto Gilardino struck in injury time to ensure ACF Fiorentina advanced to the UEFA Champions League first knockout round as Group E winners with a 2-1 comeback victory at eliminated Liverpool FC.
Trailing to Yossi Benayoun's first-half header, the Viola drew level through Martin Jørgensen before Gilardino snatched victory in dramatic fashion when he turned in Juan Vargas's low cross in the final seconds at a rain-sodden Anfield. If a second successive home defeat – an unwanted first in Europe for Liverpool – marked a sorry end to the hosts' UEFA Champions League campaign, for Fiorentina the fairy tale goes on, this fifth consecutive victory ensuring they will fear nobody in the last 16.
Fiorentina entered the contest looking to make sure of top spot in the group and they were almost presented with an early goal by Daniel Agger's under-hit back pass. Mario Santana reacted sharply but Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri – making his first UEFA Champions League appearance of the season in place of Pepe Reina – got there first. After Jørgensen had blazed wildly over from the edge of the box, the Viola twice came close to a breakthrough. Lorenzo De Silvestri, one of several fringe players featuring for the injury-hit visitors, powered in a header from a Jørgensen corner that Cavalieri tipped over, the Brazilian then getting down low to turn away Riccardo Montolivo's volley from Jørgensen's next delivery.
In truth with Liverpool's fate – their first group-stage elimination under Rafael Benítez – already sealed, the match unfolded at a slow tempo. Anfield got its first sight of Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani starting in Liverpool red, four months after his arrival from AS Roma, yet it was their usual inspiration, Steven Gerrard, who set up Benayoun's opening goal two minutes before the break. Gerrard, presented before kick-off with a memento of his recent 500th appearance, swung in a free-kick from the right which Benayoun met at the near post with a glancing header that Sébastien Frey got a hand to but could not stop going in off the far upright.
Scenting a morale-boosting victory, Liverpool found another gear in the second half and Gerrard almost teed up a second with another wickedly delivered free-kick only for Agger to mistime his attempted diving header. Instead, Fiorentina drew level in the 63rd minute through Jørgensen. Gianluca Comotto slipped the ball forward to Gilardino on the edge of Liverpool's area and the striker laid it off to the left where the Viola skipper let fly with a first-time effort. Liverpool sought a response and after Gerrard had shot into the side-netting, 18-year-old debutant Jaime Pacheco – replacing Aquilani – drew a low save from Frey from the edge of the box.
Instead, with the rain pouring down, the Viola grabbed victory as Gilardino buried the ball past Cavalieri to send the visiting supporters into raptures. For Liverpool it was a case of what might have been. If games lasted 89 minutes they would be through – yet the UEFA Europa League now awaits a team already stung twice previously in added time by Olympique Lyonnais.