Harry Kewell's headed goal gave the 2000/01 UEFA Cup winners a place in this season's third round as FC Steaua Bucuresti were made to pay for missing early opportunities.
The winning strike, after the teams had drawn 1-1 in Bucharest, came in the 49th minute and followed an appeal for a penalty at the other end. Steven Gerrard, whose all-action performance showed how much he craves success for his hometown club, crossed superbly and the Australian international headed into the turf and up into the net.
Comfortable on the ball
It was never easy for Liverpool and they had to work hard to limit the scope of the visitors – the unbeaten league leaders in Romania – who all over the pitch had players comfortable in possession.
An early scare for Liverpool came in the third minute as Claudiu Raducanu, who scored in the first leg and also in both games as Steaua eliminated another English side, Southampton FC, in the first round, was played onside. He only had Chris Kirkland to beat but lifted his shot on to the roof of the net as the goalkeeper advanced.
Sinama Pongolle shines
Liverpool dominated possession and in Florent Sinama Pongolle, the young Frenchman who was preferred to Emile Heskey, they had a player alongside Michael Owen with the pace to unsettle the Steaua defence. And with Dietmar Hamann making his comeback in the midfield holding role after a seven-month absence, Liverpool had the means to starve the visitors of space around the penalty area. Crucially Hamann's return also enabled Gerrard to push further forward and his influence was telling.
A couple of early shots from the England midfield player registered his eagerness to score. He made the goal and after that nearly set up other strikes for Sinama Pongolle and Owen, who was brought off near the end complaining of a tight calf muscle.
Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier said Owen's problem was not a concern and added that his team were deserving winners overall. "It's important for us to keep the European experience going," he said. "Steaua passed the ball really well and we knew it would be difficult to break them down. It is a good omen for us because the last time we beat a Bucharest team we went on to win the final."
The conditions were a vivid contrast to the saturated pitch in the Romanian capital and the smooth Anfield surface clearly suited the Romanians' high technical levels. Their penchant for knocking long balls from defence to attack was a worry for the home team.
From one such move in the 17th minute Marian Aliuta gave Kirkland another scare but, shooting on the diagonal, his low drive skidded beyond the far post. Liverpool had also failed to take early chances with Owen heading over and Gerrard, reversing the move that led to the decisive strike, directing a header from Kewell's pinpoint centre straight at Vasili Khomutovski.
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