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Liverpool FC saved themselves from a shock defeat in Slovenia when a Michael Owen header, a record-breaking goal for the England international, earned a 1-1 draw in their UEFA Cup first round first-leg tie against NK Olimpija Ljubljana.
Owen on 21
The 78th-minute strike lifted Owen's tally of European goals for Liverpool to 21, one more than the mark set by Ian Rush. Although it has taken the 23-year-old 45 games to reach that figure (Rush managed 20 in 38 games), remarkably 16 of his 21 goals have come in away ties.
Liverpool well placed
It was not a true connection by the prolific striker, who cancelled out Anton Zlogar's 66th-minute lead for Olimpija. The ball appeared to come off Owen's shoulder - but nobody in the Liverpool party would raise a quibble about that as it left them well placed to make progress in a competition they have always enjoyed.
Le Tallec debut
Nor was it the greatest of performances for Liverpool, who made three changes and gave a full debut to 18-year-old Anthony Le Tallec in midfield. With the Slovenian team happy to conserve their adventure and wait for their moments to attack, it did not make for the best of games.
For a long time it looked as though the Olimpija goalkeeper Borut Mavric would emerge as the night's hero figure. One stop, diving to his left when initially he was going the other way to meet Harry Kewell's free-kick, took the breath away. Also in his repertoire was an eye-catching plunge to foil Igor Bišcan's header from a corner while Steven Gerrard was similarly frustrated when shooting low and towards the far corner.
Gerrard started on the bench but was called into the fray with only 14 minutes elapsed as Danny Murphy hobbled off. However, it was Liverpool's opponents who suffered most, three players forced out of the contest before the interval with central defender Enes Handanagic receiving a nasty cut above the eye after an accidental collision with Sami Hyypiä.
The number of replacements disrupted Olimpija and only in fits and starts were they were able to seriously trouble Jerzy Dudek. One such occasion came in the 48th minute when Zlogar shot on the volley and the goalkeeper was forced into a stretching save. In the 66th minute, after Nedim Jusufbeaovic had shot against the upright, Zlogar was able to take advantage and Olimpija celebrated taking the lead.
Mostly it was Liverpool, three times winners of the UEFA Cup and bidding to make it a historic four this season, who did the pressing - though manager Gérard Houllier would not have been too pleased with the lack of quality in the final third of the field. Their finishing also left much to be desired, Emile Heskey proving wayward with a good heading opportunity five minutes before Owen nodded in a cross from the right.
Olimpija coach Suad Beširovic was pleased with the application of his side, whose effort did not relent throughout. "I told the guys to play hard," he said. "They did just that so we succeeded."
Houllier said: "I have to congratulate Olimpija. They raised their game, showed their fighting spirit and deserved the draw."
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