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Sparta bow out as Kuyt rescues Liverpool

Liverpool FC 1-0 AC Sparta Praha (agg: 1-0)
Dirk Kuyt got his head to a Raul Meireles corner four minutes from time at Anfield as the injury-hit Reds staggered into the round of 16.

Dirk Kuyt celebrates scoring Liverpool's late winner against Sparta
Dirk Kuyt celebrates scoring Liverpool's late winner against Sparta ©Getty Images

Dirk Kuyt headed in with four minutes to go to send Liverpool FC through to the UEFA Europa League round of 16, with AC Sparta Praha failing to cause their hosts enough problems at Anfield.

Kuyt craned his neck to nod in Raul Meireles's corner as Liverpool finally found some penetration after 176 minutes without a goal in this tie, averting the unwanted prospect of extra time in the process.

With Steven Gerrard injured, the Reds hardly exploded into Kenny Dalglish's first European home game as the club's manager. Moments after lifting a shot over the bar, Sparta's Václav Kadlec got his head to Libor Sionko's cross following a slick move down the right. Pepe Reina's save was comfortable enough, but Liverpool looked distracted.

Chances came their way regardless. Jaromír Blažek scrambled Sotiris Kyrgiakos's downward header around his right-hand post, and Meireles speared over from Martin Kelly's cross as Liverpool broke quickly following a Sparta corner which Reina came for and missed. Later Blažek blocked a David Ngog shot, before warding Joe Cole off the loose ball.

Ngog received further indication that this was not his night after the break; he had the ball taken off his toes as he powered into the area and then miscued badly when Kuyt's pull-back from the left found him in space. Meireles clipped a cheeky ball through for the French striker with 15 minutes to go, but this time Blažek denied him, racing off his line to force the ball out of play.

The goalkeeper then smothered a Kuyt shot as thoughts turned to extra time, but the Dutchman did better when a Meireles corner found him in the shadow of Blažek's goal. Further missed chances from Ngog and Cole mattered not, and SC Braga await in the round of 16.

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