Belfast Telegraph

In Pictures: late Lille curler spells agony for Liverpool

Lille 1 Liverpool 0

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has insisted his side can still progress in the Europa League despite a 1-0 defeat in their last 16 first leg against Lille.

Winger Eden Hazard curled an 85th-minute free-kick over the Liverpool defence and past a static Jose Reina inside the far post just when it seemed the visitors had weathered the storm.

But it could have been far worse had substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's shot not hit the post and gone wide late on.

Benitez had called for his players to show Monday's defeat to Wigan had been an aberration and he felt they had done that.

“It was an improvement from the last game. The players' reaction has been very positive,” said the Spaniard.

“I am disappointed with the result but really pleased with the effort of the players. They were fantastic today. It was against a good team on a difficult pitch. The reaction has been good.

“I think Lille started really well. We knew they had pace — you can watch videos but until you see them on the pitch you don't see the pace they have.

“It was difficult to stop them but little by little we had more control.

“When we had that control and were going forward we conceded the goal.”

Despite conceding plenty of possession to their opponents Liverpool could easily have been 2-0 up at half-time had Ryan Babel not shot too close to goalkeeper Mickael Landreau, who also brilliantly saved Fernando Torres' close-range header.

Benitez admitted that those missed opportunities cost them and could have put a completely different perspective on the match.

“When you play away you have to score when you have chances. To score an early goal you can manage the game but we worked hard today. To have two or three chances to score and then concede a [goal to a] free-kick...we have to be positive.

“It is clear, particularly in this competition, you have to score away because it is an advantage.

“We were just not strong enough today but there is still 90 minutes to play. I am confident we can beat anyone at Anfield on our day with the fans behind us.

“In every top side, especially when you are not having a good season, every game is important.

“We have to be ready for Monday's Premier League match against Portsmouth and to win and then be ready for 90 minutes in the Europa League.”

The visitors appeared to have survived a testing examination by Les Dogues only for Hazard, who had been a threat all night, to curl in an 85th-minute free-kick.

However, the scoreline was no real surprise as The Mastiffs, as Lille are known, had scored in 20 of their previous 21 games at the Lille Metropole.

Their impressive record has seen them lose just once at home in Ligue 1 since the opening day of the season on August 9, with only one defeat in 17 home European fixtures.

For Liverpool — unbeaten in France since a 1-0 Champions League defeat to Monaco in November 2004 — it was the worst possible result coming so soon on the back of a woeful performance at Wigan on Monday.

Their difficult task was outlined to them in the first minute as Lille came out in no mood to admire their more illustrious opponents as Yohan Cabaye forced Jose Reina into a save within 38 seconds.

And that led onto more pressure from the hosts, with Hazard in particular causing problems.

But bizarrely, Liverpool had the best two chances of the first half.

Babel should have given the visitors the lead in the 26th minute after a neat exchange with Torres but shot too close to Landreau and the goalkeeper deflected the effort with his legs.

Then in the 41st minute, Landreau produced a brilliant low save to repel Torres' close-range header from Glen Johnson's deep cross.

Liverpool at least began the second half better than they had the first and six minutes after the restart Lucas volleyed Torres' headed flick-on wide.

Cabaye drilled a dipping strike inches over Reina's crossbar as Lille continued to press, before he was replaced by Stephane Dumont, with Albert Riera coming on for Babel with 17 minutes remaining.

Hazard went down in the area under Jamie Carragher's challenge with seven minutes to go but referee Alan Larsen waved away protests.

However, a minute later the winger made sure when he curled in a free-kick which missed everyone in front of Reina, who could only watch as the ball crept into the far corner.

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