Champions League: Gerrard heroics can’t avert Reds’ European crash

Ross McLean
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Steven Gerrard’s 100th Anfield goal failed to save Liverpool from a Champions League exit

DEFLATED skipper Steven Gerrard admitted that Liverpool deserved nothing more than European elimination after the Reds were dumped out of the Champions League last night following a tame draw with FC Basel at Anfield.

Gerrard hauled Liverpool back into contention for a place in the last 16 with a sublime free-kick to set-up a frantic finale after Basel struck first through Fabian Frei and Reds substitute Lazar Markovic was dismissed in the second period.

After a five-year hiatus from Europe’s premier club competition, Liverpool only managed a solitary Champions League victory over unheralded Bulgarian side Ludogorets in the first round of fixtures, and the Anfield club now face the prospect of a Europa League campaign.

“We didn’t deserve any better” said Gerrard. “We haven’t gone out of the competition because of our performance tonight, we’ve gone out because away at Basel we weren’t good enough and in our last game [against Ludogorets] we conceded a stupid goal towards injury time. You always qualify over the six games and unfortunately we haven’t been good enough.”

The Swiss champions were far from spooked early on and duly opened the scoring on 25 minutes, Frei striking a low, left-footed drive into the corner of the Liverpool net after exchanging passes with the dangerous Luca Zuffi on the edge of the box.

Ten years ago to the day, Liverpool instigated a late comeback to beat Olympiacos in their final group match and lay the foundations for an epic run to win the Champions League.

But this season’s Anfield gloom deepened when Markovic’s night lasted less than 15 minutes as he received a straight red card for swinging an arm at full-back Behrang Safari, although contact seemed minimal.

The hosts levelled with nine minutes remaining to rekindle memories of 2004, Gerrard curling an inch-perfect free-kick over the Basel wall and beyond keeper Tomas Vaclik for his 100th goal at Anfield.

The Reds surged forward relentlessly but it proved insufficient, Jordan Henderson’s deflected header was trickling towards the goal-line until Vaclik’s intervention, while the Czech stopper also repelled the England midfielder’s late shot.

Defeat heaps further pressure on Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers who is enduring a difficult campaign after coming within a whisker of guiding his side to the Premier League title last term. “We’re bitterly disappointed,” said Rodgers. “There’s been a lot of learning over the course of the games and we’ll look to fight very hard to be back in it again next year.”