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10.12.2009 Sports News

Liverpool suffer late Fiorentina defeat

Liverpool manager, Rafa BenitezLiverpool manager, Rafa Benitez
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Liverpool's disappointing Champions League campaign ended in miserable fashion, with Alberto Gilardino's last-gasp goal giving Fiorentina victory.

Rafa Benitez's side already knew they could not progress from Group E, while their opponents had already qualified.

Yossi Benayoun headed the Reds in front when he met Steven Gerrard's free-kick.

But Martin Jorgensen levelled with a low shot and Gilardino ensured his side topped the group when he turned in a Juan Vargos cross in injury time.

It was the third time the Reds had conceded a late goal in Europe this season, after doing so in both their matches against Lyon, and again they paid a heavy price for a defensive lapse.

But, in truth, Liverpool were unlucky to lose and it was probably of greater significance to their fans that £20m midfielder Alberto Aquilani made his first start and Fernando Torres, who played the last 30 minutes, returned to action after more than a month out.

That duo will hope to play a big part in the remainder of Liverpool's season - starting with Sunday's crunch Premier League encounter with Arsenal.

Understandably, Benitez had one eye on that game against the Gunners and, judging from the subdued atmosphere, so did the majority of the Anfield crowd.

Fiorentina, who sewed the seeds of Liverpool's Champions League exit with a stunning win in Italy at the end of September, were also short of inspiration early on - with their crippling injury list a mitigating factor.

So, most of the focus in the first half was on Aquilani, who arrived from Roma in August with a big reputation and price-tag, but until now had only played 22 minutes of first-team football from the bench because of injury.

The 25-year-old Italian international showed plenty of neat touches early on, as well as a willingness to tackle when he won the ball from Lorenzo De Silvestri and set Andrea Dossena free down the left.

Aquilani was also covering a lot of ground but he could not provide much in the way of creativity in the final third, something the entire Liverpool side were sorely lacking - despite enjoying most of the possession.

Fiorentina had the first meaningful efforts on goal, with Diego Cavalieri tipping over De Silvestri's bullet header before pushing away Riccardo Montolivo's scuffed volley from the resulting corner.

But it was Liverpool who took the lead just before half-time when Gerrard fired in a free-kick from the right and Benayoun found space to flick it past Sebastien Frey.

Fiorentina came out with more purpose after the break and immediately put Cavalieri under pressure when he struggled to deal with Gianluca Comotto's whipped cross under pressure from Gilardino.

Liverpool might have extended their lead with a carbon copy of their first goal when Gerrard fizzed in another free-kick from the right - but this time it eluded Daniel Agger, who threw himself at the ball but could not make contact.

Instead, the visitors were quickly level when Jorgensen rifled a powerful shot into the bottom corner after good work by Gilardino on the edge of the box.

Daniel Pacheco replaced Aquilani after 76 minutes and, with his first touch, fired in a low shot that was pushed wide by Frey.

At long last the game burst into life, with both sides pushing forward for the win.

It was the visitors who got it, with Vargas stealing the ball off Liverpool's rookie defender Stephen Darby and crossing for Gilardino to slot home from close range.

Fiorentina march into the last 16 of the Champions League, while Liverpool's next European game will be in the last 32 of the Europa League in February.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez:
"The result and the way it happened just about sums up our Champions League campaign.

"Another last-minute goal - and we are disappointed with that for the third time in this group.

"We worked so hard against Fiorentina and we had chances - they are the only positives we can take from the game.

"We will not be seeded in the Europa League. We must cope with that and handle whatever comes our way now."

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