Own-goal to Chelsea's rescue
John Arne Riise scored a nightmare own-goal in the fifth minute of time added on to give Chelsea a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal away to Liverpool on Tuesday night.
The Norway international, who came on as a second-half substitute, stooped almost to ground level to try to head clear a bouncing cross from Salomon Kalou -- but only nodded it past his own goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
It was a bitter blow for the home side, who had deservedly led through Dirk Kuyt's strike two minutes before halftime and seemed set to continue their hoodoo over the big-spending visitors in major cup semifinals.
Dutch forward Kuyt had followed up his vital first-leg goal from the quarterfinal win against Arsenal with another priceless strike to give the hosts a slender lead.
But Riise's late lapse gave Chelsea -- beaten by Liverpool twice in the past three seasons at the last-four stage of Europe's premier club competition -- a vital away goal ahead of next Wednesday's return match at Stamford Bridge.
Both times the Reds had led 1-0 after the opening leg at Anfield.
Kuyt, who scored a crucial penalty in the shootout which saw Liverpool beat Chelsea last season, pounced for his seventh goal of the 2007-08 competition -- and just his 11th this season.
He took advantage of some poor defending from the London club, who were first caught out by Xabi Alonso's quick free-kick and then saw the returning Frank Lampard lose possession to Kuyt on the edge of the penalty area.
Javier Mascherano miskicked the loose ball back towards the goal, and veteran Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele inexplicably failed to connect with his attempted clearance -- allowing Kuyt to stab the ball through the legs of onrushing goalkeeper Petr Cech.
It was a deserved goal for 2005 European champions Liverpool, who rebounded strongly after Chelsea started the match the stronger.
However, it was Kuyt who had the first chance in the 13th minute, but his chest control let him down following a fine long ball by Alonso and Cech was able to clear the danger.
England midfielder Joe Cole should also have done better for Chelsea when Lampard picked him out with a cross at the far post seven minutes later, but he failed to make any significant contact with a flailing leg.
And then Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, who passed a late fitness test, appealed in vain for a penalty after Jamie Carragher appeared to make contact with him on the edge of the area.
Liverpool's top scorer Fernando Torres had the first clear-cut opportunity in the 31st minute after being set free inside the penalty area by Steven Gerrard's neat pass, but the Spaniard fired straight at Cech.
Kuyt's goal just before the interval gave Liverpool the momentum they wanted, and winger Ryan Babel flashed a volley just wide in the 59th minute.
The home side then lost defender Fabio Aurelio with a groin injury soon after, with manager Rafael Benitez sending on Riise in his place.
Chelsea boss Avram Grant, whose future has been the subject of much speculation, responded by replacing Joe Cole with forward Salomon Kalou -- a surprise to the visiting fans following the ineffectual display of the recalled Florent Malouda.
But the move appeared to spark Chelsea, with Michael Ballack heading a free-kick straight at Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina in the 66th minute.
Malouda then had a chance to level, but took too long with his shot as he turned inside the penalty area and Mascherano was able to block his shot and concede the corner.
Lampard, who returned to the Chelsea squad following a two-game absence due to his mother's illness, appeared to find space in front of goal with 10 minutes left, but Carragher scrambled well to clear the danger.
Five minutes later, Cech tipped over a stunning right-foot volley from Gerrard, and the Czech Republic international also did well to deny Torres at the far post following a set-piece.
In between, Blues captain John Terry picked up his second yellow card of the tournament -- another one next week would see him suspended for the final on May 21 in Moscow should Chelsea make it through.
Riise has given Grant every chance to succeed where predecessor Jose Mourinho could not, having sought to beat lurking substitute Nicolas Anelka to Kalou's whipped cross.
The match was attended by Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks, who was abused by the home fans when he appeared to join in the club anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone," The Asocciated Press reported.
The American is in a bitter dispute with business partner George Gillett Jr., who invited members of the Dubai consortium wishing to buy his 50 percent share to also attend at Anfield.