Steaua Bucharest 1-1 Liverpool

Match Report from BBC Sport

Liverpool secured their passage to the last 32 of the Europa League, despite a blunder from goalkeeper Pepe Reina in a draw at Steaua Bucharest.
Milan Jovanovic put the Reds ahead after he found the bottom corner with a header from Ryan Babel’s cross.

But Reina let a Eder Bomfim header squirm under him as Steaua equalised.

A Sotirios Kyrgiakos header hit the crossbar for Liverpool before they saw out the game and progressed with a point in their penultimate group game.

It was a workmanlike rather than inspiring performance from the Merseysiders as they did the job they set out to do with a weakened side.

With eight regular first-teamers either missing through injury or being rested, Reds boss Roy Hodgson reshuffled his pack, as he has done in the Europa League this season, to give promising youngsters vital experience and fringe senior players a chance to impress.

Jovanovic and Babel fall into the latter category and they combined to help give the visitors the lead after their first notable attack.

Eric Bicfalvi had just wasted a chance by heading high for Steaua from close range before Jovanovic showed him how to do it by twisting his neck to find the power and direction to send Babel’s floated cross past keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Babel again caused the Romanians problems when he seized upon a poor Florin Gardos clearing header and slipped a ball across to leave team-mate Joe Cole with a great chance, with only Tatarusanu to beat.

Cole’s first touch let him down and, after the home side’s defence blocked his sight of goal, the playmaker was forced to pass to Jovanovic before Daniel Pacheco, who was a peripheral figure, drove a shot wide.

The way in which Cole squandered the gilt-edged chance epitomised the lack of confidence Hodgson has cited as one of the reasons why the 29-year-old’s Reds career has yet launch, while it was also evidence of a player missing match sharpness after five weeks out with a hamstring injury.

Cole’s struggles regularly resulted in him being caught in possession or failing to find his target with passes as his penchant for the creative and mercurial, on which he has based his career, looked in desperately short supply.

Liverpool had coped comfortably with Steaua until either side of half-time when the Romanians should have equalised.

Bogdan Stancu found himself with the Reds goal at his mercy when he came off the better after challenging Liverpool central defender Kyrgiakos for a cross, but the Steaua striker could only shoot horribly wide.

Cristian Tanase’s pinpoint cross then found Geraldo Alves unmarked in the Liverpool box only for the Steaua centre-back to head straight at Reina.

However, the home side’s efforts were rewarded when Bonfim’s speculative header embarrassingly squirmed under Reina, whose view was blocked by Romeo Surdu just before the ball reached him.

Kyrgiakos crashed a header against the Steaua crossbar from a Fabio Aurelio corner as Liverpool went close to scoring a winner before the visitors held the home side at arm’s length to see out the game and make it to the knockout stages.

Team Line-ups and Substitutions

Steaua Bucharest: Tatarusanu, Gardos, Latovlevici (Szekely 80), Geraldo, Eder, Tanase, Nicolita, Gomes, Bicfalvi (Angelov 46), Surdu, Stancu.

Substitutes: Lungu, Emeghara, Abrudan, Martinovic, Angelov, Matei, Szekely.

Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Kelly, Cole (Ngog 75), C Poulsen, Shelvey, Pacheco (Lucas 89), Jovanovic (Eccleston 78), Babel.

Substitutes: Jones, Skrtel, Flanagan, Robinson, Lucas, Ngog, Eccleston.

Ref: Bulent Yildirim
Att: 20,000