It wasn’t a classic, but Liverpool are through to the final 16 of the Europa League thanks to an 85th minute Dirk Kuyt header against Sparta Prague.
Kuyt’s header, well guided in from a Raul Meireles corner, was the only goal of the whole tie and came after 175 minutes of goalless football.
In Kenny Dalglish’s first European home game in charge of the Reds, he gave Joe Cole a rare Liverpool start. Although he looked hardworking all game, he seemed to lack pace at times and looked short on match fitness. In the closing seconds a bit more pace would have seen him through on goal, but his desperate shot after an exhaustive powering run through the middle to get on Kuyt’s pass was well wide.
There were also starts for Scottish defender Danny Wilson, Christian Poulsen and a return for Daniel Agger from injury. However the Danish defender looked in pain late on and was replaced by Martin Skrtel.
It was a game that should probably have had more goals than it did, plenty of chances for Liverpool with David N’gog and Meireles going close in the first half.
At the other end, Sparta had a good share of attacking play themselves, but were just about kept at bay by Liverpool’s defence.
Dalglish, however, got his tactics spot on, moving man of the match Kuyt to play up front alongside N’gog in a 4-4-2 formation and it proved the difference and, very late on, proved the difference.
So Liverpool are through to the final 16 of the Europa League after being given a battling challenge by the Czechs. Liverpool will play the winner of the Lech Poznan vs Braga who play their second leg later this evening with the Polish side, Lech, ahead 1-0 from the first leg.
Team Line-ups and Substitutions
Liverpool: Reina, Agger (Skrtel 85), Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Kelly (Carragher 46), Meireles, Cole, Lucas, Poulsen (Spearing 65), Kuyt, Ngog,
Substitutes: Gulacsi, Carragher, Skrtel, Maxi, Spearing, Pacheco, Jovanovic.
Sparta Prague: Blazek, Repka, Brabec, Abena (Pekhart 78), Pamic (Keric 90), Sionko (Podany 73), Matejovsky, Kusnir, Vacek, Leonard Kweuke, Kadlec.
Substitutes: Zitka, Kladrubsky, Husek, Podany, Zeman, Keric, Pekhart.
Ref: Milorad Mazic