Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Madrid, Liverpool squeeze into last 16

CHAMPIONS LEAGUELiverpool captain Steven Gerrard said he had thought at half-time that it was all over for his team, which he pledged to leave if there were no hope of silverware

AFP , PARIS

Liverpool's Steven Gerard, center, flanked by John Arne Riise, left, and Harry Kew, right, celebrates scoring to make it 3-1 against Olympiakos CFP during their UEFA Champions League clash at Anfield, Liverpool, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Multiple European Cup winners Real Madrid and Liverpool squeezed through to the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday after winning their respective final group matches.

Real, nine-times winners, saw off group B rivals AS Roma 3-0 in an empty Olympic Stadium while four-time European champions Liverpool left it late to beat Olympiakos 3-1 in group A to secure their place through the required two-goal winning margin.

Their victories meant that both relative Champions League minnows Dynamo Kiev -- beaten 3-0 by Bayer Leverkusen -- and Olympiakos had to console themselves with places in the UEFA Cup having filled third spot.

Both the Ukrainians and the Greeks -- who led the groups going into the final matches -- could have justifiable cause to complain that they lost out as Roma fielded a second string side as did Deportivo La Coruna in their Group A 5-0 humbling by Monaco which saw France's finalists from the Champions League last season through.

Monaco's five star performance was matched by French champions Lyon, who walloped Sparta Prague by the same margin and with a second choice Manchester United losing 3-0 to Turkish outfit Fenerbahce -- Tuncay with a hat-trick -- it handed the French team top spot in Group D.

Group C had already been decided in terms of Champions League spots but Ajax came close to losing out on the UEFA Cup as Israeli side Maccabi took a shock 1-0 lead over Juventus in Israel.

However the Dutch giants fought back to hold their old adversaries Bayern Munich 2-2 while in Israel Alessandro del Piero's second-half goal pegged back Maccabi 1-1 and confirmed Ajax's place in the UEFA Cup.

Real had some nervy moments against Roma but eventually eased through thanks to a goal from Ronaldo and a brace from Luis Figo.

Real coach Mariano Remon Garcia insisted Roma were difficult opponents even without club skipper Francesco Totti, Vincenzo Montella and Antonio Cassano.

"It was a different Roma team to the one that we are used to seeing, but even though they made a lot of changes they still played well and created many problems for us, particularly in the first half," he said.

"We got a great start but after that we invited pressure and survived a few scares. The second goal took some of the pressure off and we played with a lot more precision," he said.

Liverpool had a far more tense night as a freekick by Brazilian World Cup winner Rivaldo gave the Greek side a first-half lead and it was left to a stunning strike by captain Steven Gerrard four minutes from time to ensure they got through by the slimmest of margins.

Gerrard said he had thought at half-time that it was all over at his beloved team which nevertheless he has threatened to leave if there is no hope of silverware.

"At half-time I thought it was a mountain to climb but we did it. Thank God for that strike at the end. It is the most important goal in my career for Liverpool. I had a lot of pressure on me after all the speculation about my future," he said.

"I think we have all got to have belief. Fingers crossed I'm desperate for that league title more here than anywhere else. It was a massive night for me," Gerrard said.

While Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was understandably delighted his counterpart Dusan Bagevic let rip at his side.

"The whole game was the worst we have played for a long time," he fumed.

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