Thu, Dec 13, 2007 - Page 20 News List

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Liverpool thrash Marseille to qualify

HAPPY RAFA Werder Bremen fell to a defeat against Olympiakos, who also qualified, while Schalke 04 beat Rosenborg and are now the only German representatives

AFP , PARIS

Schalke 04's Carlos Grossmueller, center, evades a tackle from Rosenborg's Marek Sapara during their UEFA Champions League match in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

English giants Liverpool's habit of leaving it to the last moment to qualify for the important stages of big tournaments was repeated on Tuesday as they inflicted a record 4-0 home defeat on Marseille to make the knockout stage of the Champions League.

The 2005 Champions League winners' victory probably also ensured that manager Rafael Benitez keeps his job after a series of reports that he was unhappy with the US owners of the club.

Liverpool were joined somewhat surprisingly in the last 16 by Greek side Olympiakos, whose 3-0 win over Werder Bremen was enough to see them move through.

Midfielder Ieroklis Stoltidis' double was the inspiration for the Greek side's victory which sees them one step away from emulating their teammates achievements of the 1998-1999 season when they reached the last eight.

Bremen's disappointment was not mirrored by Bundesliga rivals Schalke 04, who are now the sole German side in the knockout stage after they beat Rosenborg 3-1.

An early strike from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was followed by a superb solo effort from Fernando Torres, a Dirk Kuyt goal early in the second half and a stoppage time effort from substitute Ryan Babel as Liverpool became the first English club to win at the home of Olympique Marseille, France's best-supported club.

From the fourth minute, when Gerrard knocked in the rebound from his own penalty, there was little doubt that Liverpool would complete a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes in Group A.

A 1-0 defeat by Marseille at Anfield in October had left Benitez's side with just one point from their opening three matches.

Since then however they have beaten Besiktas 8-0 and FC Porto 4-1 at home and the equally comfortable nature of this win will send them into the last 16 -- and Sunday's Premier League showdown with Manchester United -- in confident mood.

"It was a fantastic performance by the players," said Benitez, who remained tight-lipped about his dispute with the club's owners. "The players were up for the game and I am now just thinking about the match with United and that we are in the knockout stages and now I want to be with the players."

For Marseille's no-nonsense coach Eric Gerets there was just a blunt reaction.

"It was a catastrophe," said the Belgian soccer legend. "We screwed the last match [of the Champions League group stage] up."

While Olympiakos celebrated Werder Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf was left underwhelmed by his side's performance.

"We are naturally disappointed," said Schaaf, whose side finish third and will have to settle for a place in the UEFA Cup. "We had put ourselves back into contention with the win over Real [3-2], but it wasn't enough."

Schaaf's Schalke 04 counterpart Mirko Slomka by contrast was in delirium after the victory over Rosenborg.

"It is fantastic what we have achieved," he said. "This is a great success for the team and the whole club."

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