Friday, 11 March 2011

Braga 1 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool face a test to keep their Europa League campaign alive after they were beaten by Braga in the first leg of their last 16 tie.The Reds went behind when Sotirios Kyrgiakos clumsily fouled Mossoro and Alan stepped up to power in a penalty.Braga's Silvio struck the crossbar with a 30-yard piledriver as the visitors struggled to provide any danger.Andy Carroll had a shot deflected wide and Dirk Kuyt had a strike tipped over in Liverpool's best chances.Carroll had come on as a late substitute in Sunday's win over Manchester United as he made his Liverpool debut with a cameo appearance having been out with a thigh injury since his £35m move from Newcastle in January.
Reds boss Kenny Dalglish resisted the temptation of starting him against Braga but when the 6'3" striker did arrive on the scene after 58 minutes, despite lacking match fitness, he immediately helped shift the impetus in Liverpool's favour.
The home side's defender Kaka escaped a red card for what appeared a deliberate elbow on Carroll as the two went up for a header in injury-time before the Portuguese side again proved they had the beating of British opposition at the Estadio Municipal.
Braga are sixth in their domestic top flight and 31 points behind leaders Porto but have shown the capacity to raise their game when the mood takes them.
On home territory, they beat Celtic 3-0 in a Champions League qualifier and defeated Arsenal in the group stages of the competition before dropping into the Europa League.
Their latest conquest at their stadium in northern Portugal ended the national record 18-match winning streak of Benfica with a 2-1 victory on Sunday.
The emphasis was on Braga to make the most of their home advantage as Liverpool started with a cagey and and conservative approach.
The visitors' strategy worked for only 17 minutes until Reds centre-back Kyrgiakos found Mossoro's pace and skill too much to deal with and brought down the Braga midfielder to concede a spot-kick.
Alan, one of seven Brazilians in the Braga side, expertly powered in from 12 yards, despite Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina diving the right way.
The Reds were struggling to find any rhythm or resonance to their passing and were only saved from going further behind when the woodwork came to their rescue.
An unmarked Mossoro should have done better than to slice a shot when a free-kick was squared to him 12 yards out but the ball was cleared to Braga left-back Silvio, whose spectacular 30-yard strike crashed back off the crossbar.
Liverpool's frustration only grew as lone striker Kuyt found the offside trap of the home side difficult to beat as he failed to hold up the ball and bring his team-mates into the game.
A lot was made of Arsenal failing to get a shot on target in their demise against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Tuesday and Liverpool were not faring much better at the less illustrious Braga as they had a tame header to show for their first-half efforts.
Kuyt needed support and it came just before the hour mark in the form of Carroll and he did not take long to make an impact.
The towering striker quickly nodded a header across goal which was just out of the reach of Kuyt before having a left-foot shot deflected wide as Carroll's arrival changed the complexion of the game.
With support, Kuyt was a different proposition and he chested down a Raul Meireles cross before a half-volley was tipped over by Braga keeper Artur.
That proved to be as close as Liverpool were to get to a prized away goal and, although Braga might have been reduced to 10 men after Kaka appeared to elbow Carroll, the Reds suffered a first defeat in 14 European games.

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