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Liverpool tied 1-1 to join the Champions League first stage

Liverpool traveled with only one objective in mind: qualify for the Champions League first stage. And after all, the result was the most important thing of the night. Indeed, Benitez' team stumbled into the Champions League group stage after getting a 1-1 draw in Kiev against Maccabi Haifa.

Liverpool FC, despite being the victims of an excellent goalkeeping performance by Nir Davidovitch - particularly in the first half when he denied Luis Garcia a hat-trick - looked anything like a World Class club.

Yes, even when they eventually went ahead in the second half through a Crouch header, they were soon hauled level through Roberto Colautti and found themselves defending for the rest of the match.

In fact, Peter Crouch had been detained for two hours at Kiev Airport on Monday while his passport was found. But, having been asked to lead the attack for the first time in a game that mattered, it was his goal that marked the slender difference between a passage to the easy wealth of the Champions League and a ghastly embarrassment, which would have cast a longer shadow than even Crouch does. Maccabi Haifa may have been denied home advantage, they may have angered Liverpool by the somewhat petty complaints lodged after the first leg and they may have ridden their luck. But for a disallowed goal and a glorious one-handed save from Jose Reina to deny Roberto Colautti, they might have shocked everyone.

It has been anything but easy for Benitez. The delays at both Liverpool and Kiev airports, not to mention the barrage of hostile questions from journalists asking why he was afraid to go to Israel, had been irritating enough. However, having lost Jamie Carragher and John Arne Riise at Sheffield United on Saturday, the Liverpool manager saw first Stephen Warnock limp off and then Momo Sissoko carried off with a knee injury, which forced him to throw on Steven Gerrard, who had been unable to start because of a stomach upset.

Rafa Benitez considered that Liverpool away from home would be far more comfortable than they had been in the stuttering 2-1 first-leg win. This was partly because they would be a fortnight fitter but partly because Haifa had to score to have a hope of progressing and in going forward they would open up gaps his side could exploit.

However, it was Maccabi who used sporadic counter-attacks, mainly through the powerful figure of Yaniv Katan, whose free-kick was bundled over the line in the 21st minute by Alain Masudi. Mostly, however, this was a match Liverpool dominated without being able to finish it off. The way Crouch scored, stooping to head home Jermaine Pennant's 54th-minute cross, was almost predictable, though Luis Garcia should have secured Champions League football before the interval but for some astonishing reaction saves from Nir Davidovitch, whom Benitez reckoned was easily the man of this particular match.

He made three blocks from the Spaniard, each better than the last. If the two-handed push away from close range was exceptional, it was eclipsed by a point-blank save from Garcia's header just one minute before the break.

We must admit that until the moment, just past the hour, that Xavier Anderson bundled through a back four, which badly missed Carragher, and saw his shot pushed into the path of Colautti, who tapped home into an empty net, it did not seem Liverpool would pay for their mistakes. Just as it had been in the first leg, and for Andrei Shevchenko's strike in the Community Shield, the goal came through the heart of Liverpool's back line.

That marked the moment when those who made the expensive journey from Merseyside started fearing that the embarrassment of falling at the qualifying hurdle - suffered by Newcastle and Everton in recent summers - might be inflicted on them. Reina's save, however, only denied Haifa extra-time not victory.

Those who travelled did not watch in an empty arena. Kiev, with its streets swathed in evening gloom because Russia had cut off its gas supplies, might have been expected to regard this fixture with supreme indifference. But the Ukrainian capital has a substantial Jewish population and, at £2 a ticket, Liverpool would have appeared quite a draw to the neutral.

It's good to remember that four minutes after the kick-off they were still filing into the Valeri Lobanovski Stadium, and a couple even sat down on plastic seats by Benitez's dug-out until they were removed. Amid the capacity crowd there was considerable sympathy for the displaced players of Haifa, whose ground had been in range of Hizbollah's rockets and who still felt aggrieved they had been denied the chance to play in their own soil. Mostly, though, they shouted for Dynamo Kiev. But the most important thing is that Liverpool is in.
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