Liverpool party spoiled by Dudek slip
Liverpool had to settle for a bitter-sweet 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League knockout round after a goalkeeping blunder by Jerzy Dudek in stoppage time.
Spaniard Luis Garcia gave Liverpool a 15th minute lead on Tuesday, Norwegian John Arne Riise arrowed in a free kick 20 minutes later and German Dietmar Hamann curled home another free kick in stoppage time to put them on track for the quarter-finals.
But there was still time for Dudek to fumble a hopeful shot and Brazilian substitute Franca to poke the ball home from close range to give the Germans a chance of qualifying if they can manage at least a 2-0 win in the second leg.
Liverpool, looking to avenge their 2002 Champions League quarter-final exit to Leverkusen, made light of the absence of suspended captain Steven Gerrard and cup-tied Spanish striker Fernando Morientes and could have won by a far bigger margin.
The turning point on the night came midway through the first half when Leverkusen striker Dimitar Berbatov missed a golden opportunity to equalise and minutes later Riise pulled the trigger to make it 2-0 to the home side.
Before that Leverkusen had carved out the first chance of the game following a mazy run by midfielder Paul Freier but Robson Ponte could only meet his cushioned cutback with a shot over the bar.
Liverpool made no such mistake with their first break when Croatian midfielder Igor Biscan threaded in a defence-splitting pass and Garcia ran on to tuck the ball under keeper Joerg Butt.
The Bundesliga side should have been level after 29 minutes, though, when Liverpool defender Steve Finnan completely botched a header back to Dudek, putting Berbatov clean through.
However, the feared Bulgarian striker put his shot wide of the left hand post with Dudek completely at his mercy.
Leverkusen paid for the error when Riise beat Butt at his near post with a free kick that flew over the German wall.
Klaus Augenthaler's side never really recovered from the blow and were lucky not to be three down soon after the break when Riise skipped past a defender and laid the ball back for Milan Baros but the Czech striker squandered the chance.
Leverkusen fared no better soon afterwards when Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin had only Dudek to beat, while Australian playmaker Harry Kewell marked his Liverpool return from injury with a sizzling shot into the side netting on the counter.
In a game of missed chances, Baros fired wide a second time when he was put clean through to face a defenceless keeper, Leverkusen rode their luck in a goalmouth melee and Dudek pulled off two superb saves in quick succession.
Hamann then looked to have sealed a memorable night for the Merseysiders, only for Dudek to spill Berbatov's shot and Franca to fire home and keep the knockout round alive for his team.