Two second-half penalties saw ten-man Liverpool lose 2-1 at Benfica in a lively first leg which saw Ryan Babel controversially dismissed in the first half.


Daniel Agger had put Liverpool ahead inside ten minutes from a clever set-piece to grab a crucial away goal in the tie, before two clinically taken penalties from Oscar Cardozo won the match for the Portuguese side.


Benfica have been one of the strongest teams in this season’s competition and having beaten Everton

5-0 earlier in the campaign, were always likely to cause Liverpool problems.


But it was the Reds who dominated the early part of the match, which sprung into life when Steven Gerrard cut inside from the left-flank and was tripped just outside the area. With the Benfica defence crammed into the six-yard-box, Gerrard coolly side-footed the ball to the penalty spot for Agger, who back-heeled the ball into the bottom corner to give Liverpool the lead.


It was a lead Liverpool deserved for their early ambition but the momentum changed just past the half-hour mark. A hard tackle by Luisao on Fernando Torres provoked an unnecessary reaction from Ryan Babel, who twice raised his hand to the defender’s face. Although not appearing to shove the Benfica player, the incident occurred in front of the referee who produced a straight red card for Babel.


The home-side began to dominate after the break as the impressive Angel di Maria created two headed opportunities for Cardozo, who put one effort over the bar and the other tamely at Pepe Reina.


Cardozo then struck a powerful free-kick which rebounded off the post to Pablo Aimar who was bundled over by Emiliano Insua in the area. Cardozo then stepped-up and drilled the ball into Reina’s bottom left-hand corner to level on sixty minutes.


Liverpool had created few chances during the second-half but minutes before Benfica’s second goal, Dirk Kuyt created a wonderful chance for Torres. Normally so lethal in front of goal, the Spaniard could only screw his shot wide and the opportunity to take a lead back to Anfield was missed.


Benfica’s second penalty was awarded by the additional linesman on the touchline, after the referee had originally waved away protests. He judged Jamie Carragher to have handled the ball inside the area and Cardozo again confidently converted the spot-kick.


The result leaves the tie wide open but means Liverpool must win at Anfield next week if they are to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League. Their away goal could yet prove decisive but the Reds will be missing Babel and Insua, who are now suspended for the second leg.

Ten-man Reds behind in crunch Europa tie

By Adam Hicks, Sports Reporter

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Babel was sent off for an altercation with Luisao (Liverpool FC, Flickr); YouTube: Benitez reacts to 2-1 defeat

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