Liverpool bitten by Lyon... now for the Europa League
DEPENDING which paper you read, Liverpool lost anything from £10m to £40m last night when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Quite how that odd American couple, Gillette and Hicks, will take this loss of earnings on their Anfield investment is not yet known. But under-fire boss Rafa Benitez, now talking about winning the Europa League, knows he's got a job on his hands.
Sure, the Reds won 1-0 at pointless Debrecen but with Lyon understandably losing 1-0 at Fiorentina, qualification from Group E is now beyond them. Would you want to win or draw if it meant going to Anfield and playing for your lives?
Poor old Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have been battling injury all season and they're a modest 7th in the Premier League, five points behind Spurs in fourth. We won't even mention the beach ball.
Dramatically, Sky Sports 2 showed Gerrard watching the final minutes of the game in Fiorentina on a screen in the tunnel at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest. Gutted. He didn't stop to talk when the whistle went. Later he said: "You get what you deserve in football. The disappointing thing was having to rely on other people. We have played well today but now we have to try and move on, build on tonight and, with a lot of players coming back from injury, try and win the Europa League.
"Of course its disappointing. The Champions League is the main trophy at the start of the season but the only consolation now is to try and win the Europa League."
And Benitez emerged briefly to say: "I am 100% confident we will finish in the top four in the Premier League this season."
And all this while Arsenal were merrily skipping through to the last 32 with a game to spare. Their 2-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege came courtesy of welcome goals for the returning Denilson and Samir Nasri (pictured).
Quite an improvement after Saturday's demoralising 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland and their former Spurs striker Darren Bent. No need to mention the two penalties turned down in front of the Emirates crowd... or the double rattling of the woodwork by the Belgians, who had a man sent off late on. Funny how we don't notice these things when English clubs are winning. Former Gunner Paul Merson did. He pointed out in the Sky studios: "What worries me is they were dominant throughout but they still could have lost this game. Liege had a stonewall penalty and a couple of clear chances. Any team that plays Arsenal knows they're always in with a chance, they can always nick a goal."
Another small point before the London showdown against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday: William Gallas took a nasty blow to the eye and looked concussed after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, while Kieran Gibbs limped off with what looked like a recurrence of his ankle injury. But still, they're through for the 10th season in a row, joining Chelsea and Manchester United, whatever they do tomorrow night.
Rangers are out too, beaten 2-0 by Stuttgart... and they don't even get the consolation of a late place in the Europa League as they finish bottom of Group G.
The good news for UEFA came in Spain where Barcelona eased the threat of non-qualification with a 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in fascinating Group F. Rumours of Thierry "Hand of Gaul" Henry diving twice in the first half have yet to be confirmed.
Bad news for Portsmouth fans with manager Paul Hart departing (former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is waiting in the wings), good news for Wycombe, the Division One strugglers, who followed up their shock 2-0 win at Millwall with a 1-0 win over Brentford last night.