Liverpool topped their UEFA Champions League group with a convincing 3-1 win over PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday. Needing a win to secure a place in the UEFA Cup, PSV took the lead through Danko Lazovic, but they never seriously threatened to pull off an upset against opponents who emerged from their torpor in time to claim a comfortable win.
Ryan Babel equalised on the stroke of half-time, and second-half goals from Spanish winger Albert Riera and back-up striker David Ngog delivered what was ultimately a straightforward victory for Rafael Benitez's side. Under-fire striker Robbie Keane set up Ngog for the third goal and a strong all-round display will have helped to counteract criticism that he has not been worth the £20 million Liverpool paid to sign him from Tottenham.
"Don't get me wrong, I love to score, but the most important thing is the team's performance and the result," Keane said. "As long as I keep working hard for the team and keep going, I'll be here for a long time and I'll score a lot of goals."
Stand-in captain Jamie Carragher hailed Keane's performance. "It wasn't an easy match," the defender said. "They obviously had a little more to play for but we wanted to finish top of the group. We conceded in the first half but our second half attacking performance from the lads and Keano was superb."
The final outcome had appeared unlikely when Javier Mascherano's failure to clear a corner at the near post gave Lazovic the chance to put PSV ahead with a close-range shot that went between the legs of Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, who was making a rare start in place of the rested Jose Reina.
The equaliser came within seconds of half-time and courtesy of a fine free-kick from Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva. Babel's glancing header may not have been perfectly timed, but the bounce of the ball ensured former Manchester City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson could only get a hand to it and help it into the net.
With Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso joining Reina on the bench, Liverpool had looked distinctly under-powered in the opening stages and there was an early scare when Cavalieri opted to punch a Timmy Simons shot from 20 yards that he might have gathered comfortably. That, however, was to prove the most significant action until PSV took the lead.
Liverpool looked brighter after the restart and Ajax old boy Babel came close to silencing the crowd's jeers with a shot that found the side netting just before the hour mark. Ten minutes later, Liverpool got their noses in front thanks to a superb 30-yard strike from Spanish winger Riera that left Isaksson with no chance as it glided into the top corner of the net.
Riera made way shortly afterwards for homegrown prospect Jay Spearing, and two minutes later a fine breakaway strike put the contest beyond any doubt. Robbie Keane was the architect, releasing Ngog with a fine pass from just inside his own half and the youngster raced away before producing a cool finish to claim his first Champions League goal.