Reds confident despite narrow win
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard remains confident the Reds can win the UEFA Europa League despite struggling to beat Romanian club Unirea Urziceni tonight in the first leg of their Round of 32 match. The Reds side dominated proceedings at Anfield but could not break their opponents down until David Ngog's late strike, which earned them a 1-0 victory.
"They were very stubborn, but we expected that," said Gerrard. "You could say maybe we needed to be a bit more clinical, but I think we'll get more joy away from home. But we were patient and the goal came. They're going to have to come out and try and beat us in the second leg."
Like Liverpool, Unirea finished third in their UEFA Champions League group, and Gerrard knows they will have to beat some big names if they are to make the tournament's final in Hamburg.
"The teams knocked out of the Champions League are fantastic teams, and some of the top sides across Europe are in the competition," said the England international about the event formerly known as the UEFA Cup. "It's going to be tough to win it, but we're confident we can go all the way."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said: "I think we could have scored one or two more goals but that is football," he said. "The team was doing well in defence, 1-0 and a clean sheet is not bad. Sometimes when the other team is defending well you have to be patient and keep more of the ball and then we scored at the end.
"It is always important to score, especially in this competition, and not concede so we were waiting for this goal and were really please when we scored. It is not the best result but it is good. If we score one [in Romania] they have to score three so a clean sheet was important so we have to be relieved.
"If you ask me if I would prefer 2-0 then 100 per cent yes but you cannot change the score now. We knew they were well-organised and they were a good team so we were expecting more or less their style of play."
Two substitutes played a major part in the goal with Ryan Babel crossing for Daniel Pacheco to head back to Ngog and Benitez said he was glad to have options from the bench. "It is always important to have good players on the bench with skills that can change a game," he added.
The match could have been a lot easier had Gerrard put away Liverpool's first chance after just 25 seconds. Ngog's goal was only the sixth in seven European matches this season - a far cry from the last campaign when they routed Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield 11 months ago and scored four in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea.
However, Benitez said it was unrealistic to expect his side to consistently repeat those performances. "We started really well and I was really pleased for a while," said the Spaniard. "We cannot play at the same level that we played against Real Madrid every game, especially when the away team is defending well.
"You have to take you chances and if we had taken the first one in the first minute it could have been totally different but we had to be patient and keep on attacking. We were trying, passing the ball and continuing to move the ball."
Unirea coach Roni Levy believes the tie is far from over. "I am disappointed in the result. Of course, Liverpool had the ball for most of the game but one moment we didn't concentrate we conceded a goal," he said.
"My players came and did the best they could do. This is the first half of two legs and I am looking forward to next week. It is a good result to take back to Bucharest: there is still a lot of interest in the game and still we have a chance."