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FOOTBALL

Champs Liverpool pay the penalty

LIVERPOOL, England -- Holders Liverpool paid heavily for missed chances as they were knocked out of the Champions League in a 2-0 defeat by Benfica on Wednesday.

Simao Sabrosa, who Liverpool tried to sign in the close season, played a key role for the Portuguese champions who now go into Friday's draw for the quarter-finals.

The tricky Benfica forward scored a stunning goal in the 36th minute before substitute Fabrizio Miccoli added a second in the dying minutes to secure a 3-0 aggregate victory.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was priced out of a move for Simao in August when Benfica asked for more than 11 million pounds ($19.13 million) and the winger showed his class on a night when Liverpool's lack of quality in front of goal told.

"He's a good player and when you play deep with spaces and you have pace and ability it's normal that you can play well," said Benitez. "But for me the key was the first 20 minutes."

"I had confidence because we were creating chances but then we made a mistake and everything changed," he added. "We needed to score, we could not, we conceded a goal."

Benfica coach Ronald Koeman agreed with Benitez.

"In the first 30 minutes they played well and had great pressure on us..." said the Dutchman. "We didn't play too well then and they had some big chances to score.

"We scored a fabulous goal from Simao and then we controlled it better. You need to be lucky, if not you can't beat teams like Liverpool... It's not just today that they've had problems to score, maybe now it's a mental problem for them."

Liverpool had not found the net in their last three Champions League matches but had to score to overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg at the Stadium of Light.

Numerous chances

Their misfiring forwards hit the post twice in the first half and squandered numerous chances but just could not find a way past Moretto in the Benfica goal.

Peter Crouch was first to be denied by the woodwork when his shot deflected off Anderson past the visiting keeper.

The England forward then conjured up an embarrassing miss in the 25th minute, following a typical surging run from midfield by Steven Gerrard, when he shot weakly at Moretto.

Liverpool survived a scare in the 29th minute when Geovanni controlled the ball on his chest and sent a volley crashing against the bar but they failed to learn the lesson of denying Benfica space on the edge of the box and Simao capitalised.

Jamie Carragher was harassed into conceding possession and the ball was fed to the winger. With Liverpool's defenders standing off, Simao curled an unstoppable shot past Jose Reina.

The Reds now needed three goals to win the tie but the spirit that saw them stage a remarkable comeback from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in last season's final was missing.

Carragher hit the post with a header from a corner just before the break and substitute striker Robbie Fowler had a goal ruled out with seven minutes left.

Benfica then took advantage of Liverpool's need to push men forward and Miccoli had time to control a right flank cross and beat Reina from six metres to kill the game.

It was Liverpool's first home defeat in the Champions League since they lost to Valencia in 2002, nine matches ago, and it ended a campaign that began with a victory in the qualifying stages over Welsh side TNS in mid-July.

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