Champions League: Liverpool advance as Alisson, Salah star against Napoli

A Liverpool fan favorite who emerged last season combined with a new goalkeeping hero in the Reds' 1-0 win o...

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 12:20 PM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 12:20 PM

A Liverpool fan favorite who emerged last season combined with a new goalkeeping hero in the Reds' 1-0 win over Napoli that sent the 2018 finalist into the Champions League knockout phase.

Mohamed Salah netted a hat-trick in the English Premier League last weekend against Bournemouth and while he didn't replicate the feat Tuesday -- he could have given his chances -- the Egyptian scored the lone goal in the 34th minute.

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Summer signing -- from Roma -- Alisson then bailed out the host in injury time, stopping substitute Arkadiusz Milik in what was easily the visitors' best opportunity at Anfield. Beating Napoli and also qualifying for the last 16 could be worth as much as $13.8 million to Liverpool.

"What a goal from Mo, and the save Ali made -- I have no words for that," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told reporters. "I am very proud of the boys tonight.

"I'm still full of adrenaline. This game was just amazing. The boys played with their whole heart. Our defending and pressing was some of the best I ever saw."

The Reds knew they needed to win by a 1-0 scoreline or two clear goals on the final match day to advance instead of Napoli if Paris Saint-Germain beat last-place Red Star Belgrade away -- which it did 4-1 -- and indeed Liverpool claimed second in Group C on goals scored.

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Out went Napoli's 12-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.

"We started well, but then we started making many mistakes in the middle due to their high pressure," Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti was quoted as saying by UEFA. "The second half was tactically messy, we absolutely needed a goal. It's true they missed many chances on the counter, but we also could have scored."

Only four spots remained in the round of 16 heading into the final match day and now there is only one.

Another English team goes through

Another Italian side was trumped by English opposition as Tottenham grabbed second place in Group B at Inter Milan's expense. Former PSG midfielder Lucas Moura scored in the 85th minute for Spurs in a 1-1 tie at group winner Barcelona, while Inter could only draw last-place PSV 1-1 at home.

Inter needed to better Tottenham's result to progress but in the end departed on head-to-head away goals.

"Congratulations to the players, I think they were fantastic -- massive effort," Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, the former boss at Barcelona's city rival Espanyol, told BT Sport. "So happy for our fans who were here and our fans in London and around the world. It's a massive, massive achievement for the club."

Tottenham's task was made simpler when Barcelona didn't start five-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi. Rather he entered as a 63rd-minute sub.

There has been much talk in England about how Liverpool's front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have yet to find last year's scintillating form but Klopp's side lead the Premier League without suffering a defeat and ultimately got the result it required against Napoli.

There was thus more woe for Ancelotti against Liverpool -- guiding AC Milan in 2005, he saw the Reds overturn a 3-0 deficit to win the Champions League final. AC Milan and Ancelotti, however, did top Liverpool in the final two years later.

Mind you Liverpool made it nervy for the home fans by wasting opportunity after opportunity Tuesday. Of 22 shots, a mere eight were on target.

It all started in the seventh minute when marauding left-back Andy Robertson found Salah with a wonderful cross in front of goal. Salah didn't get the first touch he wanted and the ball fell safely to keeper David Ospina.

Napoli's only other decent chance, besides Milik's effort, probably came in the eighth minute when club legend Marek Hamsik curled his effort over the bar.

James Milner's header flashed wide and teammate Mane saw his goal rightfully crossed off for offside in the 22nd.

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Alisson and Virgil van Dijk have been colossal for Liverpool since joining from Roma and Southampton, respectively, this year but Napoli felt the central defender should have seen red when his follow through caught forward Dries Mertens in the ankle. He was given a yellow instead.

Salah shrugs off defenders

Salah struck moments later when he shook off two defenders and poked the ball through Ospina's legs from a tight angle.

And in the second half, the chances kept on coming for Liverpool, with Salah shooting wide when in alone, Firmino depositing his header straight at Ospina and the Colombian keeper foiling the Egyptian twice in the same sequence.

In between Mane squandering two seemingly can't-miss chances in the dying minutes, Alisson denied Milik before a follow-up was ruled out for offside. Again it appeared to be the correct call.

No wonder Alisson received a big hug from Klopp at the final whistle.

"(Alisson) has been fantastic for Liverpool and for us," van Dijk told Liverpool's website. "He gives confidence to everyone."

The final qualifier will come on Wednesday, either Lyon or Shakhtar Donetsk from Group F. But it will be difficult to match Tuesday's drama in what was another memorable European night at Anfield.

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