A bruised Liverpool will narrow their focus to domestic competitions after being slung out of the Europa League at the round of 32 stage by Besiktas in a thrilling penalty shoot out.
Liverpool surrendered a 1-0 lead from the first leg for the game to go to penalties after a goalless extra time, with Besiktas sneaking through 5-4 after Dejan Lovren’s dramatic miss.
“We can just now concentrate on our league campaign, which is now going better, and we have an excellent opportunity in other competitions,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after the game.
Liverpool’s Premier League campaign has now gathered momentum after a dismal start and in the the FA Cup they face Blackburn in the sixth round in March.
The side must now also pick itself up for a crunch league clash against Manchester City at the weekend.
“I can only give credit to my players,” said Rodgers.
“Unfortunately for us Istanbul has not been a happy place for us tonight.
“We are disappointed of course to go out in the manner we did.”
With an estimated 70,000 Besiktas fans creating a cauldron-like atmosphere, Liverpool knew they faced a tough task on a balmy February evening at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium.
Besiktas levelled on aggregate in the 72nd minute with a stunning strike from Tolgay Arslan, assisted by a deft back heel from Senegalese striker Demba Ba, sending the match into extra time and then a penalty shoot out.
With penalties level at 4-4 and all the takers holding their nerve, Arslan skillfully slotted in. Lovren stepped up for Liverpool but his effort went high, leaving the player unconsolable and Besiktas fans running onto the pitch in joy.
“Someone had to miss and unfortunately it was him and us,” said Rodgers.
The stadium had special memories for Reds fans as the scene of the 2005 UEFA Champions LeagueFinal where the team famously pulled back a three goal deficit to defeat AC Milan on penalties.
But Liverpool were this time without talismanic leader Steven Gerrard, who starred on that famous night in Istanbul but is still nursing an injury in his last season for the club.
“We did miss some of our creativity but it’s no excuse,” said Rodgers.
The famously fanatical black-clad fans of the Eagles worked hard to raise the roof, with deafening whistles every time a Liverpool player touched the ball and dozens of flares burning in the Istanbul night sky.
Banners raised on the stands included ‘welcome to hell!”, a favourite slogan from Turkish fans for visiting foreign teams.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s a great night for our great club, for Besiktas. For Turkish football as well” said triumphant Besiktas manager Slaven Bilic.
He said Liverpool “did not have the creation” but we “definitely deserve it and we are so proud of our players.”
– ‘Great night for Turkey’ –
Helped on by the vociferous support, Besiktas pushed forwards in the early stages but were let down by some sloppy touches.
On 19 minutes Raheem Sterling forced an impressively acrobatic save from Cenk Gonen with a long range effort.
In no way overawed by the occasion, Besiktas started the second half strongly with Simon Mignolet blocking a dangerous ricochet shot from Serdar Kurtulus.
Arslan came close when a long range effort zoomed past Mignolet’s left post in the 70th minute with Besiktas now looking much the more aggressive side.
But the midfielder then found the net in the 72nd minute, leaving Mignolet with no chance and sending an electric shock through the already pulsating stadium.
With Liverpool seeming to flag, Ba pushed a good chance high over the bar in the 25th minute of extra time before the game drifted into penalties. – Agence France-Presse