MADRID, April 22- A toothless Liverpool failed to get the away goal they craved as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final.
Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan had a huge slice of luck for his winner in the ninth minute but there was nothing fortunate about his side’s win as Liverpool, missing star striker Fernando Torres, failed to test goalkeeper David de Gea and must now rely on home advantage to turn the tie around in the second leg at Anfield on April 29.
The last time Liverpool visited Madrid they beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of last season’s last 16 Champions League tie but they were second best at the Calderon and fortunate to escape with a 1-0 loss with goalkeeper Pepe Reina pulling off some fine saves to keep the Spaniards at bay.
"It is half-time and the second game is at Anfield so we are hopeful," said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. "We are disappointed because we conceded a strange goal and we could not score, you always want to score.
There was no emotional homecoming for Atletico favourite Torres – who came through the youth system and was made captain at 19 – with the Liverpool striker sidelined for the rest of the season due to knee surgery. In the absence of Torres Benitez put his faith in French striker David Ngog.
With Argentine forward Sergio "Kun" Aguero suspended the Atletico goals responsibility fell more on the shoulders of top-scorer Forlan who memorably scored both goals for Manchester United in a 2-1 league win over Liverpool at Anfield back in the 2002.
Despite reaching the semi-finals Atletico had only won one of their 12 European games – six in the Champions and six in the Europa League – and had lost their last two matches in the league.
However, they got the perfect start netting after just nine minutes although there was a huge slice of luck for Forlan who looked to have fluffed his lines.
Jose Jurado crossed from the by-line and the unmarked Forlan got his header horribly wrong but the ball fell kindly into his path and the Uruagayan scuffed the ball past Reina.
"It is a good result but we have another 90 minutes at Anfield where they are very strong," said Forlan. "There is a long way to go to the final."
In the opening quarter hour Liverpool looked like they were jaded from their 24-hour journey from Liverpool to Madrid although coach Benitez had insisted it would not affect his troops.
Liverpool thought they had equalised in the 17th minute when a miscued Dirk Kuyt shot turned into a pass for Benayoun who finished cooly but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside.
Liverpool’s poor first half showing was summed up by a dreadful cross-field pass from Javier Mascherano that missed its target by 10 metres and went directly out of play.
Liverpool were better in the second half and Luis Perea had to make a last ditch tackle to stop Gerrard going clean through on goal.
But Atletico were creating the clear-cut chances and Forlan wasted a great chance with a curious lob before Simao latched on to Ujfalusi’s cross only for Reina to produce a fine save.
The agitated Benitez pulled off the ineffective Ngog just after the hour mark with Dutch striker Ryan Babel coming in on his place.
However, it was Atletico who looked the more likely to score with Reina producing another fine stop and Atletico could rue the missed chances if they are turned over at Anfield.