PARIS, March 11 – Liverpool were brought down to earth in the Europa League on Thursday after losing 1-0 to Portuguese side Sporting Braga in the away leg of their last-16 tie.
The Reds, rejuvenated under interim coach Kenny Dalglish and 3-1 victors over arch-rivals Manchester United on Sunday, will have to turn the tie around in the March 17 return leg if they are to progress to the quarter-finals.
Braga took the lead in the 18th minute in Portugal, with Alan guiding an emphatic penalty into the bottom-left corner after Mossoro had been sent sprawling by Sotiris Kyrgiakos.
Full-back Silvio came within inches of doubling the hosts’ advantage 20 minutes later but his magnificent left-foot half-volley from 25 yards crashed back into play off the crossbar.
With Liverpool toiling, Dalglish introduced striker Andy Carroll for his European debut just before the hour and the burly former Newcastle man had an immediate impact.
A Carroll knock-down obliged Braga goalkeeper Artur to save at Dirk Kuyt’s feet before Carroll saw a deflected left-foot shot fall narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Kuyt then drew a sharp stop from Artur with an instinctive half-volley from the edge of the box but Braga, Champions League debutants earlier this season, withstood the pressure to claim a memorable victory.
Villarreal asserted control of their tie against Bayer Leverkusen as a goal in the fourth minute of injury time from Nilmar earned them a last-gasp 3-2 victory in the away leg.
Leverkusen, currently second in the German Bundesliga, took the lead in the 33rd minute when Michal Kadlec arrowed a fine drive into the bottom-right corner from 30 yards.
Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi drew the visitors level after exploiting a gap in the Germans’ defence in the 42nd minute.
A 70th-minute goal from Nilmar was swiftly cancelled out by Gonzalo Castro but the Brazil international striker had the final say in injury time, racing clear and beating goalkeeper Rene Adler with a low strike.
Elsewhere, a powerful 70th-minute effort by Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin gave runaway Portuguese leaders Porto a 1-0 win at CSKA Moscow, while Scottish champions Rangers’ trip to PSV Eindhoven finished goalless.
In Thursday’s late games, Liverpool’s Premier League counterparts Manchester City travel to Dynamo Kiev, while two-time European champions Benfica welcome Paris Saint-Germain to the Estadio da Luz.