LIVERPOOL, December 10- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers vowed that his team would redouble their efforts to secure a return to the Champions League after they were knocked out of the competition by Basel.
Steven Gerrard’s 81st-minute free-kick earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw with the Swiss champions at a drizzly Anfield on Tuesday, but it was the visitors who progressed to the last 16 alongside group winners Real Madrid.
Liverpool were making their return to the competition after a five-year absence, and with six points separating them from the Premier League’s top four ahead of Sunday’s trip to Manchester United, Rodgers admitted his side must improve if they are to earn a place in next season’s competition.
“I think we earned the right to be in this year after a wonderful season last year, but over the course of the games we weren’t good enough and ultimately went out,” he told his post-match press conference.
“But it’s been a really good learning experience for us and we want to fight as hard as we can to make sure it’s not another five years.
“We are bitterly disappointed and we will fight very hard to make sure we are back in it next year.”
Liverpool’s third-place finish in Group B saw them slip into the Europa League and despite the strain it will place on his thin squad, Rodgers said he was determined to do well in the second-tier competition.
“Now we go into the Europa League, which is still very much a prestigious tournament and when that comes around, we’ll be fully focused,” he said.
“Our performance level will have increased and we can go on in the second half of the season and do well.”
After Fabian Frei had invigorated the boisterous travelling support with a 25th-minute opener, Liverpool saw half-time substitute Lazar Markovic sent off for flinging a hand at Behrang Safari.
The Serbian’s dismissal left Liverpool facing the last half an hour with a numerical disadvantage, but Gerrard took the hosts to the brink of a famous fightback with an inch-perfect free-kick.
– ‘Fingernail’ –
It had echoes of the goal he scored against Olympiakos 10 years ago when Liverpool came from behind to secure a 3-1 win that took them into the last 16, but this time the Kop was denied a glorious finale.
Rodgers was critical of Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers’s decision to show Markovic a straight red card.
“I thought the sending-off was a really, really disappointing decision by the referee. I am not sure he is close enough to make it,” he said.
“If young Lazar Markovic gets sent off for that, his fingernail barely touches the nose of the defender and the defender is the guy who should be looked at and sent off for his reaction.
“That gave us a mountain to climb with 10 men. But we really took the fight to them with 10 men. In that final half hour we were outstanding.”
Basel coach Paulo Sousa refused to comment on Rodgers’s suggestion that Safari should have been sent off.
“I will not contest what Rodgers is saying,” said the Portugal midfielder, who was a two-time European champion with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund as a player.
“It’s a perspective. From what I understand, he’s not this type of player.”
Bayern Munich, Chelsea and last season’s beaten finalists Atletico Madrid are among the teams potentially lying in wait for Basel in the last-16 draw, but Sousa said he was relaxed about his side’s future opponents.
“What we would like now is to rest,” he said when asked to pick an ideal opponent.
“Competing with the best allows us to grow as people, as a coach and as players. It will be a fantastic challenge again. Everything is special when you go through these competitions competing against these clubs.”