Late Balotelli penalty gives Reds the advantage
Adam Lallana looked to have wasted the best chance of the game shortly after half-time but the Italian came on as a substitute and dispatched a spot kick with typical calm.
London, February 20
A Mario Balotelli penalty gave Liverpool the advantage in their Europa League last-32 tie as they beat Besiktas 1-0 at Anfield. The Reds, who were without injured captain Steven Gerrard, looked to have wasted the best chance for a winner on the night shortly after half-time when Adam Lallana shot over the bar from just six yards out.
But Brendan Rodgers’s men pushed on in search of a goal as the second period wore on and finally got a clear opportunity when Jordon Ibe was brought down in the box by Ramon Motta and Balotelli finished with typical aplomb.
Gerrard was sidelined with a hamstring injury, ruling him out of a reunion with Besiktas frontman Demba Ba, who – then with Chelsea – pounced on a now-infamous slip by the Liverpool captain to contribute to the downfall of the Reds’ Premier League title challenge last season.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts who made the early running and Daniel Sturridge drew a save from goalkeeper Gonen with a close-range strike in the opening four minutes after some trickery in the Besiktas box.
An intruder on the pitch caused a momentary delay before the visitors’ first chance fell the way of midfielder Veli Kavlak but his shot was dragged wide of the left-hand post.
Kavlak came close once again shortly after the half-hour mark when he headed wide from a corner and Simon Mignolet had to get down well to keep out an effort from Ba after the Senegalese had been sent clean through on goal – the goalkeeper demonstrating what he should have done against Chelsea back in April.
And so it was Besiktas who enjoyed the better goalscoring opportunities in a first half that saw Liverpool have the majority of the ball, although Sturridge curled over a free kick and Moreno forced Gonen to tip over with a stunning 30-yard strike.
Jordan Henderson pulled wide from another set-piece with Gonen flat-footed before the interval and Liverpool started the second half on the front foot but Lallana scooped a glorious chance to break the deadlock over the crossbar following a mix-up between the keeper and Pedro Franco.
Manager Rodgers brought on Balotelli to give his side a greater attacking presence with just over an hour on the clock and the Italian was almost instantly involved, curling a free kick into the arms of Gonen.
Sturridge saw a similar set-piece kept out 10 minutes later and it was turning into a mightily frustrating outing for Liverpool until Ibe was brought down in the box late on.
Balotelli stepped up – after some discussion with stand-in skipper Henderson – to coolly slot into the bottom right-hand corner and send Liverpool to Turkey next week with a slim advantage.
Gerrard accuses Balotelli of disrespect after penalty swipe
LONDON, February 20
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard accused team mate Mario Balotelli of showing disrespect after the Italian found himself at the centre of controversy despite scoring a winning penalty against Besiktas on Thursday.
Balotelli stroked the ball home in the 85th minute to secure a 1-0 win at Anfield but only after wrestling the ball off stand-in skipper and designated penalty-taker Jordan Henderson.
The two exchanged heated words before Balotelli fired home and Gerrard, injured and working as a TV pundit, was not amused.
“Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous,” he told ITV Sport.
“Credit to Mario, he’s scored, but it’s not nice to see when footballers are arguing. I think Jordan has handled the situation very well. He can see that Mario really wanted to score. Jordan walked away at the right moment and handled his post-match interview very well.”
“Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he’s scored a very important goal. I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then? Rules are in place for a reason.”
Mario Balotelli, a regular penalty-taker at his previous clubs, had only been on the pitch for 22 minutes.
After the goal, Balotelli sought out Henderson in what appeared to be an effort to make amends, while the England midfielder sought to play down the incident in his post-match interview.
“I wanted the penalty, Mario felt confident and he has taken big penalties before,” he said.
“Everyone wants to take them. I felt confident in Mario, he has taken big penalties before and he got the nod.”