Byline: JOHN EDWARDS
LIVERPOOL 1 ATLETICO MADRID 1
STEVEN GERRARD rescued Rafa Benitez from more Spanish torment by earning and converting the 93rdminute penalty that snatched a draw for Liverpool last night at Anfield.
Liverpool had consistently faltered at home against Spain's finest, and they were facing more frustration after going behind to a 37th-minute goal from Atletico skipper Maxi Rodriguez in this battle of Group D's two unbeaten teams.
It may have come against the run of play, but there could be no arguing with its execution as Rodriguez raced past Jamie Carragher before firing a shot beyond Pepe Reina.
But Gerrard surged into the area in added time and went down under a challenge from Mariano Pernia. Referee Martin Hansson pointed to the spot, sparking a furious response from Atletico.
Gerrard, however, maintained his composure to score.
Liverpool may have started the evening handily placed at the top of the group but their home record against Spanish opposition must have been a cause for concern.
Three victories from 12 encounters told its own tale, and Liverpool had failed to win any of the last five, stretching back to when Gary McAllister planted a decisive penalty past a certain Reina in the Barcelona goal.
Goals have been hard to come by in that sequence, but Liverpool almost made the ideal start in only the second minute, after Atletico struggled to cope with an inswinging corner from Fabio Aurelio..
Keeper Leo Franco just managed to grab it amid vain appeals from Daniel Agger that he had been impeded as he attempted to close in on a bouncing ball inside the sixyard area.
Atletico are renowned for their attacking flair but surprisingly decided to opt for caution, with former Manchester United man Diego Forlan the only recognised striker in their starting line-up. Argentina scoring sensation Sergio Aguero was on the bench.
But it was a classic Liverpool counter attack that so nearly yielded a breakthrough in the 15th minute. Robbie Keane has yet to find his feet in the Barclays Premier League since joining Liverpool, but there can be no mistaking his relish for this competition.
Liverpool's scorer in the Vicente Calderon Stadium a fortnight ago, there was another reminder of his instinct for an opening in the way he darted round John Heitinga to position himself perfectly for Xabi Alonso's long, raking pass towards the edge of the Atletico area.
The control on his chest was just as impressive, and he could count himself unlucky with a waist-high volley that flew narrowly wide.
There may have been a safety-first element to Atletico's outlook, but their attacking threat could hardly have been discounted, as they demonstrated in the 19th minute, when Simao blazed over from close range, following a dangerous low cross from Pernia. …