PARIS, Feb 25, 2011 (AFP) - An 86th-minute header from Dirk Kuyt earned Liverpool a narrow 1-0 win over Sparta Prague on Thursday that took the five-time European champions into the Europa League last 16.
Liverpool had enjoyed the lion's share of possession against the Czech side but, as in the first leg, they struggled to make their dominance count.
|Liverpool's fans support their team as they take on Sparta Prague during the match at Anfield Stadium on February 24, 2011. AFP|
Raul Meireles blazed over wastefully from an inviting Martin Kelly cross in the first half, while French striker David Ngog was one of several Liverpool players frustrated by Sparta goalkeeper Jaromir Blazek in the second.
With extra-time beckoning, Liverpool won a corner on the left-hand side that Meireles curled into the box and Kuyt darted away from the goal-line to cushion an intelligent header into the bottom-right corner.
Liverpool will play either Lech Poznan or Sporting Braga in the last 16.
"It was a difficult game. We knew from the first game that they are a strong, physical side," said Liverpool coach Kenny Dalglish, after his first ever European game at Anfield as manager.
"I think the boys deserve great credit for their determination and effort in getting a result. It was superb the way they took pride in themselves and the club."
Elsewhere, a dramatic injury-time goal by American international midfielder Maurice Edu earned Rangers a 2-2 draw at Sporting Lisbon that sent the Scottish giants through on away goals.
After former Rangers man Pedro Mendes had cancelled out El Hadji Diouf's opener for the visitors at the Jose Alvalade Stadium, an 83rd-minute header by Yannick Djalo looked set to give the Portuguese team victory.
Rangers launched a desperate last attack in the 92nd minute, however, and when David Healy rolled in a low cross from the Rangers right, Edu tapped home to send the travelling fans wild.
"We came here intent on advancing and made life a bit difficult for ourselves but we found a way to pull ourselves through in the end," Edu told the Rangers website.
The next stop for Walter Smith's side will be PSV Eindhoven, who won 3-1 at home to French league leaders Lille for a 5-3 aggregate success.
Former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady killed off any hopes of a Basel comeback with a stoppage-time goal in Spartak Moscow's 1-1 draw at home to the Swiss outfit, sealing a 4-3 aggregate win.
Meanwhile, Michael Ballack scored his first goal since his return from injury as Bayer Leverkusen completed a 6-0 aggregate victory with a 2-0 win at home to Metalist Kharkiv of Ukraine.
In the day's early kick-off, 2008 champions Zenit Saint-Petersburg secured their place in the last 16 by coming from behind to defeat Swiss side Young Boys 3-1, thereby overturning a 2-1 deficit from the away leg.
Porto, champions in 2003, progressed on away goals on Wednesday despite a 1-0 loss at home to Sevilla, while CSKA Moscow completed a 2-1 aggregate win over Greek outfit PAOK on Tuesday.
In Thursday's 2005GMT matches, big-spending Premier League giants Manchester City tackle Aris Salonika at the City of Manchester Stadium in a tie in which the deadlock has yet to be broken.
There have also been no goals yet in the round's glamour tie, Villarreal v Napoli, ahead of the second leg at the Spanish side's El Madrigal home.