The Reds cruised to a 3-1 first leg lead in Sofia. After a slow start from the Reds they gradually controlled the game and shot to a two goal lead. Although slack marking towards the end of the first half gave Sofia some hope the Reds regained the control of the game in the second and scored again.
The Reds took to the field in their away kit of white shirts and black shorts to face the Bulgarian side known as the Reds. CSKA got the game underway in the National stadium but it was Liverpool who had the first chance. Cisse broke down the left flank and cut in to the area but his cross/shot was easily held by the keeper. The ref was forced into swapping the ball on six minutes when he halted play in the middle of the pitch. After switching balls he dropped the new one to Alonso who played through Cisse but his shot went to the left of the goal.
Sofia actually started the game quite well although were not troubling the Reds much at the back. On eight minutes they did get a chance when they got in round the back of Hyypia. Reina forced the man wide going round him and by the time he got to the ball he couldn't cut it back inside. Six minutes later they tried to test Reina with along range effort but it sailed just over the bar. It was the nearest they really got early on despite making a decent game of it.
The Reds started to take the game by the scruff of the neck now though and on twenty five minutes opened the scoring through Djibril Cisse. Steven Gerrard looked to shoot on goal but did a lovely reverse ball to Cisse who shot past the keeper at the near post. This was really one to send the Bulgarian crowd quiet and of course a crucial away goal to force the home side out more. On thirty one minutes the lead was doubled thanks to Fernando Morientes and again it was Gerrard who set the goal up. This was a trademark Morientes header. That goal that all us Reds had thought Morientes would bring to our play in fact. Gerrard whipped a ball in and Morientes rose through the air to power his header into the back of the net. The crowd mainly fell silent but for the Liverpool fans celebrating what was surely now a place in the group stages of the competition they are the holders of.
The Reds continued to dominate the half although Sofia had odd chances. On thirty eight minutes Reina was aware of the danger as a through ball was played. He raced out to the edge of his area to smother the ball. He was then equally aware when he nearly held on to it outside the box. He let the ball go and got up to kick it clear. Things did go a tad wrong on the stroke of half time though. Sofia worked the ball down the left side and crossed in. Gerrard lost his man and V.Dimitrov headed home past Reina to give the home side something to cheer about.
The sides came back out for the second half to more noise again. The game had gone quiet as the Reds dominated but the goal just before half time gave them all hope again. The crowd noise again gave the home side confidence but Liverpool got on the ball early doors once again and started to dominate. Eight minutes into the half Cisse broke with speed but his shot was easy for the keeper to collect. A minute later the Reds managed to get Morientes through on goal but his low shot curling around the keeper hit the foot of the post and went clear.
Nando didn't have to wait too long though for his second goal of the night. On fifty eight minutes Cisse crossed to the back post for Gerrard. He chested the ball down and squared it to Morientes who took one touch before crashing it through the legs of the keeper. This restored the two goal cushion and of course gave yet another away goal for the tally.
Luis Garcia was taken out of the game on sixty one minutes which resulted in the first yellow card of the night. The Reds were very much in the ascendancy now and Morientes came very close to a hat-trick on sixty three minutes when he headed a Finnan cross to the far post but an excellent full length save from the keeper kept the ball out. The first Liverpool switch of the night came as Hamann replaced Alonso on sixty four minutes. Six minutes later Sissoko replaced Gerrard. Both were good moves with the league season starting on Saturday and this game being over in reality.
The Reds gave a debut to Antonio Barragan on seventy eight minutes in place of Morientes. Garcia moved up front and Barragan slotted into right midfield. The game started to go quiet now with the Bulgarians knowing they were beaten and the Reds not needing to over extend themselves. That said two Reds found themselves in the book in the last five minutes. First Garcia was booked and two minutes later Warnock was booked despite winning the ball in a sliding challenge.
The Reds did nearly conceded in the final minute of the game again but overall this was a richly deserved win and one which as the last round has virtually guaranteed a place in the group stages of the Champions League. This was harder than the last round but I admit to being surprised at how easy this proved to be. Although you shouldn't count yer chickens before the fat lady sings I still think this is the Reds safely through and the return leg can see some squad rotation. MotM : Stephen Warnock - defensively solid all night and offered width where possible to the attack.