Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday December 7 2012
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has sung the praises of his players after watching them book a place in the Europa League knock-out stages...
Liverpool ensured European football in 2013 after an impressive 1-0 victory away to Udinese last night.
The visitors defended resolutely throughout, despite fielding a team minus a number of first-choice players, and claimed the vital three points courtesy of a 23rd minute goal by Jordan Henderson.
Speaking at his post-match press conference in Italy, Kop boss Brendan Rodgers analysed: "I thought we were fantastic tonight.
"We had two objectives coming into this stage of the tournament. Firstly, tonight was our 10th game in the tournament and qualification was important. Secondly, we wanted to give some experience to our younger players.
"We were in a difficult group with good teams - teams with good Champions League experience and one of the richest teams in the world.
"But the mentality of the team was very strong and our desire and belief was very strong. We won and that is good for our future."
With Young Boys winning the other game in Group A against Anzhi Makhachkala anything less than a victory would have seen Liverpool eliminated. In the end not only did the Reds manage to win the game but they also topped the group which theoretically should result in a more favourable draw in the next round.
The match was not without its nervy moments however and substitute Antonio Di Natale went agonisingly close to equalising for the hosts in the final seconds.
"There were 20 seconds left and we gave away the ball. Di Natale got in over the top and even at a very tough angle, he went very, very close," explained Rodgers.
"Hopefully this is a sign now that a bit of luck is starting to go our way. A few months back, that might have went in.
"I'm delighted for the players and supporters, over 1,000 of whom travelled over here and that was important. They deserve all the credit along with the players. We can now look forward to the next round in February."
The talented Italian international, who inspired the Bianconeri to victory in the corresponding fixture at Anfield back in October, was surprisingly left on the bench as coach Francesco Guidolin experimented with his already eliminated side.
"At 1-0, and when you have a player of Di Natale's quality, it was always possible they could hurt us at the end," added Rodgers.
"But we controlled the game, passed the ball, and I thought that element, especially with so many young players, was excellent because we're trying to educate them and teach them how to win.
"When you're 17, 18, 19 and 20 years of age like some of them are, this is a big learning curve.
"Our challenge is to make them better players and educate them in the game. They have done well tonight."
Who Could Liverpool Face Next?
The teams Liverpool could be paired with in the next round (last 16) are: AtlÚtico Madrid, Borussia M÷nchengladbach, Stuttgart, Napoli, Basel, Inter Milan, Sparta Prague, Bayer Leverkusen, Levante, Zenit, BATE, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax. The draw will take place on Thursday 20th December and the two-legged tie will be played on Thursday 14th and Thursday 21st February 2013.
Click here to read Vital Liverpool's match report of this game
Click here to see comprehensive match stats from the game
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Date:Friday December 7 2012
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