Football

Klopp: Win over Ajax feels like one of 'biggest nights' at Liverpool

Anfield was empty, the Liverpool team depleted by injury and it was hardly a vintage performance, but the 1-0 Champions League win over Ajax Amsterdam yesterday morning (Singapore time) still left manager Juergen Klopp bursting with pride.

"Honestly, since I have been at Liverpool, that feels like one of the biggest Champions League nights," said the German, after the Reds qualified for the knockout stage as leaders of Group D.

"Without supporters in, it was the most important, most difficult, most exceptional. With the circumstances, there hasn't been much to smile about, it's been tricky, and the boys throw themselves into the game.

"Robbo (Andy Robertson) has a proper knock on the ankle and pushes himself through, Hendo (Jordan Henderson) with a sore back, Gini (Wijnaldum) - I have no words for him. Curtis Jones, what a game, It's amazing, I'm really proud."

Jones, 19, got the second-half winner and was one of the brightest players in midfield.

Klopp had another injury headache to contend with before the game, with goalkeeper Alisson ruled out with a hamstring strain, and Irish Under-21 custodian Caoimhin Kelleher was picked ahead of the more experienced Adrian.

"Adrian has done a fantastic job for us, he kept a lot of clean sheets, played everywhere. But now we needed the natural football playing ability of Caoimhin Kelleher. He is a good shot-stopper as well," said Klopp.

Kelleher produced a great stop two minutes from time to parry Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's powerful header from point-blank range to see Liverpool over the line.

A delighted Klopp ran onto the field to embrace the debutant after the final whistle.

"You never know how a boy will react. I'm really happy with how calm he was, with how good he was," said Klopp.

GREAT NIGHT

Kelleher added: "That's what I'm there for, I work every day in training to make sure I am ready and I was able to make a good few saves.

"It was an amazing one for me, to make my Champions League debut was massive and we got the win and qualified. A great night."

Over in Group C, Manchester City also secured top spot after a 0-0 draw with Porto, and manager Pep Guardiola said his players can now fully focus on turning the tide in the English Premier League.

In Group B, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane rubbished suggestions he could quit and said the Spanish giants did not deserve to lose after going down 2-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk, leaving their hopes of reaching the last 16 in the balance.

Romelu Lukaku kept Inter Milan's qualification hopes alive, scoring two second-half goals to seal a 3-2 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach, leaving all four Group B teams with a chance to qualify next week.

Holders Bayern Munich, who had already secured qualification from Group A, drew 1-1 at Atletico Madrid. - REUTERS, AFP

Football