ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turks Besiktas knocked Liverpool out of the Europa League on Thursday in a thrilling Istanbul clash at the scene of one of the English club's greatest triumphs, clawing back their first leg deficit and then winning on penalties.
With an estimated 70,000 Besiktas fans creating a cauldron-like atmosphere, Liverpool knew they faced a tough task on a balmy February evening at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, taking a slim 1-0 lead from the Anfield home leg in the round of 32.
Besiktas levelled on aggregate in the 72nd minute with a stunning strike from Tolgay Arslan, assisted by a deft back heel from Senegalese striker Demba Ba, sending the match into extra time and then a penalty shoot out.
With penalties level at 4-4 and all the takers holding their nerve, Arslan skillfully slotted in.
Dejan Lovren stepped up for Liverpool but his effort went high, leaving the player unconsolable and Besiktas fans running onto the pitch in joy.
The stadium had special memories for Reds fans as the scene of the 2005 Uefa Champions League Final where the team famously pulled back a three goal deficit to defeat AC Milan on penalties.
But Liverpool were this time without talismanic leader Steven Gerrard, who starred on that famous night in Istanbul but is still nursing an injury in his last season for the club.
Liverpool wanted to give Gerrard a fairytale send off with a glorious run in a European competition but the famously fanatical black-clad fans of the Eagles worked hard to raise the roof, with deafening whistles every time a Liverpool player touched the ball and dozens of flares burning in the Istanbul night sky.
Banners raised on the stands included 'welcome to hell!", a favourite slogan from Turkish fans for visiting foreign teams.
BA ALWAYS DANGEROUS
Helped on by the vociferous support, Besiktas pushed forwards in the early stages but their well organised moves were let down by some scrappy touches.
Mario Balotelli, looking uneasy and clearly targeted by Beskitas, saw yellow in the 10th minute after a bizarre tackle which saw him upend Veli Kavlak.
Besiktas searched for ways to provoke the volatile Italian, starting a game for the first time since November.
He managed to cool down for the second half of the game but was substituted for Adam Lallana just before the end of normal time, prompting another broadside of boos.
On 19 minutes, Raheem Sterling forced an impressively acrobatic save from Cenk Gonen with a long range effort.
At the other end, Ghana's Daniel Opare could have done more when left with open space on 22 minutes but scuffed his shot.
But Liverpool then began surging forwards in sustained attacks, with Sterling a particular danger.
In no way overawed by the occasion, Besiktas started the second half strongly with Simon Mignolet blocking a dangerous ricochet shot from Serdar Kurtulus.
Arslan came close when a long range effort zoomed past Mignolet's left post in the 70th minute with Besiktas now looking much the more aggressive side.
But the midfielder then found the net in the 72nd minute, leaving Mignolet with no chance and sending an electric shock through the already pulsating stadium.
If any team was going to score in the frantic last minutes of normal time it was Besiktas, with Ba rattling the crossbar in the final seconds off a Gokhan Tore corner to the despair of the local fans.
Besiktas started extra time driving forwards as Ba tested Mignolet with another powerful shot.
With Liverpool seeming to flag, Ba pushed a good chance high over the bar in the 25th minute of extra time before the game drifted into penalties.