Football: Liverpool stumble in Champions League, need win in final match to advance

Raheem Sterling (right) of Liverpool is challenged by Svetoslav Dyakov of Ludogorets during their Champions League Group B match at Vassil Levski stadium in Sofia on Nov 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Raheem Sterling (right) of Liverpool is challenged by Svetoslav Dyakov of Ludogorets during their Champions League Group B match at Vassil Levski stadium in Sofia on Nov 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SOFIA (Reuters) - A late header from defender Georgi Terziev earned Ludogorets a 2-2 Champions League draw with an unimpressive Liverpool on Wednesday that left the English side facing a winner-takes-all final match with FC Basel.

Ludogorets went ahead in the third minute when Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet failed to deal with an awkward bounce following Marcelinho's long-range effort and Dani Abalo was on hand to tap in from close range.

The visitors levelled five minutes later when Rickie Lambert scored with a close-range header following farcical defending by Romania centre back Cosmin Moti. Jordan Henderson made it 2-1 eight minutes before the break, making no mistake at the back post from Raheem Sterling's precise left-wing cross.

Yet the home side refused to surrender and Terziev headed home with four minutes remaining.

Despite the setback, Liverpool, who were beaten and failed to score in their previous three games in Group B, kept alive their hopes of advancing to the Champions League knockout stage.

The Reds are third in the standings on four points, two behind Basel, and need to beat the Swiss side at Anfield in the final round of Group B matches to secure a last-16 spot. Ludogorets visit runaway leaders Real Madrid in their final match.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, under pressure after a poor start to the Premier League season, said the late equaliser did not really change much.

"Overall I was very pleased with the performance," he said. "This is a real confidence boost for us because Ludogorets are a really difficult team to play against. We're disappointed with the goal at the end but it's irrelevant."

Rodgers made three changes to the team that were beaten by Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Sunday. Centre back Kolo Toure replaced Dejan Lovren, Henderson recovered from illness and he was joined by Lucas Leiva in midfield while captain Steven Gerrard moved into a more advanced position after some sub-standard displays.

Despite the changes Liverpool were still shaky at the back and devoid of creativity. Lambert had kept his place up front in the absence of the injured Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge and scored his second goal in three days. But he struggled to link with Sterling, who missed a golden chance 10 minutes from time.

"We are devastated about the goal at the end but it was about the performance today and the performance was better," said Lambert.

In Basel, Cristiano Ronaldo's 71st Champions League goal ensured champions Real Madrid a 1-0 win over FC Basel and top spot in Group B. The win for the Spanish club was a club record-equalling 15th consecutive victory. Ronaldo's goal allowed him to move level with former Madrid striker Raul as the tournament's second-top scorer of all time, three behind Lionel Messi, who broke the record with a hat-trick for Barcelona against APOEL on Tuesday.