Steven Gerrard's latest moment of inspiration failed to prevent Liverpool from dropping out of the Champions League on Tuesday, with Basel securing a 1-1 draw to advance to the knockout stage at the expense of the five-time champions.
The Swiss visitors secured the point they required at Anfield to advance alongside Group B winner Real Madrid — but only after hanging on against 10 men in the face of a late Reds onslaught instigated by their captain's 81st-minute equalizer.
Liverpool was a goal down to Fabian Frei's 25th-minute strike and a man down after a straight red card to substitute Lazar Markovic in the 60th when Gerrard curled a free kick into the top corner from 20 meters.
Needing a victory to overtake Basel, Liverpool went close through Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel in a tension-filled final few minutes but slips into the Europa League by finishing third.
"You always qualify over the six games," said Gerrard, whose team lost 1-0 in Basel in October and twice to Madrid, "and unfortunately we haven't been good enough."
While Basel celebrates a first appearance in the knockout stage since the 2011-12 season, Liverpool is left to bemoan a disappointing campaign where its only win came against rank outsider Ludogorets Razgrad — thanks to Gerrard's injury-time penalty.
At 34, Gerrard remains the player that teammates and fans look to for inspiration. It is almost 10 years to the day that he scored a long-range goal in the final minutes to seal a 3-1 comeback victory over Olympiakos in their final group game and progress to the knockout stage.
They won the competition — for the fifth time — that season but the way things are going, it could be a while before the team is playing at this level again.
Ninth in the Premier League, Liverpool lacks the verve and spark of last season and a pedestrian home side — nervous at the back and static in midfield — was given the runaround at times in the first half.
Basel has now lost just once in 10 Champions League games against Premier League opposition and again seemed to relish this lofty occasion in front of its boisterous fans.
Frei was given space at the edge of the box to play a one-two with Luca Zuffi and smash a low finish into the corner to quieten an already-edgy Anfield. Marco Streller and Fabian Schar could have added more for Basel in the first half.
Markovic came on for the second half and the winger injected urgency into Liverpool's attacking play, only to get red-carded for throwing out his right arm at Behrang Safari and appearing to brush his fingers across the defender's face.
"His fingernail barely touches the nose of the defender — he is the guy who should be looked at for his reaction," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
Liverpool dominated the final 20 minutes. Gerrard almost earned a penalty and Henderson's deflected header was kept out by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
"It was hard, the last 10 minutes," said Basel coach Paulo Sousa, adding that qualification will go down in "the history of this special club."
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