Mohamed Salah’s stunning solo effort saw Liverpool edge out Napoli for a place in the Champions League last 16 thanks to a 1-0 win at Anfield on Tuesday.
Salah wriggled beyond two Napoli challenges before finishing from a narrow-angle 11 minutes before the break on a night when only Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal cost them a more comfortable margin of victory.
And they were nearly made to pay in stoppage time when Alisson Becker produced a crucial save to deny Arkadiusz Milik a dramatic equaliser.
However, despite losing all three of their away games in Group C, three home wins at fortress Anfield were enough to see Liverpool through to the knockout stage on goals scored over the Italians in second place behind Paris Saint-Germain, who won 4-1 away to Red Star Belgrade to secure top spot.
Salah signalled his return to top form by scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Bournemouth on Saturday that sent Liverpool to the top of the Premier League, and his 13th goal of the season saw luck shine on last season’s Champions League finalists.
The Egyptian fluffed his first chance of the night when he miscontrolled Andrew Robertson’s excellent cross with just David Ospina to beat.
Napoli were left aggrieved 15 minutes in when Virgil van Dijk was only shown a yellow card for a dangerous lunge on Dries Mertens.
Van Dijk did play the ball first, but his follow-through took out the Belgian international and could easily have been punished with a red card by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina.
Napoli had not been beaten in Europe this season before travelling to England’s north-west and showed the danger they posed when Marek Hamsik fired inches over from Mertens’s cross.
However, Liverpool began to take control as the first half went on. Sadio Mane had the ball in the net, but was rightly ruled offside before Salah broke the deadlock.
Salah outmuscled Mario Rui and skipped past Kalidou Koulibaly before squeezing the ball underneath Ospina from a narrow-angle. Had Liverpool conceded they would have had to win by two goals due to their 1-0 defeat in Naples, and the hosts failed to cash in on their dominance of the early stages of the second half to avoid a nervy ending.
Salah pulled his shot into the side-netting with a far better angle from the one he scored, while Milner and Van Dijk sent long-range efforts flying just wide of the target.
But Liverpool couldn’t build on their advantage as Ospina made acrobatic saves to keep out Salah and Mane once more.
And they should have been made to pay on two occasions as firstly Jose Maria Callejon spooned over a glorious chance at the back post 12 minutes from time.
Mane missed another two sitters in front of the Kop to Jurgen Klopp’s amazement.
But Liverpool lived to fight another day thanks to Alisson, who paid back some of his £67 million ($85 million) then-world record fee for a goalkeeper in July, by spreading himself bravely to block from Milik to keep his 12th clean sheet of the season.
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