• Europa League round-up

Rodgers proud despite Europa exit

ESPN staff
February 22, 2013

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has praised his side's defiance after a thrilling 3-1 win over Zenit St Petersburg at Anfield on Thursday night, although the Reds were bundled out of the Europa League on away goals.

A Joe Allen strike either side of Luis Suarez's brace drew the tie level at 3-3 on aggregate, but Zenit striker Hulk's early goal for the visitors sealed their progression to the round of 16.

Although Rodgers was disappointed by Liverpool's exit, he believes the fightback provides encouraging signs for the remainder of the Premier League season.

"I'm very proud of the club and the players tonight," Rodgers said. "I think, even though we lost the tie, the football club and players showed they are part of probably the world's greatest football family, here at Liverpool, with atmosphere and what the players put into the game.

"To have to come back from a three-goal deficit and put that effort and quality into the game, it was an absolutely phenomenal show.

"I don't think the players could have done any more, the crowd certainly couldn't have done any more. It was one of those nights. It was a fantastic night but unfortunately we probably lost the tie over there. At this level, to have to score that many goals and nearly do it gave me great pride."

Rodgers claims Liverpool were unlucky not to seal the result in the second half when Zenit defender Tomas Hubocan appeared to handle the ball in the area.

"It certainly was a penalty, everyone could see that," he said. "I don't think there was any doubt, especially when you have got an official behind the goal looking clear at it."

Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher was at fault for Hulk's decisive goal after miscontrolling the ball and allowing the Brazilian to streak away and give Zenit a 1-0 lead.

But Rodgers refused to blame the defender, whose 150th European appearance was also his last after announcing he will retired at the end of the season.

"There is no blame. It is probably the first mistake I have seen him make since I came to the football club, and that includes every game in training," Rodgers said. "I thought he was brilliant tonight, how he controlled Hulk, who is a real threat with his strength and power.

"It is one of those unfortunate things. I am disappointed for Carra. He is a brilliant professional and deserved to go into the next round and play again, but unfortunately it is not to be."

Meanwhile, Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti lamented his side's frail defensive efforts, but was determined not to rest on their two-goal first-leg advantage.

"The result was not decided until the very last minute so of course I was worried," Spalletti said. "But every time when I started worrying my players came through. They made the right moves all the time, so it was okay."

"You can't follow one gameplan throughout. You have to play by ear and change depending on situations. Before we came to Liverpool I said we would score a goal at Anfield and we did. You we had to carry on playing football. You can't just clam up and play defensively. You have to attack as well."

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