Match ends, Liverpool 2, Ludogorets Razgrad 1.
- Gerrard wins match with late penalty
- Balotelli scores first Liverpool goal
- First Champions League game at Anfield since 2009
- Liverpool join Real Madrid on three points in Group B
Steven Gerrard's stoppage-time penalty ensured Liverpool marked their return to Champions League football with a victory over Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad.
After a low-key first half, the Reds took the lead in the 82nd minute when Mario Balotelli held off two defenders and poked home his first goal for the club.
Substitute Dani Abalo appeared to have clinched a point for the visitors in the final minute when he rounded Simon Mignolet and scored.
But there was a further twist when debutant goalkeeper Milan Borjan fouled Javier Manquillo in the second minute of stoppage time to give the hosts a spot-kick.
Captain Gerrard found the net in front of the Kop to send the crowd into raptures and give Liverpool a winning start to their Group B campaign.
It was a fairytale ending reminiscent of the many glorious European nights that Anfield witnessed under Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, who led the Reds to their fifth European Cup triumph in 2005.
Liverpool had reached the Champions League eight times in nine seasons but failed to qualify for five years before Brendan Rodgers led them to a second-place Premier League finish last season.
After a feverish build-up, Liverpool struggled to live up to the occasion in an underwhelming first half.
The hosts did not truly threaten until the 20-minute mark, when Balotelli expertly turned his marker only for his goalbound shot to be blocked, with Adam Lallana's follow-up drawing a save from Borjan.
Ludogorets, showing admirable composure on the ball for a side making their Champions League debut, had an appeal for a penalty turned down when Brazilian midfielder Marcelinho went down under a slight push from defender Dejan Lovren.
Moments later, a corner found defender Cosmin Moti at the near post, but he failed to make clean contact with a header.
Liverpool's breakthrough almost arrived before half-time, when the ball was worked swiftly from left to right by Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson to Lallana. But the former Southampton man hesitated before his shot was blocked.
The Premier League side's first clear sight of goal arrived soon after the break. Virgil Misidjan's slip allowed Henderson's pass to slide through to Manquillo but the Spanish right-back's dinked effort looped over the bar.
At the other end, Ludogorets right-back Junior Caicara fired a shot from distance that Mignolet had to dive full length to push aside.
|Steven Gerrard on the spot|
|Gerrard is Liverpool's record goalscorer in Europe with 40 goals in all competitions.|
|The Liverpool captain is also the club's most prolific penalty taker; his effort against Ludogorets was his 44th successful penalty|
And Liverpool had another scare when Gerrard allowed striker Roman Bezjak to drift in behind him from a throw-in and poke a shot, which sailed inches over the corner of post and crossbar.
With the hosts looking increasingly vulnerable, Rodgers brought on Fabio Borini for the ineffective Lallana, and the change almost brought an instant reward as Manquillo's cross picked out the Italian striker, whose header was tipped over by Borjan.
When Moreno sent over a similarly pinpoint delivery from the opposite flank, Henderson's flicked header drifted wide.
In between, Ludogorets wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead. Marcelinho threaded a pass through the legs of Mamadou Sakho to Bezjak, whose shot rolled agonisingly onto the foot of a post.
With the Anfield crowd contemplating the possibility of defeat, Balotelli transformed their mood.
Moreno's cross picked out the Italian - a £16m summer signing from AC Milan - and he controlled the ball and turned in a single movement before steering it into the net with the outside of his right foot.
The Ludogorets riposte was swift and devastating. Younes Hamza's through-ball found his fellow substitute Abalo, whose first touch took the ball past Mignolet before his second found the net.
But just when the visiting fans were celebrating what looked certain to be a point, Borjan's ill-judged lunge and Gerrard's unerring strike gave the home supporters the win they were craving.
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- 10CoutinhoSubstituted forLeivaat 68'minutes
- 20LallanaSubstituted forBoriniat 67'minutes
- 3Enrique Sanchez Diaz
- 4K Touré
- 30Fernández Saez
- 26BorjanBooked at 90mins
- 80Paula JuniorBooked at 54mins
- 15AleksandrovBooked at 5mins
- 25MinevBooked at 76mins
- 18DyakovSubstituted forGomes Fonsecaat 85'minutes
- 93MisidjanSubstituted forAbalo Paulosat 72'minutes
- 9BezjakSubstituted forYounesat 86'minutes
- 84Nascimento da Costa
- 8Gomes Fonseca
- 17Abalo Paulos
- 88Cristaldo Farias
- Matej Jug
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Liverpool 2, Ludogorets Razgrad 1.
Corner, Ludogorets Razgrad. Conceded by Javier Manquillo.
Goal! Liverpool 2, Ludogorets Razgrad 1. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the bottom right corner.
Milan Borjan (Ludogorets Razgrad) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Penalty Liverpool. Javier Manquillo draws a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty conceded by Milan Borjan (Ludogorets Razgrad) after a foul in the penalty area.
Goal! Liverpool 1, Ludogorets Razgrad 1. Dani Abalo (Ludogorets Razgrad) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Hamza Younes with a through ball.
Fabio Borini (Liverpool) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Cosmin Moti (Ludogorets Razgrad).
Substitution, Ludogorets Razgrad. Hamza Younes replaces Roman Bezjak.
Attempt saved. Mario Balotelli (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Alberto Moreno.
Substitution, Ludogorets Razgrad. Fábio Espinho replaces Svetoslav Dyakov.
Attempt missed. Marcelinho (Ludogorets Razgrad) right footed shot from outside the box is too high from a direct free kick.
Foul by Lucas Leiva (Liverpool).
Marcelinho (Ludogorets Razgrad) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Goal! Liverpool 1, Ludogorets Razgrad 0. Mario Balotelli (Liverpool) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Alberto Moreno with a cross.
Attempt missed. Yordan Minev (Ludogorets Razgrad) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Junior Caiçara.
Offside, Liverpool. Jordan Henderson tries a through ball, but Mario Balotelli is caught offside.
Mario Balotelli (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the attacking half.