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Firmino scores late goal to keep Liverpool’s slim Champions League hopes alive

LIVERPOOL, England, May 20 (Reuters) – Roberto Firmino scored a dramatic late equaliser in his final appearance at Anfield for Liverpool to keep the Merseyside squad’s slim chances of a top-four finish in the Premier League alive with a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Firmino, who is one of four players leaving when his contract runs out at the end of the season, scored in the 89th minute to the delight of the crowd who serenaded the tearful Brazilian after the final whistle.

“Definitely (emotional),” manager Juergen Klopp said on Firmino’s finale. “This day was not an easy day for us.

“Second half we had to calm down, increase the pressure but calm down, and that’s what we did. It was a draw and that’s okay.”

Klopp’s side are fifth with 66 points with one game remaining, but three points adrift of fourth-place Manchester United who have a game in hand. Unai Emery’s Villa are seventh with 58 points from 37 games.

Jacob Ramsey put Villa ahead in the 27th minute, after a period of sustained pressure, darting to the back post to head a cross from Douglas Luiz past goalkeeper Allison.

“But we were 1-0 up for so long and we had chances to kill the game. But a point at Anfield is really good,” Ramsey told BBC.

“When you come to places like this, the first 15 and last 20 we were definitely under (pressure). But if you’re going to come to these places and get a result, you have to dig deep and we did that.”

Villa could have taken the lead five minutes earlier when they were awarded a penalty, but Ollie Watkins sent his shot wide.

Liverpool thought they had levelled early in the second half from a close-range goal by Cody Gakpo, but after a lengthy VAR check it was ruled out for offside.

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The home side dominated a frenzied final few minutes as chants in support of Firmino rang out in the stadium.

Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League appear all but over. Third-placed Newcastle United and Manchester United need only a point from their remaining two games to deny Liverpool a place in Europe’s premier club competition.

The six-time winners have not missed playing in the European showcase tournament since 2016-17.

Klopp had to watch the game from the stands while serving the first of a two-game touchline suspension for criticising the referee following Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Tottenham last month. The manager was also fined 75,000 pounds ($94,660).

Firmino, Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who were part of the squad that won the Champions League in 2019 and helped the club win their first English league title in 30 years in the 2019-20 season, are all leaving Anfield after their contracts expire at the end of the season. The quartet were presented with an honour guard and framed photos in a post-game ceremony.

Liverpool were missing Darwin Nunez due to a toe injury, while Aston Villa were without injured Philippe Coutinho.

The game had some heated moments, including a high kick to Gakpo’s chest from Tyrone Mings. Gakpo pulled up his shirt to show the referee the mark, but after a VAR review, Mings was shown a yellow card.

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