BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Red Star Belgrade produced one of the biggest upsets of this season’s Champions League by beating Liverpool 2-0 on Tuesday, reviving memories of its time as one of Europe’s top soccer teams.
Milan Pavkov scored in the 22nd and 29th minutes as the Serbian champions earned a first win in their debut appearance in the Champions League group stage. They last played in the European Cup in 1991 as holders, when beating the likes of Liverpool would not have been regarded as such a surprise.
Back then, eastern European teams were genuine contenders for club football’s biggest prize — Steaua Bucharest of Romania was European champion in 1986 — and Red Star had some of the world’s best players like Robert Prosinecki and Dejan Savicevic.
Nearly three decades on, Red Star doesn’t have a household name in its squad and needed to qualify for the group stage through the playoffs. It was also thrashed 4-0 by Liverpool at Anfield in the previous round when the gulf between the sides was huge.
Two weeks later, Red Star — playing in front of a loud and passionate home crowd — kept Liverpool’s fearsome attacking unit quiet and, in Pavkov, had its own star striker.
He leapt highest at a corner to head in a right-wing delivery from Marko Marin and put Red Star ahead.
Pavkov then showed another side of his game, shrugging off Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum to get the ball onto his right foot and smash a fierce shot past goalkeeper Alisson from 25 meters.
Daniel Sturridge, who started up front for Liverpool in place of Roberto Firmino, sidefooted over the bar from close range in the first half and Mohamed Salah saw his shot strike the post after halftime. A deflected cross from Liverpool left back Andrew Robertson also bounced onto the crossbar after the break in Belgrade.
The English club has now lost both of its away games in the group stage, having been beaten 1-0 at Napoli last month. Napoli and Liverpool both have six points after the Italian team’s 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain in Naples later Tuesday.
Red Star moved onto four points and its home form means it still has a chance of a top-two finish. Red Star drew 0-0 with Napoli in its previous home game.
Liverpool finishes the group with a trip to PSG and a home game against Napoli.
“You can’t give teams that start,” Liverpool midfielder James Milner said. “The crowd is big for them and it’s been a long time since they’ve been in the Champions League. Napoli found it tough when they came here and we knew it was going to be a tough place to come.
“We need to win our games, it’s on our shoulders ... it’s in our hands but we will have to play better than we did tonight.”