Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said he “could not be prouder of a team” as Mohamed Salah’s goal and Alisson’s brilliant late save earned a place in the Champions League knockout stage with victory over Napoli.
The Reds needed to win with a clean sheet or by two clear goals to make the last 16 – and in-form talisman Salah obliged by beating David Ospina at his near post in the 34th minute.
Liverpool fully deserved their victory as Ospina partially redeemed himself with fine saves from Salah and Sadio Mane, with the latter and Virgil van Dijk also missing clear chances to extend the home side’s advantage.
The clean sheet was the key, however, and Liverpool survived a huge scare in injury time when Alisson made his crucial save from Arkadiusz Milik in a rare Napoli opening.
The Brazilian keeper joined the Reds from Roma in July for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper of £66.8m.
“If I knew Alisson was this good I would have paid double,” said Klopp. “The goal Mo scored – what a goal, unbelievable – but the save Ali (Allison) made I have no words for that. That was the lifesaver tonight.
“It was wild and there were lots of counter attacks but we were ready for that. That is Anfield live and in colour.
“Wow, what a game. I am not sure a manager could be prouder of a team than I am.”
Liverpool go through in second place behind Paris St-Germain – a feat achieved despite losing three away games in their group.
The Reds, who were beaten by Real Madrid in last season’s final, will face one of the group winners when the last-16 draw is made on 17 December.
That could lead to another meeting with the champions, while their Spanish rivals Barcelona, Klopp’s former charges Borussia Dortmund and Portuguese champions Porto have also advanced by topping their groups.
Salah at full throttle once more
Salah started the season slowly after his stellar feats when he scored 44 goals last season – but he has stepped on the throttle in recent weeks and now looks like the player who destroyed defences in domestic and European competition last season.
The Egypt forward – fresh from a hat-trick in Liverpool’s 4-0 win against Bournemouth – made the difference here, admittedly with the help of a dreadful piece of goalkeeping from Ospina, and his pace, power and movement was often too much for the Italians’ defence to cope with.
It was all summed up in the goal as he somehow escaped the mountainous figure of Kalidou Koulibaly to make the decisive contribution.
Salah’s strike was even more significant as his fellow striker Mane, for all his tireless work, had a night in front of goal that he will not recall with pleasure.
Salah in full flight, along with his capacity to score crucial goals, is a threat to any defence and his influence will only grow as Liverpool continue their challenge for the Premier League and Champions League crowns.