Ryan Babel had scored a wonder goal with just seven minutes left and if Liverpool could have hung on they would still have had a realistic chance of reaching the last 16. But Liverpool’s season has been littered with shattering luck and bitter body blows, as well as beach-ball goals.
And when Lisandro struck an equaliser in the final seconds for Lyon – sending them into the last 16 – Liverpool knew their own hopes were left hanging by a thread.
Fiorentina’s win over Debrecen keeps them firmly in second spot and Liverpool will need more than a miracle now after this devastating blow.
Captain Jamie Carragher said: “We still believe we will get through. We know it’s going to be difficult but we’re not out of it yet. All we can do is win our next two games and see what happens.
“We have been in difficult positions before and we’ve come through like in 2005 when we had to win in Marseille in the group stages and we came through. It’s disappointing but a draw doesn’t mean we’re totally out of it.”
Reds boss Rafa Benitez said: “To concede a goal in the last minute is really, really unlucky. With all the problems that we have it was a really positive response from the players.”
Daniel Agger passed a late fitness test to play at the Stade Gerland, boosting the Anfield club’s side who were missing seven senior players. Fernando Torres was also in the starting line-up, while Alberto Aquilani was on the bench, Andriy Voronin partnering Torres up front.
Lyon made two changes from their side that won at Anfield a fortnight ago. Michel Bastos and Bafetimbi Gomis came in for Ederson and Sidney Govou.
At first Torres looked barely able to run, certainly with nothing like his usual mobility. The occasional sprint when needed was about his limit early on.
Lyon may have been lulled into a false sense of security against Torres and when he found a yard of space in the box he almost had Liverpool ahead after 12 minutes.
Emiliano Insua swung over a cross from the left, and the striker met it first-time eight yards to force a fine point-blank save from Hugo Lloris, who was to deny Liverpool twice more before the break.
Liverpool defended deep and in numbers, desperate not to concede early while Lyon had plenty of possession. They moved the ball around crisply and Bastos tested Jose Reina from 20 yards while the giant Gomis had Liverpool’s keeper stretching again with a 25-yarder.
BUT Liverpool were searching for a breakthrough of their own, and another Insua cross gave Dirk Kuyt the chance of a clever lob, again Lloris needing to be at his best to touch the ball over the bar.
Lyon then lost Anthony Reveillere and Miralem Pjanic to leg injuries, Lamine Gassama and Ederson taking their places.
Liverpool’s third decent chance of the half came after a foul on Torres deep in his own half.
Javier Mascherano’s quick free-kick cleared Lyon’s back line and allowed Voronin a clear run at goal. His shot was low, but Lloris blocked with his legs.
Lyon started the second period with a quicker tempo, and Lisandro hooked over an Aly Cissokho cross. The match was now unbelievably tense, with one mistake capable of ruining a creditable performance by Liverpool.
Lyon upped the pressure to grab the goal to put them into the last 16. As Liverpool pressed forward, gaps appeared and Gomis looked dangerous.
Liverpool’s first change came after 67 minutes when Babel replaced Voronin.
Then Lloris made another stunning save, turning away Lucas’ effort with his left hand with Kuyt following up with an overhead shot that was kicked off the line.
Lyon brought on Govou for Gomis, before Reina’s first serious save of the night, blocking Lisandro from close range.
Lisandro got away again after 78 minutes, turning Agger and then firing a curling shot just wide.
But Liverpool broke from defence after a painful bout of head tennis to grab a sensational goal after 83 minutes. Yossi Benayoun spun the ball out to the left for Babel, who cut inside to unleash a thunderous drive into the top corner from 30 yards.
Three minutes from the end Torres was taken off, David Ngog taking over. But with seconds left, Liverpool’s dream crashed.
Lisandro got past Insua and lifted his shot over Reina to equalise.
Subs for Lyon: Gassama for Reveillere, 18, Ederson for Pjanic, 40, Govou for Gomis, 73.
Subs for Liverpool: Babel for Voronin, 68, Ngog for Torres, 87.