Brendan Rodgers hailed as "phenomenal" a Liverpool performance that almost delivered a stunning comeback against Zenit St Petersburg but fell short of rescuing Anfield's last hope of silverware this season.
Liverpool required four unanswered goals to reach the last 16 of the Europa League at the expense of the Russian champions after Hulk capitalised on a Jamie Carragher mistake to put Zenit 3-0 ahead on aggregate in the first half.
Luis Suárez led the fightback with two excellent free-kicks and Joe Allen scored his first goal for Liverpool but the fourth agonisingly eluded Rodgers' team on a rousing Anfield night.
The Liverpool manager said: "I am very proud of the club and the players even though we lost the tie. The club and players showed why we are part of the world's greatest football family. The atmosphere and what they put in to come back from a three-goal deficit and put in that effort was a phenomenal show.
"I thought we should have had a penalty too. The crowd and players couldn't do more. It was a fantastic night but we probably lost the tie over in Russia. To have to score that many goals and nearly do it gives me so much pride."
Suárez had several penalty appeals dismissed by the Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, but Rodgers was particularly aggrieved at an apparent 50th-minute handball from Tomas Hubocan. "It certainly was a penalty," he said.
"We had momentum throughout the game and it looked a clear one. I don't think there was any debate about it, especially with the fourth or fifth official or whatever they call them standing behind the goal and looking straight at it. We wanted to make every effort to go through and the players couldn't have done any more. We will look back on the game over there as one where poor goals ultimately cost us victory."
Carragher's error came in his 150th and last European appearance for Liverpool with the defender retiring in the summer. But his manager said: "There is no blame on Carra. That is the first mistake I think I have seen him make since I arrived at the club and that includes training. I thought he was brilliant tonight in how he controlled Hulk. It was just one of those unfortunate things but I am disappointed for him because he's a brilliant professional and he deserved to go through."
Rodgers was adamant Liverpool's European exit would not signal the end of a season in which they are out of the FA Cup and nine points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification.
"Our season was never going to finish until the final whistle against QPR," he said. "This group is growing all the time and the performance to dominate a team of this ilk was incredible. We just have to continue going forward as we have from the turn of the year. You can see the players' hunger and determination to do that."
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image: © Bernard C