Despite an electric fight back from Liverpool, Zenit St Petersburg did just enough to hang on and move into the last 16 of the Europa League after a 3-1 defeat at Anfield put the aggregate score at 3-3.
Already trailing 2-0 from the first leg in Russia, Liverpool’s hopes suffered what would prove to be a fatal blow when Hulk capitalized on Jamie Carragher’s error to strike inside 20 minutes. Liverpool deserve massive credit, though, as they went on a memorable charge and came so close to a famous comeback with two Luis Suarez free-kicks sandwiching a close range finish by Joe Allen.
The stage seemed set for the culmination of a memorable European night in the final 15 minutes, but Liverpool's tank appeared to run empty and Zenit were able to settle in the closing stages and secure a tie with Swiss side Basel.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had talked up the potential benefit that a raucous Anfield could have to his team's chances of a comeback and the home fans got the message as they gave their side ample encouragement at the kick-off.
The atmosphere seemed to play its part in a lively opening, but Liverpool’s chances were soon dealt a huge blow after a dreadful error from stalwart Jamie Carragher, who had been a solidifying presence on the defense in recent weeks.
The ball came bouncing back to the veteran just inside his own half and with Hulk bearing down on him he tried to help it back to his own keeper, but barely made any contact with it and merely allowed the Brazilian to charge forward unchecked and cool as anything slide the ball low past Reina.
The goal stunned a passionate Anfield as the realization that Liverpool now required four unanswered goals set in. But Liverpool admirably kept about their task and soon got rewarded and gave the tie renewed impetus.
The man who missed several chances in the first leg, Suarez, stepped up and struck a low free kick from 20 yards that went right through a Zenit wall that parted before it and into the net.
Liverpool almost immediately got the bit back between their teeth and showed plenty of belief that they could make the improbable happen. There was still a warning, though, of the threat Zenit possessed going forward as Danny fired a volley just wide of the upright.
Two minutes before the break, Liverpool put themselves firmly back into the running for a last-16 place. Jose Enrique played a delightful one-two with Jordan Henderson and after getting to the byline the Spaniard’s deflected cross bounced up for Allen, whose header was well saved by Vyacheslav Malafeev but the ball came straight back to the midfielder who reacted well to volley home.
The pressure continued after the interval and Liverpool had a strong shout for a penalty as Tomas Hubocan bent down to chest the ball in the box but it bounced up against his arm. With Suarez, and most of Anfield, still appealing for a penalty, the Uruguayan received the ball and poked a shot at goal that Malafeev did well to turn past his near post.
The momentum remained strongly in Liverpool’s favor and just before the hour mark, the tie was firmly put in the balance by a stunning free-kick from Suarez. Whereas there was an element of fortune about his first, no such claim could be made about the second.
From an ideal position 25 yards from goal, just left of center, Suarez stepped up and whipped the ball around the wall and outside the far post before it curled back just inside the goal to leave Malafeev with no chance.
The scores were now level on aggregate, but Liverpool still needed score once more to avoid going out on away goals.
That looked a distinct possibility as Suarez fired another free-kick that Malafeev this time palmed away and the Zenit keeper was called into action again to keep a Gerrard volley out of the top corner.
Drama at the other end too as some slack defending required Reina to pull off an outstanding low save from Hulk’s shot.
The action was now frantic at both ends of the pitch and parts of Anfield thought their side had gone in front when subs substitute Jonjo Shelvey steamed in and smashed a first-time shot into the side netting after Hubocan’s lax control in the box.
That was to prove the last chance for Liverpool as they finally appeared to tire in the closing minutes and Lucinao Spalletti’s side held on for a most uncomfortable win.