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26 February 2024

Off the bench and into Liverpool legend: Super Mario is back

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli is challenged byTottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele (unseen) during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England, February 10, 2015. (REUTERS)

By Agencies

Mario Balotelli came off the bench to grab a late winning goal for Liverpool in a 3-2 victory over Tottenham in the Premier League on Tuesday, boosting his team's chances of hauling in its rivals for Champions League qualification.

Out of favor at Anfield in recent months, Balotelli entered in the 73rd minute and scored his first league goal for Liverpool 10 minutes later by poking home a cross from Adam Lallana.

Spurs had come from behind twice in an entertaining game between two top-four candidates, with Lazar Markovic's opener in the 15th cancelled out by a superb turn and finish by in-form striker Harry Kane.

Steven Gerrard regained Liverpool's lead from the penalty spot in the 55th before Kane set up Mousa Dembele in the 61st for a second equalizer.

Liverpool moved a point behind sixth-place Tottenham and provisionally just three points third-place Southampton, whose game in hand is on Wednesday.

Balotelli barely raised a smile as he was mobbed by teammates after his close-range finish, which could be a crucial moment in Liverpool's bid to return to Europe's top competition after elimination from the group stage in December.

The striker's lack of mobility and work rate has seen him fall down the pecking order at Anfield. This was just his second appearance in two months, both off the bench.

With Raheem Sterling out injured, it was Daniel Sturridge who started up front for Liverpool — for the first time since returning from five months out injured. He had a hand in both of Liverpool's goals in a lively display that bodes well for his club and England.

The striker had already had two shots saved from Hugo Lloris when he controlled a long clearance, only for a tackle from Jan Vertonghen to deflect the ball across the face of the area to Markovic. The winger advanced and sent in a left-footed shot that dribbled past Lloris, who should have kept it out.

The lead lasted 11 minutes as Kane produced a brilliant piece of skill to turn marker Mamadou Sakho with his first touch from Erik Lamela's pass and drove a first-time shot under goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. It was Kane's 23rd goal in all competitions in his breakthrough season and the first league goal Liverpool had conceded in 416 minutes.

Sturridge was proving a constant threat to Spurs' defense. He back-heeled a shot against the post in first-half stoppage time and his mazy dribble in the area ended in him being brought down by Danny Rose at the start of the second half.

Lloris dived the right way but couldn't reach Gerrard's side-footed penalty.

But again Liverpool could not keep hold of its lead. Christian Eriksen's free kick was well saved by Mignolet but Kane latched onto the rebound and crossed for Dembele to chest in from close range.

Balotelli came on for the tiring Sturridge and showed great movement in the box to meet Lallana's cross for the winner.