LONDON — Liverpool put aside the uncertainty surrounding the club’s search for new owners by producing an assured performance to reach the Europa League playoff round with a 2-0 win over Rabotnicki on Thursday night.
Steven Gerrard converted a penalty kick after David Ngog headed in the opener. Liverpool won the home-and-home, total-goals series on 4-0 aggregate.
The five-time European champions will be joined in Friday’s draw by Juventus, another former winner of the more illustrious Champions League.
Alessandro Del Piero’s goal gave Juventus a 1-0 victory over Shamrock Rovers and a 3-0 aggregate win in the third qualifying round.
Former Kansas City Wizards and Real Salt Lake forward Yura Movsisyan scored in the 49th minute, his fifth goal of Europa League qualifying for Denmark’s Randers. But Rodrigo Tosi’s 68th-minute goal was the difference in Lausanne-Sports’s 4-3 aggregate win. The 23-year-old Movsisyan is eligible to play for Armenia or Azerbaijan, and would be eligible for the U.S. national team if he becomes an American citizen.
Stuttgart progressed with a 5-4 aggregate win after drawing 2-2 with Molde, Galatasaray routed OFK 5-1 in Belgrade to advance 7-3 on aggregate, and AZ Alkmaar went through despite losing 1-0 to IFK Goteborg thanks to its 2-0 win last week.
At Anfield, Liverpool’s unwelcome qualifier provided a distraction from the ongoing tussle to buy the club.
Joe Cole, Liverpool’s main offseason signing, made his club debut in a central attacking role and provided the cross for Ngog to head in the opener off the underside of the crossbar in the 22nd minute.
Five minutes before halftime, Ngog was fouled by Fernando Lopes, and Gerrard slotted home the resulting penalty kick.
“We’ve probably been written off a bit over the summer and I think everyone believes we can improve on last season,” said defender Jamie Carragher, recalling a seventh-place finish.
In Germany, Timo Gebhart scored with a diving header two minutes into injury time after a mistimed clearance by Molde’s defense to salvage a 2-2 draw for Stuttgart.
Molde, persistently dangerous on the break, scored in the 41st when Emil Johansson was left unmarked at the far post for a simple goal after a pair of defensive mistakes by Stuttgart.
Molde, which lost the first leg 3-2, doubled its lead in the 49th when Knut Olav Rindaroy broke through unchallenged to the edge of the penalty area and drilled home with a left-footed shot.
Pavel Pogrebnyak’s glancing header from Gebhart’s free kick reduced Molde’s lead in the 54th.