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Rafael Benitez described it as the "best Liverpool display I have seen this season", but a 0-0 draw with Deportivo la Coruña on Tuesday night left his side with a stiff task to qualify from group A of the Champions League.

Liverpool dominated the tie but failed to break down a side seemingly intent on defending for a draw, with right-back Manuel Pablo in particular making some crucial blocks to keep the home side at bay. Liverpool now face a three-way battle to qualify from Group A, with Monaco, 2-0 winners over Olympiakos on Tuesday night, top of the group and favourite to win it. They must still travel to Monaco and Deportivo, needing to win one of those ties to progress.

Manchester United endured similar frustration in the Czech Republic, coming away with a point after failing to find a breakthrough against Sparta Prague. Ronaldo, a late substitute, could have settled the game for United in the 84th minute, but had his close-range shot saved. The result leaves United in a strong position in group D, with Lyon, who they have yet to play at home, two points ahead of them at the top of the group.

In Madrid, Michael Owen got off the mark for Real Madrid, his first goal for the club a typical close-range finish from a Ronaldo cross that gave the club a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev.

* Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu faces a minimum suspension of six months after he admitted to testing positive for cocaine. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said Mutu had admitted testing positive for cocaine and would not ask for his "B" sample to be analysed, which would given him a chance, albeit a slim one, of clearing his name.

Instead the 25-year-old, who was signed by Chelsea from Parma for £15.8m last summer, will seek a quick hearing from the Football Association in the hope that his early admission will help reduce the length of the punishment he faces. "It is very difficult to predetermine what will happen at the [FA] hearing," said Taylor, "but we do have a distinction between social drugs and performance-enhancing drugs. If the player accepts that he is guilty and if he is prepared to undertake rehabilitation, be checked regularly and to be clean then there is greater sympathy towards the player."

Mutu's career at Chelsea was already on the line before the positive test after a fallout with manager José Mourinho.

After a sharp start for the club, Mutu has endured a torrid year. Since scoring the winner for Chelsea against Everton on October 31 last year, he has divorced his wife, been involved in a sex scandal with a Romanian porn star, had a car chase with police in Romania and was subsequently advised to seek psychiatric help for his "extremely serious personality and maturity issues" from a Bucharest doctor.

A 19-game scoreless run had already jeopardised his place in the Chelsea team before his relationship with Mourinho soured, culminating in Mutu travelling against his manager's wishes to play for Romania against the Czech Republic two weeks ago. Mutu is said to be "destroyed" by the positive test.

The FA refused to comment on the case or clarify whether a more lenient punishment can be sought for social drugs, as opposed to performance- enhancing drugs. Goalkeeper Mark Bosnich was banned for nine months after testing positive for cocaine in 2002 while at Chelsea - but the Australian denied he took the drug knowingly, claiming his drink was spiked. Chelsea sacked Bosnich.

Mourinho refused to comment on the case as his side prepared to face CSKA Moscow in the Champions League tonight.

* Veteran England bowler Darren Gough on Tuesday declared himself willing to play in England's controversial tour of Zimbabwe next month - if it goes ahead. Gough told the Essex county team website: "Yes I would go. It's difficult but if I was told that we were going today then I would. It's very different from one day to the next so developments could happen very quickly to change the situation." England are set to play five one-day internationals in the two-week tour, starting on 26 November. Fast bowler Steve Harmison has refused to tour and Andrew Flintoff said he would have boycotted, but has officially been rested by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

* Trainer Paul Nicholls saw his Arkle Trophy hope Sporazene survive a couple of scares to open his chasing career with victory at Exeter on Tuesday. The winner of the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year, was sent off the 1-2 favourite in the Beginners' Chase. His supporters suffered a few anxious moments before the five-year-old came home an easy 13-length winner. Ladbrokes make him a 12-1 shot for the Arkle Trophy at the Festival in March.

Meanwhile, both the British Horseracing Board and leading track owner Racecourse Holdings Trust reacted frostily to the prospect of meetings being staged on Christmas day, after the gambling bill opened up the possibility. The BHB signalled, however, that racing on Good Friday, could eventually become part of the fixture list.

* Harlequins confirmed that they had signed Springbok second row Geo Cronje after a last-minute hitch had threatened to halt the transfer of the Blue Bulls player. Quins announced on Monday that Cronje - who was dropped from South Africa's squad last year before being cleared of allegations of racism - was on his way to the Stoop after signing for the rest of the season with the option of a 12-month extension.

But Stephen Pretorius, the Bulls' chief executive officer, reacted with bewilderment to the news after claiming the 24-year-old lock was still under contract until next year. Further negotiations have resolved the issue, however, and Cronje will soon arrive in Twickenham to help Quins try to claw their way off the foot of the Zurich Premiership table.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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