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LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) -Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson struck a rare Champions League goal to earn his side a 3-2 victory over AC Milan in a rip-roaring Group B opener at a rocking Anfield on Wednesday.
Henderson rifled home in the 69th minute to settle an absorbing contest between the two European heavyweights whose only two previous meetings had been in finals.
With Anfield welcoming back fans for a Champions League night for the first time in 18 months, Liverpool had threatened to run riot when Fikayo Tomori's own goal handed them an early lead in a barnstorming start.
Remarkably, after weathering the storm which included a Mohamed Salah penalty miss, Milan struck twice in quick succession at the end of the first half with Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz silencing the home crowd.
Milan then had a goal disallowed shortly after the break before Salah made amends for his penalty miss by equalising from close range in the 49th minute.
The outcome was still in doubt until Henderson capped a memorable Anfield night with a thumping effort -- only his second in the competition and first for seven years.
"First half an hour we blew them away," Liverpool left back Andy Robertson said. "Then we got sloppy and stopped doing the things we were doing really well. We let them back into the game and walk in at halftime thinking 'how have we let this happen?'"
Milan's return to Europe's top club competition for the first time in seven years began in torrid fashion as the seven-time champions were initially overwhelmed.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic unavailable and several players making their Champions League debut, Milan looked ill-equipped to compete and fell behind in the ninth minute when Trent Alexander-Arnold got in on the right side of the area and his cross struck former Chelsea player Tomori and beat Milan keeper Mike Maignan.
Before Milan could clear their heads they conceded a penalty when Ismael Bennacer blocked Robertson's shot with his arm.
But Maignan dived to his right to keep out Salah's penalty.
It was only the second time in 19 attempts that Salah had failed to convert a spot kick and it proved a turning point.
Salah fired over and Joel Matip headed straight at Maignan as the chances kept coming but Liverpool were rocked on their heels as Milan turned the game on its head -- Liverpool manager Klopp saying later that his team had got a bit "carried away".
For the first time Liverpool's high press relented and Milan worked the ball neatly forward before Franck Kessie's pass played in Rebic to sweep a low shot past Alisson.
Klopp wore a wry smile after that but one minute and 48 seconds later he looked as stunned as everyone else.
Milan attacked down the left again with Kessie and Rebic combining to set up Alexis Saelemaekers whose shot was blocked on the line by Robertson only for Diaz to pounce and convert.
It could have got even worse for Liverpool a minute after the restart when Saelemaekers scored from close range following a corner but an offside flag spared Liverpool.
The frantic pace continued and Liverpool were level in the 48th minute as Divock Origi, given his first action of the season, scooped a ball over Milan's defence for Salah to dink a bouncing ball past Maignan for his 14th Champions League goal at Anfield, equalling former captain Steven Gerrard's record.
Milan did well to soak up Liverpool pressure but they finally cracked when a corner was cleared to the edge of the area and Henderson smashed the ball home.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis)