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By ESPN Staff

Benitez: Now the Champions League begins

LONDON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez shrugged off Tuesday's 3-2 defeat at Galatasaray and said the real Champions League business is about to start.

The Premier League club finished top of Group C despite suffering their first defeat in this year's competition and will now have the advantage of playing the second leg of their last 16 tie at Anfield.

'It will be difficult now because they are all top teams,' Benitez, who fielded a below-strength side in Istanbul, said on the club's Web site on Wednesday.

'Last season we drew Benfica and everyone said it would be easy, but we lost.'

Liverpool's task will become clearer after next Friday's draw but whoever the 2005 European champions get paired with, Benitez said they can not afford the lapses that allowed Galatasaray to record their only win.

'We paid for bad mistakes,' Benitez said. 'You cannot expect to win if you make mistakes like that at this level.

'But I always felt it would be a difficult game for the players, they knew they were already group winners and the job had been done.'

Benitez rested captain Steven Gerrard and gave chances to several squad players, including stand-in keeper Jerzy Dudek who saved Andriy Shevchenko's penalty in the same stadium to clinch the European Cup 19 months ago.

Youngsters Gabriel Paletta and Danny Guthrie were all handed rare tastes of Champions League football as Benitez looks to the future.

'I rested some senior players because we have a busy couple of months and I wanted to see what futures there are for the young players and to be able to plan for the future.'

Of the 11 players who started the final against Milan last May, only Dudek, defenders Jamie Carragher and John Arne Riise and midfielder Xabi Alonso were selected for Tuesday's return to the Ataturk Stadium.

'We're disappointed to lose, but we'd already qualified as top of the group,' Carragher said. 'We had a lot of young lads out there and it will have been a great experience for them.'

England international Carragher is closing in on Liverpool's all-time European appearance record held by Ian Callaghan with 89. His appearance on Tuesday put him equal second on 85 with Tommy Smith.