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Coutinho nets 3 as Liverpool spanks Spartak

The Associated PressLIVERPOOL (AP) — Four months after asking to leave Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho scored a hat trick wearing the captain’s armband to propel the club into the Champions League knockout stage on a record-setting night for English soccer.

The Brazil playmaker headlined a devastating display by Liverpool in its 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow at Anfield on Wednesday, with the other three members of the attacking “Fab 4” — Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah — also scoring.

Coutinho started the season in dispute with Liverpool, which refused to sell him to Barcelona following repeated bids by the Spanish team in August.

The fact that he was handed the armband by coach Juergen Klopp against Spartak is a sign of the reconciliation between the two parties, even though speculation continues about a renewed bid by Barcelona in January.

Liverpool fans are just enjoying him while they can. And who knows how far Coutinho can take the team in Europe’s top competition this season?

This win — its second 7-0 in the group stage — saw Liverpool top Group E and become the fifth English team to qualify for the last 16. It is the first time a country has had five representatives in the Champions League knockout stage, signaling a revival by the English after a period of underachievement since Chelsea was European champion in 2012.

Liverpool was one of four English teams to qualify in first place, along with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, and its tally of 23 group-stage goals is the second-highest in the competition’s history, only behind Paris Saint-Germain’s 25 from this season too.

Spartak arrived in the northwest of England still in with a chance of qualifying. The Russian team left in humiliation, ripped apart by Liverpool’s attacking quartet.

“When it was 6-0,” Klopp said, “we were looking at each other [on the Liverpool bench] and saying, ‘How did this happen?’”

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