On this day, May 25, 2005, Steven Gerrard led Liverpool to the most dramatic of Champions League wins. 15-years-ago the Reds beat powerhouse AC Milan in the most incredible of circumstances in Istanbul. And it was a game full of emotion – from the crushing despair of humiliation to the unlikely ecstasy of victory.
Liverpool didn’t just win this game – they made the most unlikely of comebacks. This is why this game is the greatest Champions League Final ever.
Liverpool Beat AC Milan in the Most Dramatic of Circumstances
Gerrard and Liverpool’s Road to Istanbul
Heading into the 2004/05 season, optimism was sky-high among Liverpool supporters. The Reds had appointed new manager Rafael Benitez and had kept hold of captain Steven Gerrard.
After a difficult start to their Champions League campaign, Liverpool were on the brink of elimination. They needed to beat Greek powerhouse Olympiacos by two clear goals at Anfield in order to progress in the competition.
Steven Gerrard didn’t want to lose.
“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow in the UEFA Cup,” said the now-39-year-old on the eve of the game.
However, it seemed as the Reds would indeed be doing just that. Olympiacos went 1-0 up and the men from Merseyside needed three goals. Suddenly, they sprung into life. During the second half they scored two through Neil Mellor and Florent Sinama Pongolle.
But Liverpool still needed one more and with time winding down, Steven Gerrard delivered.
Mellor cushioned a header into the captain’s path and he unleashed a ferocious strike that nearly burst the net. Anfield roared as Gerrard celebrated wildly. The Reds were through.
The Knockout Rounds
After a comfortable 6-2 aggregate win over Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool faced Italian giants Juventus.
But, once again Anfield had a famous European night.
This time Garcia stunned the world with a wonder goal as the Reds won 2-1. They then put on a tactical masterclass to draw 0-0 in Turin.
The Reds then faced Chelsea in the semi-final. Alonso was magnificent in those games, he controlled the midfield as Liverpool earned a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in the first leg.
Then came the return leg, when Liverpool harnessed the power of Anfield to squeak through with a 1-0 win. The goal was controversial as the ball barely crossed the line from Luis Garcia’s shot. Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho still refers to it as a ghost goal.
The First Half of the Final
Milan wasn’t just Goliath – they were his bigger, better and probably more handsome older brother.
And their class told. Liverpool were behind after only one minute. Milan’s captain Paolo Maldini volleyed in a Pirlo free-kick.
Liverpool responded well to the setback and had a chance through John Arne Riise that was saved. Milan then had a header cleared off the line by Garcia and Shevchenko was ruled offside after putting the ball into the net.
Garcia then had a shot strike what seemed like the hand of Alessandro Nesta, but while Liverpool players were complaining, Milan scored the second.
Kaka wonderfully dribbled the ball into Liverpool’s half and passed it off to Shevchenko. The Ukrainian then crossed the ball for striker Hernan Crespo to score.
Minutes later, before Liverpool could respond, it was 3-0. Kaka played an incredible ball to Crespo – defender Jamie Carragher stretched, but he couldn’t get it. Crespo then wonderfully chipped goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek.
At that point, it just seemed that Milan would run riot.
“I feared we’d create history for the wrong reasons, at the receiving end of a record defeat, by five or six,” said Carragher in his autobiography. “Keeping it at 3-0 and at the very least restoring some respectability was all that mattered to me now.”
The Second Half and the Most Unlikely of Comebacks, Led By Gerrard
At half-time, Liverpool fans responded to adversity. They launched into a stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone – they had not abandoned their team.
And then Benitez’s tactical genius came to the fore. Liverpool made a substitution with Dietmar Hamann replacing Steve Finnan. The introduction of the German, along with a formation switch to 3-5-2, allowed the Reds to gain control of the midfield.
Without those tactics, the six minutes of madness that followed would have never happened.
In the 54th minute, Steven Gerrard rose highest to meet Riise’s cross and pulled one back. His celebration was that of a man determined to win – his arms raised and beckoning to the fans with a face full of determination.
Two minutes later, Vladimir Smicer received the ball on the edge of the penalty area. He steadied himself and released a ferocious strike that beat Milan goalkeeper Dida. Smicer lifted his arms and ran like a madman – suddenly the Reds had hope.
And in the 60th minute, they had their chance. Gerrard was pulled down in the box and Alonso stepped up to take the most important kick of Liverpool’s Millenium. His penalty was saved, but he cooly converted the rebound. Out of nowhere, it was 3-3.
From that moment, Liverpool seemed exhausted and Milan piled on the pressure. But, Jamie Carragher was in their way. The defender showed the heart of a warrior by somehow stopping attack after attack. Even when he collapsed with cramps, he pulled himself up and got back to work.
Like Gandalf in Lord of The Rings, he was not letting anyone pass.
When Carragher was beaten, he was bailed out by Djimi Traore who made an incredible goal-line clearance.
With neither side able to score, the game moved into extra time. There it followed a similar pattern with Milan attacking and Liverpool desperately defending.
And in the 117th minute, there was a near miracle that occurred. Shevchenko headed a ball that was saved by goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek. The Ukrainian then picked up the rebound and had a clear shot at goal from six yards out – but somehow, Dudek miraculously saved it. A moment of divine intervention.
Penalties and Gerrard Lifting the Cup
This meant that the game moved into penalties. From there Dudek imitated Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar by dancing on his goal line as Milan took their penalties. It worked as Serginho and Pirlo missed while Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kaka scored. On Liverpool’s end, Hamman, Cisse and Smicer scored while Riise missed.
This meant that Shevchenko had to score to keep Milan in the game. The Ukrainian had already scored the winning penalty in the 2003 Champions League final and seemed certain to put the ball away.
But, once again, Dudek kept him out. The Polish international saved Shevchenko’s penalty which meant that Liverpool had won.
As Gerrard lifted the trophy, the Reds celebrated wildly and could hardly believe their luck. A true miracle had occurred. While the celebrations continued for a long time, the Reds had done something more. They had slain the ultimate opponent in the most incredible of circumstances.
Istanbul truly is a day that will never be forgotten.
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