Many claim Liverpool’s amazing comeback against Milan in 2005 to be the greatest Champions League triumph in history. It will forever be remembered as one of the all-time great games in the history of football, but especially in Liverpool as the Reds managed to win their fifth European Cup in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Today we take a look back at one of the most iconic game in the history of the beautiful game.
The match played at the Ataturk Stadium has gone down in folklore as ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’ as Liverpool came back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to draw 3-3 with Milan before defeating them 3-2 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Despite only being allocated 20,000 tickets for the match at the 69,000 venue, the stadium was absolutely packed with Liverpool fans that had made the trip from Merseyside to Turkey for the historic encounter. It was conservatively estimated that around 30,000 fans were in Istanbul, and a good deal more than the 20,000 official ticket-holders were in the stadium when the match kicked off. AC Milan travelled to Istanbul as strong favorites to win the trophy against an outfit that had finished fifth in the Premier League. The Italians’ status appeared entirely justified as they raced into a 3-0 half-time advantage thank to goals from Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo, who scored twice. Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Reds, as Liverpool conceded an early free-kick wide on the Milan right flank. Andrea Pirlo swung in the set-piece and Paolo Maldini swept the ball into the net. Just 50 seconds had elapsed, Liverpool had barely had a touch and they were already a goal down. It was a terrible start. But it went on to get much, much worse.
After taking the lead in the first minute, Milan totally dominated the match and their Argentinean hitman Hernan Crespo scored twice in five minutes just before halftime. His first couldn’t have been simpler as he tapped into an empty net after Andrey Shevchenko’s cutback. But his second, a nonchalant flick over the outrushing Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek after a brilliant pass from Kaka, was a thing of beauty. That goal, while delightful to watch, appeared to end any lingering hopes Liverpool had of staging a comeback as the teams went in at halftime with the score line reading Milan 3-0 Liverpool. But Rafael Benitez’s side – backed by an army of fans who never stopped singing – had other ideas. In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in history, though, the Reds came roaring back into the game in the second half, scoring three times in the space of six minutes. Steven Gerrard, whose dynamic performance won him the Man of the Match accolade, got the first back and as the Serie A side uncharacteristically wobbled, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso took advantage to draw the Anfield club back on terms. The comeback was on, and the momentum on the pitch had clearly swung in the English side’s favor. Liverpool were rampant and Milan were reeling. And when Gennaro Gattuso tripped Gerrard as he was about to latch onto a through-ball in the Milan box, the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. In the white-hot heat of a Champions League final, Liverpool’s Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso somehow stayed as cool as ice. His spot-kick was brilliantly saved by Milan keeper Dida, but the ice-cool Spaniard followed up to slam the ball into the net and complete an incredible comeback. It took Milan 44 minutes to go 3-0 up. Incredibly, it took Liverpool just six second-half minutes to wipe out that lead. With half an hour remaining, the match was all square.
The penalty shootout was also a memorable affair, with Milan missing their first two kicks through Serginho and the normally reliable Andrea Pirlo. Liverpool raced into a 2-0 lead but John Arne Riise had his effort saved by Dida after Jon Dahl Tomasson had got one back. Kaka and Smicer exchanged goals but the cup was sealed when Andriy Shevchenko, then regarded as the finest centre-forward in the world, had his kick stopped by Jerzy Dudek. Liverpool’s victory was greeted with astonishment, notably from manager Rafael Benitez, who admitted at the conclusion of the match: “My problem is that I don’t have words to express the things that I feel at this moment.” Television pundit and former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen said: “It wasn’t just the best comeback in a European Cup final; it wasn’t just the best comeback I’ve seen in football; it was the best comeback I’ve seen in sport anywhere in the world.” From the other side of the fence, there was an equally profound reaction, as Pirlo explained in his autobiography ‘I Think Therefore I Play’: “We sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room… We were bloodthirsty zombies faced with an unseen problem – the blood was ours and they had drunk every last drop. We couldn’t speak, we couldn’t move. They had mentally destroyed us. Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We’d invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome.”