Friday, August 8, 2008

2005 Road to Istanbul

Champions of Europe 2005

On May 25th 2005 Liverpool FC’s history books were re-written with the culmination of the most amazing run in a competition ever.

But it all started way before that ‘one night in May’ - almost a year to the day, in fact, when Rafael Benitez arrived at Anfield to succeed Gerard Houllier as manager.

Benitez’s knowledge of European football was impressive and he went on to mastermind an amazing run to defeat the biggest teams in Europe - against the odds - and give Liverpool their fifth European Cup.

The final group game against Olympiakos proved the turning point, followed by victories over Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and memorably Chelsea. But the final surpassed all of those memories with the comeback of all comebacks.

A disastrous first half saw AC Milan - the impressive Italian’s tipped to win the competition from day one - 3-0 ahead and causing Liverpool massive problems. It was over, most players later admitted they thought it was, fans had hope in their hearts but even they wouldn’t dare to think their side could win it. Some even left at half time.

But the setting of the Ataturk Stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul in Turkey was to become host to one of the most amazing football matches ever witnessed.

The Liverpool fans shocked their Italian counterparts - outnumbered by 4 to 1 - by giving a rousing rendition of the famous anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone despite their teams troubles. Those there admitted it started pretty subdued, more of a hymn than a song, but grew into a rousing inspiration to the players as they took to the field for the second half.

Benitez knew things needed changing and brought on Didi Hamann to stop Milan playmaker Kaka running the midfield. He also made the brave decision to change the teams formation and style.

On 54 minutes Steven Gerrard’s header from a John Arne Riise cross started the impossible. His arm raising encouraged the fans further but still few really believed it could be done. But within two minutes Vladimir Smicer - a forced substitute after Harry Kewell limped off early on - strook from the edge of the box and the stadium erupted into madness. Smicer, playing what he knew would be his last ever appearance for Liverpool, admitted he doubted he would play any part but in the match but suddenly endeared himself to the fans he’d tried to impress for 5 years.

The comeback was completed six minutes after Gerrard’s first goal when the skipper was brought down in the box by Gattuso. Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the spot kick but Dida saved low to his right, only for Alonso to follow it in to the top of the net. Queu pandemonum in the Ataturk, on Merseyside and around the world.

After the disastrous first half - which saw Milan take the lead after just 43 seconds and go 3 ahead courtesy of two goals by Hernan Crespo - Liverpool were level.

Benitez’s tactics after the restart were to attack a Milan team who thought they already had the cup won, it had worked but the players were visibly tiring fast after going at the Italians with the high tempo style of play they had adopted in the previous games leading to the final to knock out Juve and Chelsea.

With Liverpool tiring and Milan’s players shocked by conceeding more goals in six minutes than in the whole of their 12 games leading to the final, the game ended all square after 90 minutes.

Extra time followed and Jerzy Dudek began his heroics. He saved a free kick from European footballer of the year Schevchenko and then denied the same player with an amazing double stop in the dieing seconds. At that point Liverpool’s name was on the cup - and Milan players admitted even they knew it.

Penalties it was and Dudek, inspired by Bruce Grobelaar’s antics in Rome in 1984 - and Jamie Carragher’s encouragement, distracted Milan players by dancing on his line. It worked, Silvinho missed the first over the bar. Hamann scored his. Pirlo stepped up, again Dudek did his dance and this time he saved too. Djibril Cisse stepped up and coolly slotted home to make it 2-0.

But Tomasson scored next for Milan and Riise had his saved by Dida - again to his right just like with Alonso’s, every other penalty was to his left and he saved none. The next two were both scored, Kaka and Smicer. 3-2.

Up next was Schevchenko. Dudek handed him the ball, just as he had done with all the Milan players, and a poor penalty was saved by Dudek’s trailing leg. Liverpool were Champions of Europe.

Triumphant scenes on the night were matched only by the half a million supporters who lined the streets of Liverpool and packed the city square the following day for the momentous victory parade.

For those fans who were lucky enough to have got tickets and travel, stories were retold for weeks and months of incredible journey’s, hospitable Turks and dancing in the now-famous Taksim Square.



- The Night Before
- The Build Up
- The 1st Half
- Half Time
- 2nd Half
- Extra Time
- Penalties
- 606
- The Night After
- The Magnificent Seven Minutes
- The Saves
- From Graz To Glory
- Istanbul : The Inside Story


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