Athens agony as Reds lose to Milan

23 May 2007

Back in the glory days of the late Seventies and early Eighties, European Cup finals came around as often as Christmas for Liverpool. Now these times had seemingly returned under Rafa Benitez.

Two years early Steven Gerrard held ol' big ears aloft in Istanbul and the same opposition now awaited the Reds in ancient Greece.

Barcelona, PSV and Chelsea had all been dispatched en route to Athens – now just AC Milan stood in the way of number six making its way back to Anfield.

Despite ticket problems, the Olympic Stadium was a sea of red as Rafa's XI lined against Paolo Maldini and arguably the best player in the world, Kaka.

Liverpool equipped themselves well in the early stages, with Jermaine Pennant being denied by Dida and Steven Gerrard mis-kicking from a good position. Xabi Alonso then fired narrowly wide on 27 minutes as fears grew that early pressure was not being made to count.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, disaster. It had looked as if Pepe Reina's dive would stop Andrea Pirlo's free kick until the ball flicked off the body of Filippo Inzaghi. Wrong-footed, our Spanish stopper was helpless to respond as the ball rolled agonisingly over the line.

The Reds had a fantastic chance to equalise in the 62nd minute when Gerrard went one-on-one with Dida, but it was the Milan goalkeeper who won the battle of nerves.

As the skipper pushed his teammates forward, a killer blow arrived when that man Kaka found space in the middle before picking out Inzaghi to score his second.

You'll Never Walk Alone soon echoed round the open air stadium, but there was to be no miracle comeback this time.

Dirk Kuyt scored a late consolation but it was Maldini who got his hands on the coveted trophy come the final whistle.

The aftermath saw Benitez call for swift and decisive action in the transfer market to help a renewed charge for honours in 2007-08.