25 May 2005
On what will go down as THE most incredible night in this club's illustrious history Liverpool reclaimed their crown as 'Kings of Europe' after miraculously overcoming a 3-0 half-time deficit to defeat AC Milan at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul.
It was the Reds first appearance in a European Cup Final for 20 years and, despite defeating Juventus and Chelsea during a memorable run to the final, they went into the game as overwhelming underdogs against the formidable Rossoneri.
An estimated 40,000 Liverpudlians followed their heroes to Istanbul but when Milan raced into a 3-0 interval lead it looked as though their trip had been vain. Cue an inspirational half-time team talk from the boss, a passionate rallying cry from the fans and the most amazing comeback of all time.
Jamie Carragher (LFC player 1996 – present): "It was one of the greatest finals of all-time. People will be talking about it in 20 or 30 years time. I don't think it can ever be bettered. Obviously this club can win the European Cup again but I think it's the way we won it that made it so special."
Diego Maradona (Argentinean football legend): "Even the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup could not have staged a comeback with Milan leading 3-0."
The Reds were hit with a sucker punch after just 53 seconds when veteran Milan captain Paolo Maldini fired the Italians ahead. It was to get worse. Harry Kewell limped off injured in the 23rd minute and before the interval striker Hernan Crespo, on loan from Chelsea, had added another two. Liverpool's Champions League dream looked all but over and the half-time whistle couldn't come quickly enough.
Steven Gerrard (LFC player 1998 – present): "Milan had played the ball so quickly and so fluently and cleverly that we were lucky to be 3-0 down at half time. It took a lot out of us chasing their shadows because we could not get near them."
Jamie Carragher: "They were a good side. Kaka was causing us all sorts of problems. We were deflated when we went in at half-time and I didn't think we could turn it around."
Rafael Benitez (LFC manager 2004 – present): "It was very difficult to go into that dressing room and see the players with their heads down. We talked about different things. We had worked very hard for ten days and we needed to fight to the end. You have to keep believing in yourself. We had fought hard to be in the final. I was thinking about what to say and what to change. I needed to change the system and we needed to be more aggressive. I had to give confidence to the players."
Steven Gerrard: "The manager came in at half time and he calmed us down basically. He drew some things on his board, he made a few changes and he said that we should just try to score early. He said if we scored early, it would change the game. I couldn't concentrate. I don't know what was going through my head. It was weird. I was sitting there and my head was in my hands. I thought it was over."
Rafael Benitez: "At half-time we needed to do something and decided to make some changes. There is no way we could have went back out and lost by four or five goals in front of our wonderful fans. Once we started thinking and believing we could do it, anything was possible."
Pako Ayesteran (LFC assistant manager 2004 – 2007): "We couldn't change things in the first half because of the problems with Harry's injury but he (Benitez) came up with a great solution at half time. Didi started winning the second ball and that became a great help."
Djimi Traore (LFC player 1999 – 2006): "When we were back in the dressing room the Milan players were outside already celebrating that they were champions, celebrating the victory. That really got to us and gave us the hunger to come back at them."
Rafael Benitez: "I was last in the dressing room. I didn't hear Milan celebrate but Alex Miller did. He told the players they were celebrating winning the cup. That was a good thing for us."
As well as Rafa's inspirational half-time pep talk the Liverpool players were also lifted by the sound of the club's phenomenal followers.
Luis Garcia (LFC player 2004 – 2007): "We were sitting in the dressing room and we could clearly hear thousands of fans singing You'll Never Walk Alone. Can you imagine how that felt? We were 3-0 down in the Champions League final and all we could hear were 45,000 people letting us know they still believed in us. We knew they had endured a long journey and made so many sacrifices to be there. It was at that point we started to believe too."
The comeback of all comebacks began in the 54th minute. Riise crossed from the left and Gerrard glanced a header past Dida to lift Liverpool's flagging spirits.
Jamie Carragher: "The best thing the manager did on the night was bringing on The Kaiser (Didi Hamann). What a performance from Didi. When he wasn't there in the first half Kaka caused us all the problems. We couldn't control him when he just kept breaking at our defence but Didi did. When we got the goal Milan just seemed to go."
Djimi Traore: "Once we scored the first one they were scared, and they fell back. When we brought Didi on it gave us a lot of experience in midfield and it really disrupted them."
Rick Parry (LFC Chief Executive): "At half time we knew it would be an uphill struggle but then you think of Basel and you think of Olympiacos and you say to yourself it is possible. But then you say you're playing AC Milan and they don't concede three goals. The early goal got us going and from then on we thought we could do it. It was just an amazing night."
Liverpool's first goal may, at the time, have seemed nothing but a mere consolation but when Vladimir Smicer, on as a substitute for the injured Harry Kewell, added a second hope sprang eternal.
Johan Cruyff (Dutch football legend): "There's not one club in Europe with an anthem like You'll Never Walk Alone. There's not one club in the world so united with the fans. I sat there watching the Liverpool fans and they sent shivers down my spine. A mass of 40,000 people became one force behind their team. That's something not many teams have. For that I admire Liverpool more than anything."
With the Milan defence visibly rocking Liverpool continued to lay siege to their goal and the all-important equaliser duly came when Xabi Alonso converted on the rebound after Dida had saved his spot-kick.
The tension inside the stadium was now at fever pitch but there was to be no further goals in open play thanks mainly to the brilliance of Jerzy Dudek.
Jaap Stam (AC Milan player): "We put ourselves in a very good position to win the cup thanks to an excellent first half performance, but a six minute spell of magic from Liverpool took it away from us. After that we had enough chances to win the game but we couldn't beat Jerzy Dudek."
Steven Gerrard: "When Jerzy made that double save from Shevchenko, just before he hit it, I thought 'goal', and I knew that would be the end of it but then when it went over the bar, I thought maybe it was going to be our day."
Jamie Carragher: "When Jerzy made that save from Shevchenko I thought we would go on to win it because Shevchenko is a top striker and he put in a top performance. There was no way he was going to miss that chance. I was just waiting for the ball to hit the back of the net. When it stayed out, you begin to think these things happen for a reason - Stevie Gerrard scoring in the last minute against Olympiacos, coming back from being 3-0 down in a final."
Jerzy Dudek (LFC goalkeeper 2001 – 2007): "My brother phoned me the morning after the game and asked me had I seen the match again? I said no and he said 'you need to see it because your save from Shevchenko was the hand of the God'. I told him I didn't know how I did it."
The tension heightened as the penalty shoot-out commenced but just like in Rome 21 years before the Reds held their nerve to triumph.
Djimi Traore: "We had so many injuries at the end of normal time and in extra time. We were well prepared and physically ready for the game, but the tension and the mental fatigue were too much. It was a question of praying for penalties and we were desperately hanging on. We showed grit, determination and bravery. We were strong mentally."
Jerzy Dudek: "We had studied the Milan penalty takers on video and knew which way they kicked the ball but when it came to it, I dived the other way to the way I'd been instructed. Carra came up to me after extra time and said 'Remember Grobbelaar and the rubbery legs of 84 - and do the same. Dance, do anything, put them off'."
Djimi Traore: "We didn't decide before the game who was going to take the penalties as we never expected it to get that far. Rafa asked all the players if they wanted to take on but I said 'No thank you'."
Dudek's final save from Shevchenko sparked delirious scenes on and off the pitch. Liverpool were Kings of Europe once again and the celebrations commenced.
Jamie Carragher: "At the end I just took off towards our fans. I couldn't believe it. There were probably 40,000 Liverpool supporters in the stadium and yet the exact place I ran to was where all my family and friends were celebrating. It was unbelievable because I honestly hadn't a clue where they were in the stadium. I went so mad that I must have had a bit of a blackout. I just crashed to the floor somewhere and I can't remember a single thing that was going on around me for a few moments. What I do remember as I was lying on the floor was starting to cramp up again!"
Jerzy Dudek: "To be honest when I saved the penalty from Shevchenko I didn't know that was it but when I saw all the guys running towards me it was just a great feeling. You honestly can't describe the feeling as it is just special. We celebrated into the night and it was magnificent. We had a few drinks, well maybe a bit more than a few!"
Steven Gerrard: "I didn't sleep with the cup but I had it in my room! It was just special and I just had to have the cup with me, lifting the cup as Liverpool captain was just the best moment of my life."
Vladimir Smicer (LFC player 1999-2005): "I celebrated with the largest cigar you have ever seen. I went with the fans to dance in the streets. It was incredible to be with the fans. I just wanted to share with them what I felt. It was the greatest night of our lives. I didn't go to bed at all. There is no need for sleep after a night like this. I just wanted to go out on a high."
Jaap Stam: "You have to applaud Liverpool's players for showing a lot of determination and for never giving up. They showed a lot of character to come back from three goals down. I don't know if it was Liverpool's destiny or not to win, but I thought we were the better team."
Diego Maradona: "The English club proved that miracles really do exist. I've now made Liverpool my English team. They showed that football is the most beautiful sport of all. You knew they could defend but the team showed they could play too and wrote a page in the history books. The match will last forever. The Liverpool supporters didn't let me go to sleep the night before. There were 10 of them to every three Milan supporters. They showed their unconditional support at half-time when they were losing 3-0 and still they didn't stop singing."
Johan Cruyff: "With this victory Liverpool now has a coach touched by the glory of the great Liverpool teams of the past."
Rafael Benitez: "This was without doubt my biggest night in football. I was so proud of my players."