Nine years on from the night he found himself on the receiving end of perhaps the greatest fightback in footballing history, Carlo Ancelotti can at least see the funny side.

The Italian, who will lead Real Madrid into tomorrow's Champions League final in Lisbon, was AC Milan manager in May 2005, when Liverpool looked vanquished at half-time in Istanbul.

A winner with the Rossoneri in 2003, Ancelotti watched as his white-shirted team mesmerised the opposition, shattered them, played patterns with the ball and danced through Liverpool lines.

Paolo Maldini steered the opener beyond Jerzy Dudek. Kaka took control, ducking and weaving and sliding passes through clusters of red shirts. Hernan Crespo helped himself to two goals.

But then Steven Gerrard's header gave Liverpool hope. Vladimir Smicer's drive gave them belief. And at the end of six tumultuous minutes, Xabi Alonso stood poised at the penalty spot to make it 3-3.

The Spaniard, who fired past Dida at the second time of asking to equalise on that fateful night, will be alongside Ancelotti and co when they face city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Alonso will miss the final due to suspension - but Ancelotti will have the midfielder's exploits of 2005 firmly in mind as Madrid go in search of a 10th European Cup triumph.

"I played the final in '89 and '90 with Milan and we won," said the 54-year-old. "Then as a manager with Milan, in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

"The 2005 final was the craziest. That first half was among the best performances one of my teams has produced.


"Unbelievable. Even in the second half, after it went to 3-3, we played really well. I joke with Alonso sometimes. I say, 'Hey, you have a cup that's mine'."

Ancelotti's history with Liverpool Football Club - played out at the very pinnacle of European football - began in 1984.

AS Roma were on the march to a European Cup final in their own back-yard; however, injury would deny their midfield general, Ancelotti, from particpating, as Joe Fagan's Liverpool rolled into town in search of No.4.

"The first final I prepared for was in 1984," said Ancelotti . "Roma versus Liverpool. I didn't play because I was injured but I prepared for the final with the team. I was 25. It was the first final for Roma, and the final was in Rome."

But it was Liverpool's final, Bruce Grobbelaar's final, dominated in normal time by Graeme Souness and settled by Alan Kennedy's penalty in front of the baying home crowd.

The gleaming trophy had been snatched from under the Romans' noses.

"We had 15 days to prepare for that final and we went into the mountains in Italy, in the north, and we found terrible weather," reflected Ancelotti.

"Cold, rain, every day. For seven days! And when we came back, three days before the final in Rome, it was so hot. And the players had a lot of cramps. 

"It was the worst preparation for a final in history."

In 2003, Ancelotti won the Champions League for the first time as a manager at Old Trafford - Andriy Shevchenko slotting the winner as Juventus were despatched in a penalty shoot-out.

Liverpool fans need no reminding of how, two years later, the same illustrious striker was thwarted by Dudek in the pivotal moments of a similar shoot-out to spark scenes of unbridled joy as Rafael Benitez's men won the cup against all odds.

Fast forward another two years and Ancelotti faced Liverpool once again. This time in Athens, where Filippo Inzaghi struck twice to seal Milan's seventh and Ancelotti's second triumph.

It all means that when the Italian steps out into the din of another European Cup final tomorrow - his seventh as a player and manager - he will have the chance to build another indelible link to Liverpool, by becoming one of two managers in football history to win the trophy on three occasions.

"I know Bob Paisley won it three times, in '77, '78 and '81, no?" said Ancelotti. "So it would be an honour to join him, of course."