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Miracle men

Talk to those who took part in perhaps the most astonishing final of them all and there is still a sense of disbelief that Liverpool really did battle back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in 2005. Here the players and coaches who created that heady night in Istanbul describe the drama

EDITED BY Chris Burke

History
There hasn’t been a European final played at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium for 18 years. Has that game been played there on loop ever since, an unresolved paradox where it is always 3-0 to AC Milan at the interval and yet Liverpool keep pulling off the impossible? When the teams line up on the pitch for this year’s Champions League final, we will at least get confirmation that Steven Gerrard, Paolo Maldini and the rest are no longer scurrying around under the floodlights, testing the limits of belief in their epic tussle.

The Miracle of Istanbul remains an unforgettable high point in European Cup history, the standard by which all finals are judged. Even more so given the calibre of the teams brought together on 25 May 2005: both steeped in prestige, both looking to consolidate their place in the highest echelons of the game.

For Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan, a side bristling with world-class talent, that meant solidifying their status as the era’s pre-eminent force after they had edged Juventus on penalties to win the club’s sixth European title in 2003. Having dispatched the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter on the road to Istanbul, the Rossoneri were in dynasty-building mood.

Liverpool, by contrast, had not lifted the trophy since 1984, their continental allure now losing its sheen and manager Rafael Benítez still less than a year into the job. But they had already served ample warning of their character and quality, not least when Gerrard’s thunderous late goal against Olympiacos had squeaked them through the group stage.

That had been dramatic enough, but the best was yet to come. And here, in the words of the men who were there, the Reds and the Red and Blacks, we remember how a May night in Istanbul turned  towards the miraculous.

Dietmar Hamann: Anybody who disputes that [Milan were favourites] needs to see a doctor. I think they were the best side in Europe and, if you look at that team now, you can make a case for them as the best team in the past three or four decades. That’s how good they were. But we had a great spirit, we had great togetherness and we knew that when the chips were down we could rely on ourselves. And we trusted each other. 

Paolo Maldini: It was a game where we were definitely the favourites. We were the better team. We were truly a really strong side.

Jerzy Dudek: We knew it was special. We’d got to the final after so many years. You try to keep your routine the same as always but it wasn’t a normal game. You know that the pressure is big.

Luis García: The atmosphere was unbelievable. The moment when the bus got there, facing that esplanade… It was huge. You could see a sea of red. You couldn’t find a Milan supporter – you could only see red all over the place. We got there almost two hours before so we had enough time, and all the surrounding areas were crowded. It was amazing to see the stadium surrounded by Liverpool fans.

The first of the day’s many surprises comes when the line-ups are revealed. While Hernán Crespo gets the nod to start up front alongside Andriy Shevchenko for Milan – as many had predicted – Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez gives Harry Kewell an unexpected starting berth, despite the Australian forward having had recent injury troubles. For midfield linchpin Dietmar Hamann, that means having to make do with a place on the
subs bench. 

Hamann: Well, of course you’re disappointed. Before games you get an idea or a feeling whether you’ll play or not and I was pretty certain I would. So, to hear the 11 players read out by Rafa was a bit of a blow. But, after a couple of minutes, you have to support the team because it’s very important that you’re in the right frame of mind.

García: Fernando Morientes had advised us not to touch the cup, and that started to resonate in the changing room: “Don’t touch the cup. It’s not ours.” We were going out onto the pitch and everyone was saying, “Don’t touch the cup. Don’t touch the cup.” Then we saw [Gennaro] Gattuso touching the cup. That gave us a bit of a lift. We were thinking “Damn! They touched it. Bad luck for them.” 

Bad luck or not, Milan make the perfect start as Maldini volleys in an Andrea Pirlo free-kick after just 52 seconds – still the fastest ever goal in a European Cup final.

Maldini: It came from a set play in which three separate waves of players attack the free-kick, which we’d employed for a few years. It should have been placed on my head, but with them being very tall, we backed off a little. It came to me on the right and I managed to hit it and bounce it off the ground, so its trajectory made it difficult to stop. The fact that it was me, at 36 years of age, scoring the quickest goal in a Champions League final is certainly an honour. 

García: When you’ve been planning a Champions League final for two, three weeks and suddenly, after 50 seconds, you concede the first goal… The only thing we thought was, “OK, this is just a setback. Let’s try to keep going. There are 89 minutes to change this.” 

Instead, the situation deteriorates for Liverpool as Kewell is forced off with a groin injury after just 23 minutes, with Vladimír Šmicer taking his place. Then Crespo fires in a rapid double before half-time, his second capping a superb team move.  

García: I don’t think we were playing that badly, but they were just too good. Every single time they had the ball they were so fantastic, with Kaká, Pirlo and those runs from Shevchenko and Crespo. It was so difficult to control them, to be on them. 

Hamann: We could have had a penalty when [Alessandro] Nesta goes to ground, Luis García goes past him and he handles it. They go to the other end, make it 2-0 and a few minutes later make it 3-0 with a wonderful pass by Kaká and the finish by Crespo. It’s just a thing of beauty, you know? They showed all their class in that third goal. It was beautiful to watch. Not for me, I suppose, but even I had to pinch myself, thinking, “Wow! If we get beat by these, then so be it.”

Hernán Crespo: I was fortunate to score some important goals in big moments of the competition: to qualify from the group stage, or in the last 16, the quarter-finals and semi-finals. Maybe the best goal I scored was in Istanbul, the one which made it 3-0. But then the second half happened...

Hamann: By the time the third one went in, I was just empty. I thought it was too late because, going in at half-time, it was probably the most empty I felt in my career as a football player. I didn’t see a way back.

Emotions are running high at half-time, but Hamann is happy to get the nod – even if it’s not to replace the player that Rafael Benítez originally intended…

Dudek: We went to the dressing room and some of the players were very angry, some were very sad. There were some battles. And Rafa saw this, that some of the players were having arguments. He said, “Listen, guys. Two minutes for yourselves: wash your faces and come back. We have to change the tactics.”

Rafael Benítez: I was just choosing my words and mainly it went, “OK, we’ve worked so hard to be here and we already have nothing to lose. So if we score one goal, we’ll be back in the game.” And then afterwards, I just changed the game plan. I told Pako Ayestarán, my assistant manager, that we’d play three at the back and put Hamann in the middle. 

Hamann: Djimi Traoré was going to come off first and Rafa said, “Djimi, you have a shower. Didi, you come on.” Obviously, the reason for me coming on was to give Steven Gerrard the freedom to go a bit further forward because he was our biggest goal threat. 

Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.
Gerrard rises high above the AC Milan defence to start a sequence of three Liverpool goals in the space of just seven minutes

Benítez: Then Dave Galley, the physio, told me, “I don’t think Steve Finnan can play 45 minutes; I think you need to make a substitution.” Obviously Finnan wasn’t very happy. He was watching the physio and was really upset. I was thinking, “OK, if I have to do it, I will.” And then I said to Djimi Traoré, “Come back.” And they joked because he was already in the shower, but he was coming back and Finnan was the substitution.

Gennaro Gattuso: There has been a lot of chat going around about that match, such as people saying we were celebrating in the dressing room at half-time. We were far too experienced to be making mistakes like that. It’s not for nothing that they say English players never give up. We knew it and that’s what we said in that dressing room: “Watch out, these will never die.”

Dudek: We went to the tunnel and went out, and something amazing happened. It was a magical start when we came out. We started to hear You’ll Never Walk Alone from the supporters. Stevie [Gerrard] just asked everyone to come into the middle. We did a circle and he said, “Listen, guys. Do you hear that? They still believe in us. We have to give them something back.”

Steven Gerrard: I’ve got my own doubts and my own feelings, my own thoughts that are going on in my head, but I also realise that my team are looking to me. My team-mates are looking to me, the fans are looking to me, people back home are looking to me, so I have to put a front on. I have to rally the troops at half-time. We were getting a lot of noise from our supporters coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over and they were still supporting us, so there was still a lot to play for. 

Benítez: We had to react and we did that well. When Hamann came on, we got to control that area a bit better. I think that was the key, using three defenders and controlling Kaká’s position better. Kaká or any player who is skilled between the lines is always dangerous, but if they don’t receive the ball they can disappear from the game.

Hamann: I wouldn’t say [I changed the match]. If people want to say that then so be it. But it’s still a team effort. If you want to make up three goals against arguably the best team in Europe or the world at that time in 45 minutes, you’ve got to do it collectively; every player played their part. It was about getting some control over the game, which we did.

One player who certainly leaves his mark is Gerrard, who heads in a John Arne Riise cross on 54 minutes to give Liverpool a lifeline. As Gerrard races back to the halfway line, he gestures to the supporters to keep urging Liverpool on.

Gerrard: Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.

Hamann: It was a tremendous header and it was just the lift we needed. With [Gerrard], you knew you’ve got a chance. He could make a goal or score out of nothing. He was our captain, our skipper, and I don’t think I’m going too far in saying without him we wouldn’t have won the number of trophies we did.

Dudek: From the first goal, the magic started.

Indeed, just two minutes later Vladimír Šmicer sends a long-range drive skidding beyond Dida. 

Vladimír Šmicer: That’s the goal I cherish most, because thanks to it I was able to lift that trophy above my head. The fact that I even got to play was amazing. I hadn’t expected to play in the final after my injury. After coming on [for Kewell] I wanted to contribute and enjoy the game. I knew that it was going to be my final game for Liverpool. I told myself that I had something to prove, I had to show the fans something so that I could say goodbye with my head held high. 

“Seeing so many happy people bringing the trophy back, that’s why you play the game” 

García: I think the moment we started believing was Šmicer’s goal. We saw the reaction from the AC Milan players, where they were looking around thinking, “What happened?” They were starting to blame each other. Scoring that second goal gave us the extra push to keep going for the third.

The celebrations have barely died down when Gattuso fouls Gerrard in the box. Penalty. Dida keeps out Xabi Alonso’s spot kick, but the Spanish midfielder dashes forward to bury the rebound and complete a thrilling six-minute comeback. 

Xabi Alonso: If I hadn’t scored from the rebound from the penalty, my career and what came after could have been different. Perhaps I wouldn’t have done what I went on to do. And it was my first season at Liverpool. I was 23... wow!

Gattuso: I believe in the god of football because he exists and what happened happened. There were definitely individual errors, but well done to Liverpool for believing it was possible. We conceded three goals in six minutes. There is no explanation. I think football is beautiful for that reason.

Gerrard: It is a special club. That’s the reason these comebacks happen, because when you represent that club, you realise that you fight until the end. It’s never over until it’s over and that’s why you continue to claw people back.

Hamann: I turned around when the Xabi Alonso’s rebound went in, and I think the clock was 59:04. I have to say, I was expecting 76 or 77. I would have rather seen 77 because I knew, after the third goal, the pressure was off Milan now. They would start playing again and we still had half an hour to go. I don’t think in 100 years, if they had scored next, we would have come back. 

Both teams spurn chances before the final whistle is blown and, with the scoreline 3-3, the match heads into extra time. Milan substitute Serginho begins creating danger out wide and Benítez is forced into another tactical switch, effectively moving Gerrard to right-back.

Benítez: You have to know your players, and he was the one with more energy. I always say that Ancelotti was right because Serginho was a good substitute to bring on. He widened their attack. We reacted correctly by putting Steven out there because he could stop him and also attack. 

Hamann: They brought some great players on with Rui Costa, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Serginho, and we just had to defend. There were a lot of tired players: Jamie Carragher going down with cramp; Stevie going down with cramp. We just had to hang on somehow.

The threat from Milan is far from over. With three minutes to go until a penalty shoot-out, Serginho whips in a cross from the left and Shevchenko heads the ball goalwards… 

Dudek: It bounced just before me. I pushed the ball from the line and said to myself, “Now you have to expect the rebound. Get off the line and make yourself as big as you can because you only have a few seconds.” It was speed of intuition – you want to raise your hand. Sheva probably put all his power in that shot, and that’s why he gave me the chance to save it. 

Andriy Shevchenko: We created enough chances to win. Then there was that save from Dudek in the final few seconds. I don’t know how the ball didn’t go in.

Dudek: I went back one day to Holland, and my old goalkeeping coach said to me, “Wow, you saved this ball very well!” I said, “Yeah, it was luck.” He said, “It wasn’t luck. You were working on that shot for five years! Remember the shots from five yards?” It’s true, we worked a lot with Pim Doesburg on these reaction shots. Fortunately I saved it. After that I was so confident. I knew we weren’t going to lose.

Hamann: Everybody in the stadium knew that it should have been game over, because it was only one or two minutes to play in extra time. But when you are presented with these opportunities you have to take them. We still had a penalty shoot-out to go but I thought, “If we don’t beat them now, we never will.”

Shevchenko: The shoot-out was a really dramatic moment because you already had a feeling which way the game was going. We had the chance to kill off the game but we didn’t take it, so Liverpool had a psychological advantage. The tables had turned. 

Benítez: Of the five penalty takers Milan had, we knew about four of them very well and where they usually shot. We’d been compiling information on them for some time. That came down to our methodical nature, which had been developed over a long period.

Dudek remembers events a little differently…

Dudek: I went straight to the goalkeeping coach, José Ochotorena, and I said, “Give me that book with all the penalties we were watching.” Names, boxes, ciphers…  And I said, “Ocho, there are too many. The best thing would be for you to raise your hand, left or right, and I will provoke them to shoot to their favoured side.” And suddenly, Carragher jumps on my back, pushing me: “Jerzy! Come on, Jerzy! You need to put the pressure on them. More pressure! Do something.” I said, “Carra, let me study this book. We have the penalties to study.” He said, “No, no, no. Put the pressure on them! Do something! Remember Bruce Grobbelaar.”

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had cemented his place in club legend with his ‘spaghetti legs’ routine during the 1984 European Cup final triumph, unsettling Francesco Graziani enough during the penalty shoot-out for the Roma winger to fire over the crossbar.

Dudek: For the first penalty, I was moving a bit. A little to the left, to the right, raising my hands like semaphore, and Serginho shot over. I said, “OK, it’s starting to work.” Then, for the next penalty, I was doing some spaghetti legs, like I saw from Bruce in ’84. A little bit, because you always think, “Don’t do too much. It’s a Champions League final. Don’t play some fool goalkeeper.” 

By the time Pirlo steps up to take Milan’s second spot kick, Hamann has put Liverpool in front for the first time in the final – despite a fractured metatarsal.

Hamann: I felt it a few minutes before the end of extra time, but I didn’t know the extent of the injury. The pain was bearable. My leg wasn’t hanging off and we’d made our substitutions, so there was no way I was going to leave the pitch. And yeah, I probably couldn’t have hit the ball any sweeter. It was a big relief when it went in.

Dudek: The penalty from Pirlo, I was off the line. He slowed down the shot, I slowed my dive. When I saved it, I knew I was off the line. I saw the referee and said to myself, “If you look in the referee’s eyes, he’ll disallow it.” Then I turned to the fans. I was cheering and I didn’t look at the referee, and he said everything was OK.

Liverpool are not flawless from the spot either. Dida thwarts Riise from the Reds’ third attempt, but when Shevchenko steps up to face Dudek one more time with Milan’s fifth kick, the tally reads 3-2 in the English side’s favour. The Ukrainian forward cannot afford to miss…

Shevchenko: I’d decided not to change which way I was going to take my penalty, but at the last second I saw Dudek go to one side, so I decided to go down the middle. I hit it, but the keeper played a blinder, stuck his leg out and saved it. 

García: That moment when Jerzy saved Shevchenko’s penalty, I don’t know how to express it with words, because it’s all those emotions during the game, that rollercoaster of frustration, happiness and tiredness. We were tired, but there’s a fantastic image of us just running, sprinting towards Jerzy Dudek. Even Harry Kewell, who had pulled his groin, he was running fast! 

Hamann: It was all a bit surreal because there were no wild celebrations. It was more disbelief. We’d left the dressing room 100 minutes earlier, dead and buried. Now, 100 minutes later, you come back after the second half, after extra time, after penalties, after getting the trophy and celebrating with the fans. If you came in at the end of the game, you wouldn’t have known whether we’d won or lost because people just sat there. We couldn’t realise what had just happened.

Milan Baroš: I’ve just got goosebumps right now, so that feeling is still inside me. It’s a childhood dream come true. We watched the Champions League with my dad and he always said, “If only you could play in the Champions League at least once,” you know? But we won it. It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s like the world stops for a while.

“We were getting a lot of noise from our fans coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over” 

Carlo Ancelotti: That was the best any team I’ve coached ever played in a final. Unfortunately, in football there is that unpredictability that you can’t control. These things happen in football and you have to accept it. You also don’t think about it too much. 

Benítez: I had a friend outside who wasn’t allowed in. They called me and said, “There’s a friend of yours who isn’t being let in.” So I go and look for him and after I find him, we try to get back inside. I didn’t have my credentials and the security guard wouldn’t let me in. My friend says, “Do you know who this gentleman is?” And the guard says, “No.” So, he says, “He’s God. This gentleman is God.” And then finally the guard let us in.

Maldini: It makes me laugh that I played in eight finals, won five of them, but this is the one that’s remembered the most by far. It definitely left a significant mark, but also one of beauty, because of the drama. Talking about the unpredictability of sport, we reached the final again two years later, again against Liverpool, and even though we played a lot worse, we managed to win.

Kaká: That match was one of the most important of my career. I really learned a lot of lessons, and one of the most important was: we don’t have control over victory. From then on, I learned to prepare myself better to increase my chances of winning. And that’s what I do in every aspect of my life. The lessons I took from that match were so strong and positive for my personal life that it has become a good memory.

Hamann: The biggest thing I take out of the whole Istanbul story is coming back to Liverpool there were thousands of fans at the airport. The open-top bus going back to the city centre was meant to take a couple of hours. In the end, it took four or five because there were up to a million people in the streets. To see so many happy people, bringing the trophy back for the first time in 21 years, that’s why you play the game. When you see people from five years old to 90, some with tears running down their cheeks, that sticks with you.

Alonso: Many years have passed since that final, but it sticks in the mind. It will be remembered very well because it was a miracle, it was historic. Because of what happened and what it meant to the club, the city and the fans. Those involved made a small bit of history in the club’s rich tapestry. 

Interview
'I was hugging strangers'
Liverpool fan Kathy Williams was in Istanbul to witness her team’s miracle moment. She picks up the story at 3-0 down…

“At half-time some people left for drinks and food, but we didn’t feel like eating or drinking. We were talking to the people around us, with everyone saying, ‘This is ridiculous, what is going on?’ Not one of us had the feeling we were going to win. Except my son Matt! Whether that was pure optimism or genuine belief, you’d have to ask him.

“Where I was sitting we were all singing You’ll Never Walk Alone; it was just a case of getting some pride back and showing the players that we were still there for them. I didn’t see any fans leave, but a few weeks later a friend of mine told me that he had. Fool! Spent all that money to leave at half-time!

“When the second half started, the team calmed it down for the first ten minutes and of course, we scored the first goal. But it was after the second goal that I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s on now, their heads are down.’ It was those seven minutes, wasn’t it?

“When it came to penalties I thought, ‘That’s it, we are going to win this’. Everyone in our end was more confident, you could tell; all the supporters were really up for it. Nobody saw the comeback happening so we felt like the hard part was already finished; this was the easy part and we just had to get it done.

“They can describe it as much as they want on the telly, but unless you are there you can’t feel it. After the shoot-out we were all hugging each other and you don’t do that at home; you jump up for joy and then get the beers out. But I was hugging strangers and we all felt this sense of comradery with the players and other fans.

“I was just running on adrenaline all night. The only time the noise dropped off was when we got to the airport; we were all exhausted. It set in the next day when we got home and saw the crowds coming out to meet the team. That left me thinking, ‘We’ve done it! Yeah, we’ve done it!’ But I didn’t go to the parade: my feet were killing. I’d stood all day and all game, so I’d earned a rest.”

The Miracle of Istanbul remains an unforgettable high point in European Cup history, the standard by which all finals are judged. Even more so given the calibre of the teams brought together on 25 May 2005: both steeped in prestige, both looking to consolidate their place in the highest echelons of the game.

For Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan, a side bristling with world-class talent, that meant solidifying their status as the era’s pre-eminent force after they had edged Juventus on penalties to win the club’s sixth European title in 2003. Having dispatched the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter on the road to Istanbul, the Rossoneri were in dynasty-building mood.

Liverpool, by contrast, had not lifted the trophy since 1984, their continental allure now losing its sheen and manager Rafael Benítez still less than a year into the job. But they had already served ample warning of their character and quality, not least when Gerrard’s thunderous late goal against Olympiacos had squeaked them through the group stage.

That had been dramatic enough, but the best was yet to come. And here, in the words of the men who were there, the Reds and the Red and Blacks, we remember how a May night in Istanbul turned  towards the miraculous.

Dietmar Hamann: Anybody who disputes that [Milan were favourites] needs to see a doctor. I think they were the best side in Europe and, if you look at that team now, you can make a case for them as the best team in the past three or four decades. That’s how good they were. But we had a great spirit, we had great togetherness and we knew that when the chips were down we could rely on ourselves. And we trusted each other. 

Paolo Maldini: It was a game where we were definitely the favourites. We were the better team. We were truly a really strong side.

Jerzy Dudek: We knew it was special. We’d got to the final after so many years. You try to keep your routine the same as always but it wasn’t a normal game. You know that the pressure is big.

Luis García: The atmosphere was unbelievable. The moment when the bus got there, facing that esplanade… It was huge. You could see a sea of red. You couldn’t find a Milan supporter – you could only see red all over the place. We got there almost two hours before so we had enough time, and all the surrounding areas were crowded. It was amazing to see the stadium surrounded by Liverpool fans.

The first of the day’s many surprises comes when the line-ups are revealed. While Hernán Crespo gets the nod to start up front alongside Andriy Shevchenko for Milan – as many had predicted – Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez gives Harry Kewell an unexpected starting berth, despite the Australian forward having had recent injury troubles. For midfield linchpin Dietmar Hamann, that means having to make do with a place on the
subs bench. 

Hamann: Well, of course you’re disappointed. Before games you get an idea or a feeling whether you’ll play or not and I was pretty certain I would. So, to hear the 11 players read out by Rafa was a bit of a blow. But, after a couple of minutes, you have to support the team because it’s very important that you’re in the right frame of mind.

García: Fernando Morientes had advised us not to touch the cup, and that started to resonate in the changing room: “Don’t touch the cup. It’s not ours.” We were going out onto the pitch and everyone was saying, “Don’t touch the cup. Don’t touch the cup.” Then we saw [Gennaro] Gattuso touching the cup. That gave us a bit of a lift. We were thinking “Damn! They touched it. Bad luck for them.” 

Bad luck or not, Milan make the perfect start as Maldini volleys in an Andrea Pirlo free-kick after just 52 seconds – still the fastest ever goal in a European Cup final.

Maldini: It came from a set play in which three separate waves of players attack the free-kick, which we’d employed for a few years. It should have been placed on my head, but with them being very tall, we backed off a little. It came to me on the right and I managed to hit it and bounce it off the ground, so its trajectory made it difficult to stop. The fact that it was me, at 36 years of age, scoring the quickest goal in a Champions League final is certainly an honour. 

García: When you’ve been planning a Champions League final for two, three weeks and suddenly, after 50 seconds, you concede the first goal… The only thing we thought was, “OK, this is just a setback. Let’s try to keep going. There are 89 minutes to change this.” 

Instead, the situation deteriorates for Liverpool as Kewell is forced off with a groin injury after just 23 minutes, with Vladimír Šmicer taking his place. Then Crespo fires in a rapid double before half-time, his second capping a superb team move.  

García: I don’t think we were playing that badly, but they were just too good. Every single time they had the ball they were so fantastic, with Kaká, Pirlo and those runs from Shevchenko and Crespo. It was so difficult to control them, to be on them. 

Hamann: We could have had a penalty when [Alessandro] Nesta goes to ground, Luis García goes past him and he handles it. They go to the other end, make it 2-0 and a few minutes later make it 3-0 with a wonderful pass by Kaká and the finish by Crespo. It’s just a thing of beauty, you know? They showed all their class in that third goal. It was beautiful to watch. Not for me, I suppose, but even I had to pinch myself, thinking, “Wow! If we get beat by these, then so be it.”

Hernán Crespo: I was fortunate to score some important goals in big moments of the competition: to qualify from the group stage, or in the last 16, the quarter-finals and semi-finals. Maybe the best goal I scored was in Istanbul, the one which made it 3-0. But then the second half happened...

Hamann: By the time the third one went in, I was just empty. I thought it was too late because, going in at half-time, it was probably the most empty I felt in my career as a football player. I didn’t see a way back.

Emotions are running high at half-time, but Hamann is happy to get the nod – even if it’s not to replace the player that Rafael Benítez originally intended…

Dudek: We went to the dressing room and some of the players were very angry, some were very sad. There were some battles. And Rafa saw this, that some of the players were having arguments. He said, “Listen, guys. Two minutes for yourselves: wash your faces and come back. We have to change the tactics.”

Rafael Benítez: I was just choosing my words and mainly it went, “OK, we’ve worked so hard to be here and we already have nothing to lose. So if we score one goal, we’ll be back in the game.” And then afterwards, I just changed the game plan. I told Pako Ayestarán, my assistant manager, that we’d play three at the back and put Hamann in the middle. 

Hamann: Djimi Traoré was going to come off first and Rafa said, “Djimi, you have a shower. Didi, you come on.” Obviously, the reason for me coming on was to give Steven Gerrard the freedom to go a bit further forward because he was our biggest goal threat. 

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Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.
Gerrard rises high above the AC Milan defence to start a sequence of three Liverpool goals in the space of just seven minutes

Benítez: Then Dave Galley, the physio, told me, “I don’t think Steve Finnan can play 45 minutes; I think you need to make a substitution.” Obviously Finnan wasn’t very happy. He was watching the physio and was really upset. I was thinking, “OK, if I have to do it, I will.” And then I said to Djimi Traoré, “Come back.” And they joked because he was already in the shower, but he was coming back and Finnan was the substitution.

Gennaro Gattuso: There has been a lot of chat going around about that match, such as people saying we were celebrating in the dressing room at half-time. We were far too experienced to be making mistakes like that. It’s not for nothing that they say English players never give up. We knew it and that’s what we said in that dressing room: “Watch out, these will never die.”

Dudek: We went to the tunnel and went out, and something amazing happened. It was a magical start when we came out. We started to hear You’ll Never Walk Alone from the supporters. Stevie [Gerrard] just asked everyone to come into the middle. We did a circle and he said, “Listen, guys. Do you hear that? They still believe in us. We have to give them something back.”

Steven Gerrard: I’ve got my own doubts and my own feelings, my own thoughts that are going on in my head, but I also realise that my team are looking to me. My team-mates are looking to me, the fans are looking to me, people back home are looking to me, so I have to put a front on. I have to rally the troops at half-time. We were getting a lot of noise from our supporters coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over and they were still supporting us, so there was still a lot to play for. 

Benítez: We had to react and we did that well. When Hamann came on, we got to control that area a bit better. I think that was the key, using three defenders and controlling Kaká’s position better. Kaká or any player who is skilled between the lines is always dangerous, but if they don’t receive the ball they can disappear from the game.

Hamann: I wouldn’t say [I changed the match]. If people want to say that then so be it. But it’s still a team effort. If you want to make up three goals against arguably the best team in Europe or the world at that time in 45 minutes, you’ve got to do it collectively; every player played their part. It was about getting some control over the game, which we did.

One player who certainly leaves his mark is Gerrard, who heads in a John Arne Riise cross on 54 minutes to give Liverpool a lifeline. As Gerrard races back to the halfway line, he gestures to the supporters to keep urging Liverpool on.

Gerrard: Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.

Hamann: It was a tremendous header and it was just the lift we needed. With [Gerrard], you knew you’ve got a chance. He could make a goal or score out of nothing. He was our captain, our skipper, and I don’t think I’m going too far in saying without him we wouldn’t have won the number of trophies we did.

Dudek: From the first goal, the magic started.

Indeed, just two minutes later Vladimír Šmicer sends a long-range drive skidding beyond Dida. 

Vladimír Šmicer: That’s the goal I cherish most, because thanks to it I was able to lift that trophy above my head. The fact that I even got to play was amazing. I hadn’t expected to play in the final after my injury. After coming on [for Kewell] I wanted to contribute and enjoy the game. I knew that it was going to be my final game for Liverpool. I told myself that I had something to prove, I had to show the fans something so that I could say goodbye with my head held high. 

“Seeing so many happy people bringing the trophy back, that’s why you play the game” 

García: I think the moment we started believing was Šmicer’s goal. We saw the reaction from the AC Milan players, where they were looking around thinking, “What happened?” They were starting to blame each other. Scoring that second goal gave us the extra push to keep going for the third.

The celebrations have barely died down when Gattuso fouls Gerrard in the box. Penalty. Dida keeps out Xabi Alonso’s spot kick, but the Spanish midfielder dashes forward to bury the rebound and complete a thrilling six-minute comeback. 

Xabi Alonso: If I hadn’t scored from the rebound from the penalty, my career and what came after could have been different. Perhaps I wouldn’t have done what I went on to do. And it was my first season at Liverpool. I was 23... wow!

Gattuso: I believe in the god of football because he exists and what happened happened. There were definitely individual errors, but well done to Liverpool for believing it was possible. We conceded three goals in six minutes. There is no explanation. I think football is beautiful for that reason.

Gerrard: It is a special club. That’s the reason these comebacks happen, because when you represent that club, you realise that you fight until the end. It’s never over until it’s over and that’s why you continue to claw people back.

Hamann: I turned around when the Xabi Alonso’s rebound went in, and I think the clock was 59:04. I have to say, I was expecting 76 or 77. I would have rather seen 77 because I knew, after the third goal, the pressure was off Milan now. They would start playing again and we still had half an hour to go. I don’t think in 100 years, if they had scored next, we would have come back. 

Both teams spurn chances before the final whistle is blown and, with the scoreline 3-3, the match heads into extra time. Milan substitute Serginho begins creating danger out wide and Benítez is forced into another tactical switch, effectively moving Gerrard to right-back.

Benítez: You have to know your players, and he was the one with more energy. I always say that Ancelotti was right because Serginho was a good substitute to bring on. He widened their attack. We reacted correctly by putting Steven out there because he could stop him and also attack. 

Hamann: They brought some great players on with Rui Costa, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Serginho, and we just had to defend. There were a lot of tired players: Jamie Carragher going down with cramp; Stevie going down with cramp. We just had to hang on somehow.

The threat from Milan is far from over. With three minutes to go until a penalty shoot-out, Serginho whips in a cross from the left and Shevchenko heads the ball goalwards… 

Dudek: It bounced just before me. I pushed the ball from the line and said to myself, “Now you have to expect the rebound. Get off the line and make yourself as big as you can because you only have a few seconds.” It was speed of intuition – you want to raise your hand. Sheva probably put all his power in that shot, and that’s why he gave me the chance to save it. 

Andriy Shevchenko: We created enough chances to win. Then there was that save from Dudek in the final few seconds. I don’t know how the ball didn’t go in.

Dudek: I went back one day to Holland, and my old goalkeeping coach said to me, “Wow, you saved this ball very well!” I said, “Yeah, it was luck.” He said, “It wasn’t luck. You were working on that shot for five years! Remember the shots from five yards?” It’s true, we worked a lot with Pim Doesburg on these reaction shots. Fortunately I saved it. After that I was so confident. I knew we weren’t going to lose.

Hamann: Everybody in the stadium knew that it should have been game over, because it was only one or two minutes to play in extra time. But when you are presented with these opportunities you have to take them. We still had a penalty shoot-out to go but I thought, “If we don’t beat them now, we never will.”

Shevchenko: The shoot-out was a really dramatic moment because you already had a feeling which way the game was going. We had the chance to kill off the game but we didn’t take it, so Liverpool had a psychological advantage. The tables had turned. 

Benítez: Of the five penalty takers Milan had, we knew about four of them very well and where they usually shot. We’d been compiling information on them for some time. That came down to our methodical nature, which had been developed over a long period.

Dudek remembers events a little differently…

Dudek: I went straight to the goalkeeping coach, José Ochotorena, and I said, “Give me that book with all the penalties we were watching.” Names, boxes, ciphers…  And I said, “Ocho, there are too many. The best thing would be for you to raise your hand, left or right, and I will provoke them to shoot to their favoured side.” And suddenly, Carragher jumps on my back, pushing me: “Jerzy! Come on, Jerzy! You need to put the pressure on them. More pressure! Do something.” I said, “Carra, let me study this book. We have the penalties to study.” He said, “No, no, no. Put the pressure on them! Do something! Remember Bruce Grobbelaar.”

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had cemented his place in club legend with his ‘spaghetti legs’ routine during the 1984 European Cup final triumph, unsettling Francesco Graziani enough during the penalty shoot-out for the Roma winger to fire over the crossbar.

Dudek: For the first penalty, I was moving a bit. A little to the left, to the right, raising my hands like semaphore, and Serginho shot over. I said, “OK, it’s starting to work.” Then, for the next penalty, I was doing some spaghetti legs, like I saw from Bruce in ’84. A little bit, because you always think, “Don’t do too much. It’s a Champions League final. Don’t play some fool goalkeeper.” 

By the time Pirlo steps up to take Milan’s second spot kick, Hamann has put Liverpool in front for the first time in the final – despite a fractured metatarsal.

Hamann: I felt it a few minutes before the end of extra time, but I didn’t know the extent of the injury. The pain was bearable. My leg wasn’t hanging off and we’d made our substitutions, so there was no way I was going to leave the pitch. And yeah, I probably couldn’t have hit the ball any sweeter. It was a big relief when it went in.

Dudek: The penalty from Pirlo, I was off the line. He slowed down the shot, I slowed my dive. When I saved it, I knew I was off the line. I saw the referee and said to myself, “If you look in the referee’s eyes, he’ll disallow it.” Then I turned to the fans. I was cheering and I didn’t look at the referee, and he said everything was OK.

Liverpool are not flawless from the spot either. Dida thwarts Riise from the Reds’ third attempt, but when Shevchenko steps up to face Dudek one more time with Milan’s fifth kick, the tally reads 3-2 in the English side’s favour. The Ukrainian forward cannot afford to miss…

Shevchenko: I’d decided not to change which way I was going to take my penalty, but at the last second I saw Dudek go to one side, so I decided to go down the middle. I hit it, but the keeper played a blinder, stuck his leg out and saved it. 

García: That moment when Jerzy saved Shevchenko’s penalty, I don’t know how to express it with words, because it’s all those emotions during the game, that rollercoaster of frustration, happiness and tiredness. We were tired, but there’s a fantastic image of us just running, sprinting towards Jerzy Dudek. Even Harry Kewell, who had pulled his groin, he was running fast! 

Hamann: It was all a bit surreal because there were no wild celebrations. It was more disbelief. We’d left the dressing room 100 minutes earlier, dead and buried. Now, 100 minutes later, you come back after the second half, after extra time, after penalties, after getting the trophy and celebrating with the fans. If you came in at the end of the game, you wouldn’t have known whether we’d won or lost because people just sat there. We couldn’t realise what had just happened.

Milan Baroš: I’ve just got goosebumps right now, so that feeling is still inside me. It’s a childhood dream come true. We watched the Champions League with my dad and he always said, “If only you could play in the Champions League at least once,” you know? But we won it. It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s like the world stops for a while.

“We were getting a lot of noise from our fans coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over” 

Carlo Ancelotti: That was the best any team I’ve coached ever played in a final. Unfortunately, in football there is that unpredictability that you can’t control. These things happen in football and you have to accept it. You also don’t think about it too much. 

Benítez: I had a friend outside who wasn’t allowed in. They called me and said, “There’s a friend of yours who isn’t being let in.” So I go and look for him and after I find him, we try to get back inside. I didn’t have my credentials and the security guard wouldn’t let me in. My friend says, “Do you know who this gentleman is?” And the guard says, “No.” So, he says, “He’s God. This gentleman is God.” And then finally the guard let us in.

Maldini: It makes me laugh that I played in eight finals, won five of them, but this is the one that’s remembered the most by far. It definitely left a significant mark, but also one of beauty, because of the drama. Talking about the unpredictability of sport, we reached the final again two years later, again against Liverpool, and even though we played a lot worse, we managed to win.

Kaká: That match was one of the most important of my career. I really learned a lot of lessons, and one of the most important was: we don’t have control over victory. From then on, I learned to prepare myself better to increase my chances of winning. And that’s what I do in every aspect of my life. The lessons I took from that match were so strong and positive for my personal life that it has become a good memory.

Hamann: The biggest thing I take out of the whole Istanbul story is coming back to Liverpool there were thousands of fans at the airport. The open-top bus going back to the city centre was meant to take a couple of hours. In the end, it took four or five because there were up to a million people in the streets. To see so many happy people, bringing the trophy back for the first time in 21 years, that’s why you play the game. When you see people from five years old to 90, some with tears running down their cheeks, that sticks with you.

Alonso: Many years have passed since that final, but it sticks in the mind. It will be remembered very well because it was a miracle, it was historic. Because of what happened and what it meant to the club, the city and the fans. Those involved made a small bit of history in the club’s rich tapestry. 

Interview
'I was hugging strangers'
Liverpool fan Kathy Williams was in Istanbul to witness her team’s miracle moment. She picks up the story at 3-0 down…

“At half-time some people left for drinks and food, but we didn’t feel like eating or drinking. We were talking to the people around us, with everyone saying, ‘This is ridiculous, what is going on?’ Not one of us had the feeling we were going to win. Except my son Matt! Whether that was pure optimism or genuine belief, you’d have to ask him.

“Where I was sitting we were all singing You’ll Never Walk Alone; it was just a case of getting some pride back and showing the players that we were still there for them. I didn’t see any fans leave, but a few weeks later a friend of mine told me that he had. Fool! Spent all that money to leave at half-time!

“When the second half started, the team calmed it down for the first ten minutes and of course, we scored the first goal. But it was after the second goal that I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s on now, their heads are down.’ It was those seven minutes, wasn’t it?

“When it came to penalties I thought, ‘That’s it, we are going to win this’. Everyone in our end was more confident, you could tell; all the supporters were really up for it. Nobody saw the comeback happening so we felt like the hard part was already finished; this was the easy part and we just had to get it done.

“They can describe it as much as they want on the telly, but unless you are there you can’t feel it. After the shoot-out we were all hugging each other and you don’t do that at home; you jump up for joy and then get the beers out. But I was hugging strangers and we all felt this sense of comradery with the players and other fans.

“I was just running on adrenaline all night. The only time the noise dropped off was when we got to the airport; we were all exhausted. It set in the next day when we got home and saw the crowds coming out to meet the team. That left me thinking, ‘We’ve done it! Yeah, we’ve done it!’ But I didn’t go to the parade: my feet were killing. I’d stood all day and all game, so I’d earned a rest.”

The Miracle of Istanbul remains an unforgettable high point in European Cup history, the standard by which all finals are judged. Even more so given the calibre of the teams brought together on 25 May 2005: both steeped in prestige, both looking to consolidate their place in the highest echelons of the game.

For Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan, a side bristling with world-class talent, that meant solidifying their status as the era’s pre-eminent force after they had edged Juventus on penalties to win the club’s sixth European title in 2003. Having dispatched the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter on the road to Istanbul, the Rossoneri were in dynasty-building mood.

Liverpool, by contrast, had not lifted the trophy since 1984, their continental allure now losing its sheen and manager Rafael Benítez still less than a year into the job. But they had already served ample warning of their character and quality, not least when Gerrard’s thunderous late goal against Olympiacos had squeaked them through the group stage.

That had been dramatic enough, but the best was yet to come. And here, in the words of the men who were there, the Reds and the Red and Blacks, we remember how a May night in Istanbul turned  towards the miraculous.

Dietmar Hamann: Anybody who disputes that [Milan were favourites] needs to see a doctor. I think they were the best side in Europe and, if you look at that team now, you can make a case for them as the best team in the past three or four decades. That’s how good they were. But we had a great spirit, we had great togetherness and we knew that when the chips were down we could rely on ourselves. And we trusted each other. 

Paolo Maldini: It was a game where we were definitely the favourites. We were the better team. We were truly a really strong side.

Jerzy Dudek: We knew it was special. We’d got to the final after so many years. You try to keep your routine the same as always but it wasn’t a normal game. You know that the pressure is big.

Luis García: The atmosphere was unbelievable. The moment when the bus got there, facing that esplanade… It was huge. You could see a sea of red. You couldn’t find a Milan supporter – you could only see red all over the place. We got there almost two hours before so we had enough time, and all the surrounding areas were crowded. It was amazing to see the stadium surrounded by Liverpool fans.

The first of the day’s many surprises comes when the line-ups are revealed. While Hernán Crespo gets the nod to start up front alongside Andriy Shevchenko for Milan – as many had predicted – Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez gives Harry Kewell an unexpected starting berth, despite the Australian forward having had recent injury troubles. For midfield linchpin Dietmar Hamann, that means having to make do with a place on the
subs bench. 

Hamann: Well, of course you’re disappointed. Before games you get an idea or a feeling whether you’ll play or not and I was pretty certain I would. So, to hear the 11 players read out by Rafa was a bit of a blow. But, after a couple of minutes, you have to support the team because it’s very important that you’re in the right frame of mind.

García: Fernando Morientes had advised us not to touch the cup, and that started to resonate in the changing room: “Don’t touch the cup. It’s not ours.” We were going out onto the pitch and everyone was saying, “Don’t touch the cup. Don’t touch the cup.” Then we saw [Gennaro] Gattuso touching the cup. That gave us a bit of a lift. We were thinking “Damn! They touched it. Bad luck for them.” 

Bad luck or not, Milan make the perfect start as Maldini volleys in an Andrea Pirlo free-kick after just 52 seconds – still the fastest ever goal in a European Cup final.

Maldini: It came from a set play in which three separate waves of players attack the free-kick, which we’d employed for a few years. It should have been placed on my head, but with them being very tall, we backed off a little. It came to me on the right and I managed to hit it and bounce it off the ground, so its trajectory made it difficult to stop. The fact that it was me, at 36 years of age, scoring the quickest goal in a Champions League final is certainly an honour. 

García: When you’ve been planning a Champions League final for two, three weeks and suddenly, after 50 seconds, you concede the first goal… The only thing we thought was, “OK, this is just a setback. Let’s try to keep going. There are 89 minutes to change this.” 

Instead, the situation deteriorates for Liverpool as Kewell is forced off with a groin injury after just 23 minutes, with Vladimír Šmicer taking his place. Then Crespo fires in a rapid double before half-time, his second capping a superb team move.  

García: I don’t think we were playing that badly, but they were just too good. Every single time they had the ball they were so fantastic, with Kaká, Pirlo and those runs from Shevchenko and Crespo. It was so difficult to control them, to be on them. 

Hamann: We could have had a penalty when [Alessandro] Nesta goes to ground, Luis García goes past him and he handles it. They go to the other end, make it 2-0 and a few minutes later make it 3-0 with a wonderful pass by Kaká and the finish by Crespo. It’s just a thing of beauty, you know? They showed all their class in that third goal. It was beautiful to watch. Not for me, I suppose, but even I had to pinch myself, thinking, “Wow! If we get beat by these, then so be it.”

Hernán Crespo: I was fortunate to score some important goals in big moments of the competition: to qualify from the group stage, or in the last 16, the quarter-finals and semi-finals. Maybe the best goal I scored was in Istanbul, the one which made it 3-0. But then the second half happened...

Hamann: By the time the third one went in, I was just empty. I thought it was too late because, going in at half-time, it was probably the most empty I felt in my career as a football player. I didn’t see a way back.

Emotions are running high at half-time, but Hamann is happy to get the nod – even if it’s not to replace the player that Rafael Benítez originally intended…

Dudek: We went to the dressing room and some of the players were very angry, some were very sad. There were some battles. And Rafa saw this, that some of the players were having arguments. He said, “Listen, guys. Two minutes for yourselves: wash your faces and come back. We have to change the tactics.”

Rafael Benítez: I was just choosing my words and mainly it went, “OK, we’ve worked so hard to be here and we already have nothing to lose. So if we score one goal, we’ll be back in the game.” And then afterwards, I just changed the game plan. I told Pako Ayestarán, my assistant manager, that we’d play three at the back and put Hamann in the middle. 

Hamann: Djimi Traoré was going to come off first and Rafa said, “Djimi, you have a shower. Didi, you come on.” Obviously, the reason for me coming on was to give Steven Gerrard the freedom to go a bit further forward because he was our biggest goal threat. 

Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.
Gerrard rises high above the AC Milan defence to start a sequence of three Liverpool goals in the space of just seven minutes

Benítez: Then Dave Galley, the physio, told me, “I don’t think Steve Finnan can play 45 minutes; I think you need to make a substitution.” Obviously Finnan wasn’t very happy. He was watching the physio and was really upset. I was thinking, “OK, if I have to do it, I will.” And then I said to Djimi Traoré, “Come back.” And they joked because he was already in the shower, but he was coming back and Finnan was the substitution.

Gennaro Gattuso: There has been a lot of chat going around about that match, such as people saying we were celebrating in the dressing room at half-time. We were far too experienced to be making mistakes like that. It’s not for nothing that they say English players never give up. We knew it and that’s what we said in that dressing room: “Watch out, these will never die.”

Dudek: We went to the tunnel and went out, and something amazing happened. It was a magical start when we came out. We started to hear You’ll Never Walk Alone from the supporters. Stevie [Gerrard] just asked everyone to come into the middle. We did a circle and he said, “Listen, guys. Do you hear that? They still believe in us. We have to give them something back.”

Steven Gerrard: I’ve got my own doubts and my own feelings, my own thoughts that are going on in my head, but I also realise that my team are looking to me. My team-mates are looking to me, the fans are looking to me, people back home are looking to me, so I have to put a front on. I have to rally the troops at half-time. We were getting a lot of noise from our supporters coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over and they were still supporting us, so there was still a lot to play for. 

Benítez: We had to react and we did that well. When Hamann came on, we got to control that area a bit better. I think that was the key, using three defenders and controlling Kaká’s position better. Kaká or any player who is skilled between the lines is always dangerous, but if they don’t receive the ball they can disappear from the game.

Hamann: I wouldn’t say [I changed the match]. If people want to say that then so be it. But it’s still a team effort. If you want to make up three goals against arguably the best team in Europe or the world at that time in 45 minutes, you’ve got to do it collectively; every player played their part. It was about getting some control over the game, which we did.

One player who certainly leaves his mark is Gerrard, who heads in a John Arne Riise cross on 54 minutes to give Liverpool a lifeline. As Gerrard races back to the halfway line, he gestures to the supporters to keep urging Liverpool on.

Gerrard: Thankfully the AC Milan players switched off for ten, 15 minutes at the start of the second half. It’s the number one goal as far as importance is concerned. That goal gave us a little bit of hope. The fans went wild and I could see it on my team-mates’ faces that it was the start of a bit of belief and confidence coming back, and it just gave AC Milan something to think about. They were very comfortable at 3-0, but at 3-1 it was a game changer.

Hamann: It was a tremendous header and it was just the lift we needed. With [Gerrard], you knew you’ve got a chance. He could make a goal or score out of nothing. He was our captain, our skipper, and I don’t think I’m going too far in saying without him we wouldn’t have won the number of trophies we did.

Dudek: From the first goal, the magic started.

Indeed, just two minutes later Vladimír Šmicer sends a long-range drive skidding beyond Dida. 

Vladimír Šmicer: That’s the goal I cherish most, because thanks to it I was able to lift that trophy above my head. The fact that I even got to play was amazing. I hadn’t expected to play in the final after my injury. After coming on [for Kewell] I wanted to contribute and enjoy the game. I knew that it was going to be my final game for Liverpool. I told myself that I had something to prove, I had to show the fans something so that I could say goodbye with my head held high. 

“Seeing so many happy people bringing the trophy back, that’s why you play the game” 

García: I think the moment we started believing was Šmicer’s goal. We saw the reaction from the AC Milan players, where they were looking around thinking, “What happened?” They were starting to blame each other. Scoring that second goal gave us the extra push to keep going for the third.

The celebrations have barely died down when Gattuso fouls Gerrard in the box. Penalty. Dida keeps out Xabi Alonso’s spot kick, but the Spanish midfielder dashes forward to bury the rebound and complete a thrilling six-minute comeback. 

Xabi Alonso: If I hadn’t scored from the rebound from the penalty, my career and what came after could have been different. Perhaps I wouldn’t have done what I went on to do. And it was my first season at Liverpool. I was 23... wow!

Gattuso: I believe in the god of football because he exists and what happened happened. There were definitely individual errors, but well done to Liverpool for believing it was possible. We conceded three goals in six minutes. There is no explanation. I think football is beautiful for that reason.

Gerrard: It is a special club. That’s the reason these comebacks happen, because when you represent that club, you realise that you fight until the end. It’s never over until it’s over and that’s why you continue to claw people back.

Hamann: I turned around when the Xabi Alonso’s rebound went in, and I think the clock was 59:04. I have to say, I was expecting 76 or 77. I would have rather seen 77 because I knew, after the third goal, the pressure was off Milan now. They would start playing again and we still had half an hour to go. I don’t think in 100 years, if they had scored next, we would have come back. 

Both teams spurn chances before the final whistle is blown and, with the scoreline 3-3, the match heads into extra time. Milan substitute Serginho begins creating danger out wide and Benítez is forced into another tactical switch, effectively moving Gerrard to right-back.

Benítez: You have to know your players, and he was the one with more energy. I always say that Ancelotti was right because Serginho was a good substitute to bring on. He widened their attack. We reacted correctly by putting Steven out there because he could stop him and also attack. 

Hamann: They brought some great players on with Rui Costa, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Serginho, and we just had to defend. There were a lot of tired players: Jamie Carragher going down with cramp; Stevie going down with cramp. We just had to hang on somehow.

The threat from Milan is far from over. With three minutes to go until a penalty shoot-out, Serginho whips in a cross from the left and Shevchenko heads the ball goalwards… 

Dudek: It bounced just before me. I pushed the ball from the line and said to myself, “Now you have to expect the rebound. Get off the line and make yourself as big as you can because you only have a few seconds.” It was speed of intuition – you want to raise your hand. Sheva probably put all his power in that shot, and that’s why he gave me the chance to save it. 

Andriy Shevchenko: We created enough chances to win. Then there was that save from Dudek in the final few seconds. I don’t know how the ball didn’t go in.

Dudek: I went back one day to Holland, and my old goalkeeping coach said to me, “Wow, you saved this ball very well!” I said, “Yeah, it was luck.” He said, “It wasn’t luck. You were working on that shot for five years! Remember the shots from five yards?” It’s true, we worked a lot with Pim Doesburg on these reaction shots. Fortunately I saved it. After that I was so confident. I knew we weren’t going to lose.

Hamann: Everybody in the stadium knew that it should have been game over, because it was only one or two minutes to play in extra time. But when you are presented with these opportunities you have to take them. We still had a penalty shoot-out to go but I thought, “If we don’t beat them now, we never will.”

Shevchenko: The shoot-out was a really dramatic moment because you already had a feeling which way the game was going. We had the chance to kill off the game but we didn’t take it, so Liverpool had a psychological advantage. The tables had turned. 

Benítez: Of the five penalty takers Milan had, we knew about four of them very well and where they usually shot. We’d been compiling information on them for some time. That came down to our methodical nature, which had been developed over a long period.

Dudek remembers events a little differently…

Dudek: I went straight to the goalkeeping coach, José Ochotorena, and I said, “Give me that book with all the penalties we were watching.” Names, boxes, ciphers…  And I said, “Ocho, there are too many. The best thing would be for you to raise your hand, left or right, and I will provoke them to shoot to their favoured side.” And suddenly, Carragher jumps on my back, pushing me: “Jerzy! Come on, Jerzy! You need to put the pressure on them. More pressure! Do something.” I said, “Carra, let me study this book. We have the penalties to study.” He said, “No, no, no. Put the pressure on them! Do something! Remember Bruce Grobbelaar.”

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had cemented his place in club legend with his ‘spaghetti legs’ routine during the 1984 European Cup final triumph, unsettling Francesco Graziani enough during the penalty shoot-out for the Roma winger to fire over the crossbar.

Dudek: For the first penalty, I was moving a bit. A little to the left, to the right, raising my hands like semaphore, and Serginho shot over. I said, “OK, it’s starting to work.” Then, for the next penalty, I was doing some spaghetti legs, like I saw from Bruce in ’84. A little bit, because you always think, “Don’t do too much. It’s a Champions League final. Don’t play some fool goalkeeper.” 

By the time Pirlo steps up to take Milan’s second spot kick, Hamann has put Liverpool in front for the first time in the final – despite a fractured metatarsal.

Hamann: I felt it a few minutes before the end of extra time, but I didn’t know the extent of the injury. The pain was bearable. My leg wasn’t hanging off and we’d made our substitutions, so there was no way I was going to leave the pitch. And yeah, I probably couldn’t have hit the ball any sweeter. It was a big relief when it went in.

Dudek: The penalty from Pirlo, I was off the line. He slowed down the shot, I slowed my dive. When I saved it, I knew I was off the line. I saw the referee and said to myself, “If you look in the referee’s eyes, he’ll disallow it.” Then I turned to the fans. I was cheering and I didn’t look at the referee, and he said everything was OK.

Liverpool are not flawless from the spot either. Dida thwarts Riise from the Reds’ third attempt, but when Shevchenko steps up to face Dudek one more time with Milan’s fifth kick, the tally reads 3-2 in the English side’s favour. The Ukrainian forward cannot afford to miss…

Shevchenko: I’d decided not to change which way I was going to take my penalty, but at the last second I saw Dudek go to one side, so I decided to go down the middle. I hit it, but the keeper played a blinder, stuck his leg out and saved it. 

García: That moment when Jerzy saved Shevchenko’s penalty, I don’t know how to express it with words, because it’s all those emotions during the game, that rollercoaster of frustration, happiness and tiredness. We were tired, but there’s a fantastic image of us just running, sprinting towards Jerzy Dudek. Even Harry Kewell, who had pulled his groin, he was running fast! 

Hamann: It was all a bit surreal because there were no wild celebrations. It was more disbelief. We’d left the dressing room 100 minutes earlier, dead and buried. Now, 100 minutes later, you come back after the second half, after extra time, after penalties, after getting the trophy and celebrating with the fans. If you came in at the end of the game, you wouldn’t have known whether we’d won or lost because people just sat there. We couldn’t realise what had just happened.

Milan Baroš: I’ve just got goosebumps right now, so that feeling is still inside me. It’s a childhood dream come true. We watched the Champions League with my dad and he always said, “If only you could play in the Champions League at least once,” you know? But we won it. It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s like the world stops for a while.

“We were getting a lot of noise from our fans coming down the tunnel that it wasn’t over” 

Carlo Ancelotti: That was the best any team I’ve coached ever played in a final. Unfortunately, in football there is that unpredictability that you can’t control. These things happen in football and you have to accept it. You also don’t think about it too much. 

Benítez: I had a friend outside who wasn’t allowed in. They called me and said, “There’s a friend of yours who isn’t being let in.” So I go and look for him and after I find him, we try to get back inside. I didn’t have my credentials and the security guard wouldn’t let me in. My friend says, “Do you know who this gentleman is?” And the guard says, “No.” So, he says, “He’s God. This gentleman is God.” And then finally the guard let us in.

Maldini: It makes me laugh that I played in eight finals, won five of them, but this is the one that’s remembered the most by far. It definitely left a significant mark, but also one of beauty, because of the drama. Talking about the unpredictability of sport, we reached the final again two years later, again against Liverpool, and even though we played a lot worse, we managed to win.

Kaká: That match was one of the most important of my career. I really learned a lot of lessons, and one of the most important was: we don’t have control over victory. From then on, I learned to prepare myself better to increase my chances of winning. And that’s what I do in every aspect of my life. The lessons I took from that match were so strong and positive for my personal life that it has become a good memory.

Hamann: The biggest thing I take out of the whole Istanbul story is coming back to Liverpool there were thousands of fans at the airport. The open-top bus going back to the city centre was meant to take a couple of hours. In the end, it took four or five because there were up to a million people in the streets. To see so many happy people, bringing the trophy back for the first time in 21 years, that’s why you play the game. When you see people from five years old to 90, some with tears running down their cheeks, that sticks with you.

Alonso: Many years have passed since that final, but it sticks in the mind. It will be remembered very well because it was a miracle, it was historic. Because of what happened and what it meant to the club, the city and the fans. Those involved made a small bit of history in the club’s rich tapestry. 

Interview
'I was hugging strangers'
Liverpool fan Kathy Williams was in Istanbul to witness her team’s miracle moment. She picks up the story at 3-0 down…

“At half-time some people left for drinks and food, but we didn’t feel like eating or drinking. We were talking to the people around us, with everyone saying, ‘This is ridiculous, what is going on?’ Not one of us had the feeling we were going to win. Except my son Matt! Whether that was pure optimism or genuine belief, you’d have to ask him.

“Where I was sitting we were all singing You’ll Never Walk Alone; it was just a case of getting some pride back and showing the players that we were still there for them. I didn’t see any fans leave, but a few weeks later a friend of mine told me that he had. Fool! Spent all that money to leave at half-time!

“When the second half started, the team calmed it down for the first ten minutes and of course, we scored the first goal. But it was after the second goal that I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s on now, their heads are down.’ It was those seven minutes, wasn’t it?

“When it came to penalties I thought, ‘That’s it, we are going to win this’. Everyone in our end was more confident, you could tell; all the supporters were really up for it. Nobody saw the comeback happening so we felt like the hard part was already finished; this was the easy part and we just had to get it done.

“They can describe it as much as they want on the telly, but unless you are there you can’t feel it. After the shoot-out we were all hugging each other and you don’t do that at home; you jump up for joy and then get the beers out. But I was hugging strangers and we all felt this sense of comradery with the players and other fans.

“I was just running on adrenaline all night. The only time the noise dropped off was when we got to the airport; we were all exhausted. It set in the next day when we got home and saw the crowds coming out to meet the team. That left me thinking, ‘We’ve done it! Yeah, we’ve done it!’ But I didn’t go to the parade: my feet were killing. I’d stood all day and all game, so I’d earned a rest.”

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