Liverpool 3 Milan 3
Sky Sports continues a review of the best finals from the Champions League era with a look at 2004/05, when Steven Gerrard helped Liverpool to one of the most remarkable comebacks in football history
By Ryan Parrish
Last Updated: 26/08/13 4:57pm
In one of the most dramatic games in UEFA Champions League history, Liverpool staged a remarkable comeback to eventually defeat AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul in the 2004/05 final.
Rafael Benitez' side went into the game at the Ataturk Stadium following a controversial 1-0 aggregate win over Chelsea in the semi-finals, when Luis Garcia's effort was adjudged to have crossed the line despite television replays remaining inconclusive.
Milan were the reigning Italian champions and they lived up to their tag as favourites when Paolo Maldini opened the scoring in the first minute. The Milan captain volleyed Andrea Pirlo's free-kick into the ground and past Jerzy Dudek, making him the competition's oldest goalscorer at the age of 36. Both teams had chances to score as the half progressed but it was Milan who doubled their lead on the 39th minute when Andriy Shevchenko's cross found Hernan Crespo and the striker, on loan from Chelsea, tapped in from close range. Milan were celebrating again minutes later when he executed a deft chip over Dudek to make it three and seemingly put the game out of reach at half-time.
Liverpool had no option but to go all-out attack in the second half and Dietmar Hamann replaced Steve Finnan during the break as Benitez decided to go with three at the back. The Reds knew they needed an early goal and they found their way back into the game when Steven Gerrard headed John Arne Riise's cross past the stranded Dida. With Milan now on the back foot, Liverpool managed to reduce the deficit even further when Vladimir Smicer's strike squeezed into the bottom corner. Liverpool had all the momentum and they were given the chance to equalise when Gennaro Gattuso brought down Gerrard as he strode into the box. Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the spot-kick only to be denied by Dida. But the Spaniard was first to the rebound and he fired into the roof of the net to equalise as the Milan team watched on disbelief.
Liverpool had somehow managed to pull themselves level and with Milan looking shell-shocked after a six-minute onslaught, it seemed as if there would only be one winner. However, both teams remained cautious and despite several chances to win the game for either side, extra-time would be required. Liverpool were showing signs of tiring and a number of players pulled up with cramp as Milan had the better of the chances in the additional period. Pirlo saw his strike rebound off the woodwork in the opening minutes and Dudek continued his heroics with a stunning double save from Shevchenko minutes from time. Neither side were able to break the deadlock as the game went to penalties to decide a truly epic encounter.
The penalty shoot-out equalled the game in terms of drama as Serginho and Pirlo both missed Milan's opening two penalties while Hamann, suffering from a broken foot, and Djibril Cisse dispatched theirs to give a two-goal advantage. Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kaka both netted their spot-kicks. So, after Smicer had made it 3-2 with his effort, Shevchenko needed to score to keep Milan in the game. The Ukrainian fired straight down the middle and, despite having already committed himself to diving to his right, Dudek managed to claw it away to clinch the trophy, sparking pandemonium amongst the Liverpool squad and fans.
In truly amazing fashion, Benitez collected his first trophy since taking charge at Anfield and even the Spaniard was left speechless. He said after the game: "My problem is that I don't have words to express the things that I feel at this moment." That emotion ran throughout the Liverpool camp and, when asked about his match-winning save, Dudek admitted: "I don't know how I did it." While Jamie Carragher had a similar reaction, as he said: "The save Jerzy Dudek made from Shevchenko at the end was unbelievable. I can't believe we've just won."
Even Argentina legend Diego Maradona hailed Liverpool's fightback, as he claimed: "Even the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup could not have staged a comeback with Milan leading 3-0." Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti thought his side were unfortunate but he remained upbeat despite the result, as he said: "I think Milan played a marvellous final. We lost without deserving to lose and, OK, we have to accept our defeat. We had the penalties and we lost and I think the team should be proud of what we have done. We are unhappy but I think we lost in an honourable way."
AC Milan were able to inflict revenge on Liverpool with a 2-1 win two years later when they contested the final in Athens. But, for Liverpool, this win will not only go down as one of Benitez's defining achievements as manager at Anfield, but also one of the greatest moments in the club's rich European history.
Rob Hawthorne did this game for Sky Sports but I did it for Australian TV. I remember I had to find out if Harry Kewell was playing, because there was a lot of interest in that. I had been in La Coruna when Milan had lost a 4-1 lead from their first leg by losing 4-0 to Deportivo. When Milan went in 3-0 at half-time, I did say that had happened - and that was the only hope I could find for Liverpool. They were words delivered without a lot of belief! I expected that might open the door in a tiny way but I never expected what happened in the second half. It was an extraordinary place to be. To see a game switch so dramatically in favour of a Premier League club was very exciting. Afterwards, Istanbul Airport was pretty fraught and I had to fly Chicago to commentate on USA v England for Sky. I flew into Heathrow to change from Terminal Three to Terminal Four and my wife picked me up to do the short journey around the perimeter road. However, our Volvo Estate broke down and I had to get out and leave her on her own! When I got to Chicago, where all the England squad were, the Champions League final was all they were talking about.