Backstories to Liverpool's 2005 Champions League Miracle in Istanbul
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
On May 25 2005, Liverpool overcame AC Milan in one of the most dramatic and unforgettable European Cup finals ever to give the Reds their fifth continental crown, and there are a number of intriguing backstories to the Merseysiders’ victory in Istanbul that night.
From the moment Liverpool faced Graz AK in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League qualifier in August 2004 to that when Jerzy Dudek kept out Andriy Shevchenko’s spot kick at the Ataturk Olympic stadium, Rafa Benitez’s side went on a remarkable journey that few Reds fans will ever forget.
That adventure, lasting nine months, was full of both highs, lows, twists and turns that not even a Hollywood producer would consider pitching for a movie idea. Here are some of the more memorable of those tales…
Shock Selection Helps Beat Depor
Liverpool travelled to face Liga outfit Deportivo La Coruna on Nov. 3, 2004 for what was the Reds’ crucial fourth group-stage fixture, having collected four points from their opening three contests.
However, a match at the Riazor against the previous season’s beaten finalists and the pre-group favourites was expected to end in defeat for Benitez’s inexperienced side, who had only ever competed in the UEFA Champions League on two previous occasions.
And what is more, the visitors had opted to start with much-maligned Igor Biscan in midfield in place of star man Xabi Alonso, who was on the bench.
But Benitez’s shock selection of the Croat paid handsome rewards, as it was the holding midfield player’s brilliant early solo run through the Spaniards’ midfield that helped set up the only goal of the game (see above), and give Liverpool what turned out to be an absolutely crucial three points in their bid to make the knockout phase.
One Man Keeps His Cool, While All Around Him Others Are Losing Theirs
In the vital final Group A encounter against Olympiakos at Anfield, Liverpool needed to win by at least two clear goals in order to make the knockout phase of the competition.
However, all appeared lost when Brazil international Rivaldo scored with a direct free kick in front of the Kop just seconds before halftime, meaning the home team somehow needed to find three unanswered goals in the second period.
But after yet more intuitive tactical switches at the break from Benitez, the Reds scored twice, leaving themselves with nine minutes at the end to find a decisive third goal.
And when the moment did arrive that saw skipper Steven Gerrard volley home from the edge of the area to give Liverpool a 3-1 lead on the night, and with it a place in first knockout round, the whole of Anfield erupted into delirium.
Apart from one man, that is, with Benitez seen simply scribbling down yet more notes on his pad as one fan jumped the perimeter hoardings to embrace the Spaniard, who barely even reacted (see above).
It’s Time to Start Believing
Prior to the Merseysiders’ second-leg clash against Bayer Leverkusen at the Bay Arena in March 2005, Liverpool’s manager gave a bullish pre-match press conference in which he surprised many by claiming that his team were good enough to go all the way in that season’s competition.
Now, at the time the Reds had been labelled the worst club left in the Champions League. Benitez decided to employ this risky strategy in order to boost his players’ fragile confidence, especially after they had conceded a last-minute goal to the Germans in the first leg at Anfield that had seemingly handed the initiative back to Leverkusen.
However, according to Paul Walker of The Independent, Benitez came out all guns blazing on the day before the tie, telling a stunned press room that: “Last season it was Porto who were champions, so why not Liverpool? asked the manager "If we beat Leverkusen we will only be two ties away from the final and we have the advantage that whatever team we draw, they will have to come to Anfield and face our team as well as our fans.”
And the pre-match tactic worked to perfection, as Liverpool strolled to a comfortable 3-1 win on the night (see above), and a 6-2 victory on aggregate, when many had predicted beforehand that the vastly more experienced Germans would blow their opponents away on home soil.
Nedved’s Motivational Words
Going into the first leg of Liverpool’s quarter-final against Serie A champions Juventus, the Italian’s Ballon d’Or winner Pavel Nedved had given an interview in which he praised the Reds fans, but said he was sorry for them as their team had no chance of overcoming the “Old Lady of Italian Football” over the two legs.
As a result, the Czech’s words were hung up on the dressing-room wall prior to kick-off at Anfield, in a planned attempt by Liverpool’s coaching staff to motivate the players ahead of the clash with Juve.
But the tactic worked like a dream with the home team tearing into their more fancied opponents right from the very off, the visitors not knowing what had hit them as the Reds took an early 2-0 lead against one of the favourites for the competition (see above), who had eliminated Real Madrid in the previous round.
And this was a Liverpool team that was forced to field the likes of inexperienced duo Anthony Le Tallec and Scott Carson do not forget!
A Bridge Too Far
In the first leg of the semi-final with bitter rivals Chelsea, the Blues made the decision to house Liverpool’s contingent of noisy fans directly behind the two dugouts, as opposed to where they are normally situated for away games in the Shed End of Stamford Bridge.
However, this deliberate ploy by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho backfired on the Portuguese as every time the “Special One” rose from his bench to give instructions to his players, so all the Reds supporters also got to their feet to give the Portuguese the now infamous “shhhh” gesture that he had controversially employed in that season’s Carling Cup final.
And this appeared to affect “Mou's” ability to communicate with his players, much to his obvious frustration, while also seeming to symbolise the Premier League champions’ lacklustre performance in west London that handed all the initiative to the Reds going into the second leg (see above).
Cup of Joy
Before going out on to the pitch in Istanbul for the final with AC Milan, Spanish midfield player Luis Garcia had warned his teammates not to touch the trophy under any circumstances, as it was an unwritten in rule in football that only the winning team lays their hands on the trophy when presented with it after the match.
And as if to make matters worse, as the two sides made their way on to the pitch, UEFA had decided to position the cup with the big ears right between the teams.
Liverpool’s players resisted the temptation to get an early feel of the European Cup, however, two Rossoneri stars did not, with both Gennaro Gattuso and Kaka breaking the golden rule by touching the shining trophy as they passed it (see above).
And the rest, as they say, is history…