Liverpool and the Miracle of Istanbul, Pt. 2
My personal account of Liverpool's greatest ever moment continues here as Champions League fever grips the world. The Miracle of Istanbul was perhaps the greatest of all the finals.
Read Part One here.
It had been a long time since Anfield had experienced a truly special European Cup night.
The match against Olympiakos may have only been for a place in the first knockout phase, but there was a sense among Liverpool fans everywhere that it could be one of those famous special nights.
These hopes were somewhat dampened when Olympiakos took the lead, and Liverpool went in at half time knowing they would need three second-half goals.
With a strong Olympiakos side and a relatively weak Liverpool side, it couldn’t be done, could it?
Harry Kewell went on a mazy run down the left-wing, the type of which we hadn’t seen since his Leeds days, and pulled it back for Florent Sinama-Pongolle to tap it in almost immediately after the break.
Hope rippled across Anfield.
Another tap in from Neil Mellor raised that level of hope even further.
All we needed now was one goal and we were through.
Mellor’s goal came with just nine minutes left on the clock. It would have to be some late show if Liverpool were to get the goal they needed to progress.
And what a show it was!
In what has gone down as the turning point of the 2004/05 Champions League season, Mellor nodded the ball down to the edge of the box where Steven Gerrard was lurking.
“OOH YOU BEAUTY! WHAT A HIT SON!”
Andy Gray’s commentary has become immortal. It captures that magic moment perfectly. Gerrard’s 25-yard strike on the half volley had cannoned Liverpool into the knockout stages in the most dramatic of fashions.
For some reason, this is one moment of Liverpool’s campaign that I don’t remember at the time. It should be among the best memories but I just cannot recall how I reacted when it actually happened.
Maybe I hit my head when celebrating but I just can’t remember. Thankfully, I have been able to relive the moment by watching the numerous replays. It still brings a cheer from me to this day, in the same way David Beckham’s free-kick against Greece does.
After getting through the group stage, Liverpool were faced with a tough draw in the knockout stage—Bayern Leverkusen.
Finalists in 2002 and a team who had beaten both Real Madrid and Roma in their own group, Leverkusen were not going to be walkovers.
The first leg went almost perfectly, however. A superb performance was only slightly dampened by Jerzy Dudek’s late mistake. Liverpool went to the BayArena protecting a 3-1 lead.
Personally, I was nervous. This was exactly the type of game I could see Liverpool losing by the required two goals.
I had no reason to be nervous, however.
Another magnificent performance, particularly from Milan Baros and Luis Garcia, secured another 3-1 win, which made it 6-2 on aggregate.
Perhaps it was about time Liverpool were taken seriously in the competition.
Certainly, this was around the time I started thinking about Gerrard lifting the Champions League trophy.
I didn’t expect it, but I did recognise it as a real possibility.
The quarterfinal saw Juventus come to Anfield 20 years after the tragic Heysel disaster. The atmosphere was suitably electric, and Juventus didn’t seem able to come to terms with it.
I remember sitting down to watch this match with fish and chips on my lap and my brother beside me constantly belittling Liverpool’s chances.
It took just ten minutes to shut my brother up and for the chips to be all over my lounge floor.
Sami Hyypia ghosted in at the back post and volleyed Liverpool into a 1-0 lead.
“Oh Sami Sami! Sami Sami Sami Sami Hyypia!”
The Liverpool legend is now set to leave Anfield after ten years of fantastic service, and this is the one moment I will always remember him for.
I had barely picked the chips off my carpet when they were scattered all over the floor again, this time courtesy of Luis Garcia.
The frustratingly mercurial Spaniard continued his confusing trait of being world-class in Europe but sub-standard in the league. His 30-yard volley against Juventus remains one of the greatest Champions League goals I have ever seen.
A Fabio Cannavaro goal just after the hour mark put question marks over the return fixture, but there was little doubt that Liverpool held the advantage.
This didn’t stop my brother repeatedly saying that we wouldn’t win. I responded with the same message every time: “You’ve said that all along, carry on, it must be a good omen for us.”
Did I truly believe we would win the Champions League?
I thought we could win it by this point, after all we were just one game away from the semi-final, but I didn’t think we would win it.
The second-leg between Liverpool and Juventus may not have been the most exciting of games, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
I knew that, at any moment, Juventus could get the one goal they needed to progress. Liverpool’s injury-ravaged side put up a heroic effort to keep Juventus out, though, and secure a semi-final showdown with Chelsea.
It was nearly so different, however. Cannavaro, goalscorer in the first-leg, hit the post late on, a moment that had my heart in my mouth. Thankfully it bounced to safety and Carragher and company celebrated getting through to the semi-final.
The first leg against Chelsea was a nail-biting affair. The Blues were sweeping all before them in the league and, with Jose Mourinho at the helm, looked nigh-on unstoppable.
Another superlative defensive performance stood Liverpool in good stead for the second leg, however.
The tense match was punctuated briefly with heart-stopping moments from Drogba, Lampard and Terry, all of whom came close to giving Chelsea a first-leg lead.
Baros and Riise came close for Liverpool only to be denied by Petr Cech, but the focus was definitely on Liverpool’s defence, most notably Jamie Carragher, who was quickly establishing himself as one of Europe’s top defenders.
Inexplicably, I was made to watch the first half of the second-leg in my brother’s room because my mum wanted to watch something else in the lounge.
Did she not understand how big this game was?
Still, this didn’t take away from the joy I felt when Luis Garcia’s strike *ahem* crossed the line. In fact, that was a pretty surreal moment.
Riise to Gerrard, who flicks it through to Baros, who is taken down by Cech! Penalty! Red Card!
I was still claiming for the penalty when Garcia’s shot went in. I saw the Liverpool players celebrating but the Chelsea players playing on, insisting nothing had happened.
At first I thought it was because the penalty had been given, then there was moment of confusion and silence before I finally realised what had happened.
I went mental.
The debate still rages over whether the ball crossed the line and, despite all of the video footage, no conclusive evidence has been shown.
It is now up there with England’s third goal in the 1966 World Cup final in terms of football’s great unanswered questions—did it or didn’t it?
There was no way I had expected the goal to come so early. Of course, this meant 86 minutes of defending, but I didn’t care. The form Carragher was in made me certain that we would be able to do that.
As the match went on, however, I remember wishing that the goal wasn’t given. I remember wishing that the referee had blown for a penalty and sent Cech off.
That way they would be playing with ten men against Liverpool at Anfield, and would most likely be a goal down.
My worries were, eventually, put to rest as Liverpool held out, but boy was I nervous as the time ticked by!
Chelsea were coming increasingly close as the clock hit the 90 minute mark. You can understand, then, why I wasn’t happy with the six minutes of stoppage time!
In the last of these six minutes I experienced the most excruciating moment in all my years supporting Liverpool.
Eidur Gudjohnsen, from at most six yards out, controlled the ball and, with an almost open goal, volleyed his shot wide.
I couldn’t believe it. Time almost stood still. He couldn’t have missed, could he?
That moment went from being potentially my worst moment as a football fan to being one of my best. The sense of relief was overwhelming.
Liverpool were going to Istanbul!
Part Three will be out tomorrow and will contain the actual final!
Quiz Question No. 5:
How many members of the 2005 Champions League winning side are still playing for Liverpool and who are they?
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