Champions League

Retro Series: Champions League final 2005 – Liverpool vs. AC Milan

Football maybe have been stopped in it’s tracks by the raging pandemic that is Covid-19, but we at matchdayguru won’t be bullied into obscurity by the deadly virus. So, we have decided to turn back the hands of time just enough not to upset mother nature as we bring you memorable matches from the past with our Retro-Series.

The 2005 Champions League final is hands down the greatest match in the tournament’s history. The final pitted one of the most powerful squads of the decade (AC Milan) against an upstart club seeking to restore their former greatness (Liverpool).

Carlo Ancelotti’s Rossoneri had little difficulty getting to the final topping a group featuring Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic. They were just as impressive in the knockout stage defeating Manchester United 2-0 on aggregate, Inter Milan 5-0, and edging past PSV Eindhoven on away goals 3-3.

Liverpool had a more difficult road to Istanbul. Rafael Benitez’s Reds finished second in their group behind France’s Monaco. Liverpool barely scrapped through the group stage needing a last-gasp winner from Steven Gerrard to defeat Olympiacos. Aggregate wins over Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, and Chelsea followed as the Reds got dramatic goals throughout to reach the final. Those dramatic wins were just an appetizer for what would occur in Istanbul.

The final in Istanbul didn’t get off to a great start for Benitez’s team. In fact, it got off to the worst start possible as Paolo Maldini scored in the first minute for AC Milan. Just 22 minutes later, Benitez lost winger Harry Kewell to injury after shockingly selecting the oft-injured player for the final.

The Reds struggled to get a foothold in the game and were overrun by an AC Milan team featuring the likes of Kaka, Cafu, Andriy Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf, and Andrea Pirlo. Compared to the Liverpool squad, AC Milan had one of the most exciting teams of superstars on the continent. Liverpool were an assemblage of grafters, role players, and budding stars that would fulfil their potential under Benitez.

The manager was just in his first season at Anfield after taking over for Gerrard Houllier. Benitez had mixed results and overachieved in the Champions League. By the time the opening 45 minutes of the final came to an end, Benitez’s first season in charge of Liverpool looked to be a bust.

Liverpool went into the half 3-0 down thanks to two more goals from AC Milan. Hernan Crespo scored twice in the space of five minutes and as halftime dawned, it looked like a matter of how many goals would be scored rather than if AC Milan would win.

Although Liverpool would achieve the most remarkable comeback in Champions League finals history scoring three times in the second half, the comeback didn’t look likely once the second period began. AC Milan looked just as rampant until suddenly Steven Gerrard scored a header out of nothing. John Arne Riise’s cross found Gerrard’s head and Liverpool had a lifeline.

Two minutes later, Vladimir Smicer smashed a long-range shot past a diving Dida putting Liverpool within one goal of leveling the fixture. Just four minutes after scoring the second, Gerrard was pulled down in the penalty area earning the Reds a spot-kick. Had the game taken place in the era of VAR, it is likely the penalty would have been overturned. However, in 2005, VAR was far from the minds of football fans. Xabi Alonso stepped up but had his penalty saved by Dida. The ball fell to the Spanish midfielder, however, and he smashed in the rebound. Suddenly, the Reds were level and a feeling of anything could happen was in the air. The ghosts of Anfield were hovering over the Ataturk Olympic Stadium pushing the team forward and sucking in the goals.

Despite being level, Liverpool spent the rest of the 90 minutes hanging on. Extra-time was another exercise in goal prevention as the Reds did everything to keep out AC Milan. Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero in the extra period, stone-walling the Rossoneri’s attackers time and again until the final whistle.

AC Milan’s Serginho stepped up to take the first penalty of the shootout and skied the ball into the Turkish night. Liverpool’s Didi Hamann followed scoring his spot-kick to give the Reds the advantage. Pirlo came next and had his penalty saved by Dudek, who conjured up memories of 1984 and Bruce Grobbelaar’s final heroics for the Reds against Roma.

Djibril Cisse sunk his spot-kick before Milan’s Jon Dahl Tomasson scored his. Riise’s shot was saved making the shootout score 2-1 until Kaka stepped up and belted his past Dudek, 2-2. Smicer, the second goal scorer for Liverpool, then tallied his penalty giving Liverpool the edge, 3-2.

AC Milan legend Shevchenko was up next with many fans in attendance believing his penalty would be automatic. Yet, Dudek’s “spaghetti legs” put off the Ukrainian who shot down the middle allowing the goalkeeper to make a kick save.

Liverpool were winners of the European Cup for the first time since 1984 claiming their fifth trophy in the competition. It was a win that helped put the Reds back on the map as one of the world’s biggest, most successful clubs.

Drew Farmer Author

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