MILAN 3 LIVERPOOL 3
(2-3 pens) – Final, 2004-05
“You couldn’t write the script” is sport’s stupidest cliché – it would be relatively simple to write the script – but the Miracle of Istanbul, as it must be legally referred to at all times, remains European football’s most implausible and cinematic smash. It could not completely be billed as an underdog story: Liverpool were well-drilled and had talent in their XI. But this was a side with Djimi Traore at left-back against a side who had Paolo Maldini at left-back; a gleaming Milanese XI containing Pirlo, Nesta, Gattuso, Seedorf, Cafu and Shevchenko up against Steve Finnan, Harry Kewell and Milan Baros – in a Liverpool squad that had finished 37 points behind Chelsea that year. What truly set this showdown apart was the raw shock of the comeback. After Maldini had scored from Milan’s opening attack, Hernan Crespo added two more and Kaka ran amok. The humiliation of the Reds and the elation of their detractors during half-time appeared total (just imagine if Twitter had existed). They were toast: the extraordinary rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone at the interval was defiance, not hope. But then the madness kicked in: Didi Hamann muffled Kaka, Steven Gerrard galloped forward, and in six minutes – thanks to Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso – Liverpool were level. As the shootout neared, the tension ratcheted unbearably, but there were still many snapshots to enjoy: Jerzy Dudek’s point-blank save to deny Shevchenko, Gerrard’s demonic drive and Jamie Carragher’s cramp-ravaged warfare. Following Dudek’s Bruce Grobbelaar-inspired spaghetti-leg nostalgia, and his saving of that final spot-kick at 12.29am local time, the script was complete. The volume of the travelling Kop was insane. Liverpool had their fifth European Cup and a local hero in Gerrard to beatify. The Champions League had its greatest ever game.