The Miracle of Istanbul: Reliving the drama of Liverpool's 2005 UEFA Champions League victory
Fourteen years ago today, the Ataturk Stadium played host to one of the most incredible European finals ever played, as Liverpool came back from the dead to defeat AC Milan on penalties.
The match has gone down in folklore as ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’ as Liverpool came back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to draw 3-3 with Milan before defeating them 3-2 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Here’s our rundown of that memorable night in Turkey:
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Despite only being allocated 20,000 tickets for the match at the 69,000 venue, the stadium was absolutely packed with Liverpool fans who had made the trip from Merseyside to Turkey for the historic encounter.
It was conservatively estimated that around 30,000 fans were in Istanbul, and a good deal more than the 20,000 official ticket-holders were in the stadium when the match kicked off.
A DISASTROUS START
Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Reds, as Liverpool conceded an early free-kick wide on the Milan right flank.
Andrea Pirlo swung in the set-piece and Paolo Maldini swept the ball into the net. Just 50 seconds had elapsed, Liverpool had barely had a touch and they were already a goal down.
It was a terrible start. But it went on to get much, much worse.
CRESPO AT THE DOUBLE
After taking the lead in the first minute, Milan totally dominated the match and their Argentinian hitman Hernan Crespo scored twice in five minutes just before halftime.
His first couldn’t have been simpler as he tapped into an empty net after Andrey Shevchenko’s cutback. But his second, a nonchalant flick over the outrushing Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek after a brilliant pass from Kaka, was a thing of beauty.
That goal, while delightful to watch, appeared to end any lingering hopes Liverpool had of staging a comeback as the teams went in at halftime with the scoreline reading Milan 3-0 Liverpool.
But Rafael Benitez’s side – backed by an army of fans who never stopped singing – had other ideas.
SIX MINUTES OF MAGIC
Liverpool needed a miracle and, with their fans roaring their support from the stands, they turned the game around in six of the greatest minutes in the Anfield club’s rich and storied history.
Eight minutes into the second half, inspirational skipper Steven Gerrard planted a towering 12-yard header into the far corner of the net and charged back to the center circle, urging the fans to back the improbable comeback.
But the improbable started to look decidedly possible just two minutes later when Liverpool’s Czech forward Vladimir Smicer fired a fizzing effort low into the bottom corner from 25 yards as the Ataturk Stadium exploded.
The comeback was on, and the momentum on the pitch had clearly swung in the English side’s favor. Liverpool were rampant and Milan were reeling. And when Gennaro Gattuso tripped Gerrard as he was about to latch onto a through-ball in the Milan box, the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot.
In the white-hot heat of a Champions League final, Liverpool’s Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso somehow stayed as cool as ice. His spot-kick was brilliantly saved by Milan keeper Dida, but the ice-cool Spaniard followed up to slam the ball into the net and complete an incredible comeback.
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It took Milan 44 minutes to go 3-0 up. Incredibly, it took Liverpool just six second-half minutes to wipe out that lead. With half an hour remaining, the match was all square.
DUDEK TURNS BACK THE CLOCK
After a nerve-shredding remaining 30 minutes of the game – including a barely-believable double-save from Dudek to deny Shevchenko – the match went to extra-time.
And with the scores still deadlocked at 3-3 after the extra 30 minutes had been played, the match went to a penalty shoot-out.
Before the spot-kicks were taken, Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher grabbed keeper Dudek and started waving and gesticulating wildly, telling the Polish keeper to do everything he could to put off the Milan penalty takers.
Dudek recalled the conversation in an interview with LFC TV, saying his teammate wanted him to evoke memories of legendary Reds goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, whose wobbly-legged antics in a shoot-out saw Liverpool beat Roma to capture the European Cup back in 1984.
He recalled: “Suddenly, Jamie Carragher jumped on my back, pushing me and telling me ‘put them under pressure, do something on the line like Grobbelaar. You remember Grobbelaar put them out of concentration.’
“I said: ‘Jamie, let me study the penalties first, we’ve only got two minutes – please, let me concentrate now.’
“It was funny but I was really focused on my target. When I went to take my position in the goal I was thinking I would try a little bit to destroy them.”
And Dudek did just that, as his goal-line antics saw Serginho shoot over and Andrea Pirlo fire his spot-kick straight at him.
And when Dudek easily saved Shevchenko’s weak effort, history was made as Liverpool came back from the brink to win the most dramatic Champions League final of all time.
BACK FOR MORE
That final saw Liverpool claim the fifth European Cup in the club’s history as they won the trophy outright. Now they’ll look to make it six when they take on Tottenham Hotspur in an all-English final in Madrid.
It seems impossible to imagine we will see a final as dramatic as that incredible night in Istanbul 14 years ago.
But, after both Liverpool and Spurs completed incredible comebacks to make it to the final, you just never know…