“Oh you beauty!” – Liverpool’s great European escape sets history in motion

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The non-negotiable was that Liverpool needed to win and they needed to do so by two if Olympiakos scored. This is the story of what would prove to be one of Anfield’s greatest nights.

It was December 8, 2004, and the final group game of the Champions League. Liverpool’s objective was clear: they needed all three points and would have to win by two clear goals should the Greek side find the net.

There would be no ghost goal or Istanbul miracle should they fail to prevail, and the 21-year wait for the club’s fifth European Cup would rumble on.

Heading into the game Rafa Benitez’s side had won just one of their previous five, a run which included a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Roma in their final away fixture of the group stages.

It inevitably ensured that it would be a straight shoot out between the Reds and Olympiakos, with the French side assuming first place.

With Liverpool struggling in the Premier League, progressing in the European Cup became all the more important – but few imagined the night under the Anfield lights would be enshrined in club history.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND- WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 8th 2004: Olympiakos' Rivaldo celebrates scoring the opening goal against Liverpool with his team mate Predrag Djordjevic (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group A match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Proparganda)

It was straight out of the gates for Liverpool, with three corners in the first two minutes – one of which resulted in a disallowed goal for Milan Baros before Sami Hyypia’s header flew agonisingly wide.

Olympiakos would wrestle back some control and look to frustrate what was a nervous but fervent Anfield crowd. And that’s when disaster struck.

With just 26 minutes on the clock, Brazilian legend Rivaldo was bundled over on the edge of the area after a slaloming run. The resulting free-kick spelt trouble as he curled the ball through the wall and into the net in front of a stunned Kop.

It was 1-0 to Olympiakos and the Reds needed to muster the spirit of St Etienne in 1977 if they were to progress to the knockout stages.

It left the feeling that it was simply not Liverpool’s day and the attacking options at hand in Djimi Traore, Antonio Nunez and Harry Kewell did little to quell the notion.

Half-time would then arrive to leave the Reds with just 45 minutes to score three goals and save their European campaign and the comeback would start from the unlikeliest of sources.

Benitez would introduce young Frenchman Florent Sinama-Pongolle at the interval, with immediate effect as just two minutes later he had the ball in the net for the equaliser.

Anfield ignited and the team rose alongside them. Steven Gerrard mustered a performance to behold and would have an acrobatic long-range effort cruelly ruled out for a foul in the build-up. He wasn’t deterred, however.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND- WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 8th 2004: Liverpool's Neil Mellor celebrates scoring the second goal against Olympiakos during the UEFA Champions League Group A match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Proparganda)

With two goals needed and merely 12 minutes left on the clock, it appeared as mission impossible once more – until another inspired substitution in the form of Neil Mellor.

Within minutes of his introduction, he moved the target to within one goal after reacting the quickest to tuck home the rebound from Nunez’s header. The target was within reach.

A flurry of penalty claims would continue to be waved away and as the seconds ticked by in the frantic final moments, up stepped Gerrard in a picture-perfect moment which would prove to be the catalyst for a myriad of European nights to savour.

Mellor’s expertly cushioned header was directed towards an onrushing Gerrard and in the snap of a finger: “Ohhhhh you beauty. What a hit, son. What a hit,” would ring out through the television.

A half-volley of epic proportions which would send the skipper to the Kop in wild celebrations, one which embraced both him and the euphoric taste of another famous European comeback.

“Given the fightback here, they will believe themselves capable of anything,” was how the Guardian assessed the night’s events.

And little did they know, this would be the precursor to a European campaign like no other, one which would end with Ol’ Big Ears returning to Anfield after “the greatest comeback in sport anywhere in the world.”

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