The ‘unexplainable’ miracle of Istanbul immortalises Rafa Benitez’s Reds

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A day heralded as ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’, and a day where Liverpool completed the “greatest comeback in sport” to secure their fifth European Cup.

“We had the best defenders in the world in that team. Our back four was Cafu, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini but we still let in three goals in six minutes.

“Something amazing happened that can’t be explained,” Kaka would later divulge, still unable to put his finger on the events which transpired on that night in Istanbul.

The Champions League campaign leading up to the final on May 25, 2005, was remarkable in itself, having overcome Grazer AK to first qualify, Monaco, Deportivo and Olympiakos in the group stages and then Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea in the knockouts.

And while there were moments of magic and disbelief throughout that run, no one would be prepared for what was to come in the showpiece.

Athens, Greece - Wednesday, May 23, 2007: Liverpool's players and AC Milan's players lined up before the UEFA Champions League Final at the OACA Spyro Louis Olympic Stadium. (Pic by Jason Roberts/Propaganda)

The Reds had arrived in Turkey in their numbers, descending on the Ataturk Stadium by any means necessary, and the unwavering support on display left Dutch legend Johan Cruyf in awe:

“I sat there watching the Liverpool fans and they sent shivers down my spine. A mass of 40,000 people became one force behind their team. That’s something not many teams have. For that, I admire Liverpool more than anything.”

There was a distinct charge of anticipation in the air prior to kick-off, with the Reds making their first appearance in the European Cup final since 1985 – a season after when number four returned to Anfield.

But Liverpool were the underdogs and they were lining up against a formidable AC Milan outfit led by Carlo Ancelotti, which had legendary names listed in every department, from Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka to Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo.

* Video via BT Sport; geographic restrictions may apply.

Liverpool didn’t have the weight of pressure on their shoulders, but they would soon face a reality which both stunned and left them reeling.

Within 53 seconds of the first whistle, Liverpool were behind and shell shocked as Maldini edged his side into the lead and with the Italians vastly superior to their counterparts, they were three goals to the good by half-time.

AC Milan’s name looked destined to be etched on the trophy before the night was out, and after Harry Kewell and Steve Finnan were both forced out of the game, the Reds’ fortunes looked bleak as damage limitation became the priority in what was a hectic half-time interval.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - WEDNESDAY, MAY 25th, 2005: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the first come-back goal against AC Milan during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Meanwhile, in the stands, You’ll Never Walk Alone reverberated through the stadium as the Reds sent out a statement, a poignant one at that as Liverpool’s 20-year wait for European glory looked destined to be prolonged.

But what transpired next defied all logic. Didi Hamann’s introduction proved key as Steven Gerrard was provided the license to attack and a glancing header would trigger a comeback to be revered.

Just six minutes after Gerrard’s goal, widely considered as nothing but a consolation, rustled the back of the net in the 54th minute, the Reds were level as Vladimir Smicer, in his last game for the club, and Xabi Alonso scored to spark mass celebrations as the improbable soon turned possible.

Remarkably, no more goals would be scored and extra-time would follow, where Gerrard was moved to right-back, Jamie Carragher battled on with cramp and Jerzy Dudek sensationally denied Shevchenko from close range.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - WEDNESDAY, MAY 25th, 2005: Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek celebrates saving the last penalty to win the European Cup against AC Milan during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And after a topsy-turvy 120 minutes the final was to be decided from 12-yards where Liverpool would sensationally prevail 3-2, on a night which was a testament to the teams’ character as they completed “the greatest comeback in sport anywhere in the world.”

The European Cup had returned to Liverpool for the fifth time in a game which had to be seen to be believed, and, incredibly, where all 11 goals scored came at one end of the pitch.

And you could be forgiven for being left in a state of shock, as even Rafa Benitez admitted to as much after the game: “My problem is that I don’t have words to express the things that I feel at this moment.”

It was a miracle, but one which was made possible because of the tenacious and never-say-die attitude which flowed through Benitez’s team, who are forever immortalised in the club’s history books.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - WEDNESDAY, MAY 25th, 2005: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard lifts the European Cup after beating AC Milan on penalties during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A new generation were finally provided with the taste of success on the grandest stage that those before them had readily experienced, as dreams came true for players and fans alike.

“As captain of that team, there was no prouder man on the planet that night,” Gerrard would later recall.

“By a country mile it was the best night of my career. It was a surreal evening and a surreal game of football and still now it is difficult to describe what happened that night.”

In Istanbul, we won it five times.

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