Sixteen years ago we witnessed the greatest ever comeback on an evening that is forever immortalised in footballing history – quickly coined the Miracle of Istanbul.
It’s one of those occasions where you remember exactly where you were and the rollercoaster of emotions that the Reds put you through on the way to No. 5 in Turkey.
The goals, the drama and the fact you may have moved locations at half-time or at least debated it with the scoreline reading 3-0 to an AC Milan side littered with world-class talent.
What would come next will live on forever, with three goals, extra-time and a nail-biting penalty shootout tipping the scales in Liverpool‘s favour thanks to sheer power of will.
“We had a mountain to climb but we kept fighting to the end,” Steven Gerrard would later say.
And what a view it was from the top.
Liverpool weren’t in fighting form…
It wasn’t the best of domestic debut seasons for Rafa Benitez, with 14 league defeats to finish fifth, coupled with an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the first opportunity.
But it was in Europe where he thrived and it left the final to salvage Champions League football for the following season.
However, the Reds didn’t quite enjoy the best of run-ins to the big day, winning only three of their previous nine prior to the trip to Istanbul.
There was also a ‘selection dilemma’ over Milan Baros and Djibril Cisse, with the former hot and cold and the latter only having just returned from a broken leg.
In the end, Benitez would play it beautifully.
It just took a while to see that…
The adrenaline is pumping, you’re taking in the massive occasion, plotting out how best to see a legendary Milan side toppled and within 53 seconds you’re slapped across the face.
Paolo Maldini had the freedom of Istanbul to get us off to the worst possible start in what was the quickest ever goal in a European Cup final. Ouch.
As we know, it got worse. Three goals to nil worse. And you can’t quite blame for some seeking the exit, but it would all form part of the legendary tale.
A muscle injury to Harry Kewell, who was a surprise choice in the XI, inside 22 minutes wasn’t ideal, but you could see it as both a blessing or a curse.
Immediately thereafter, it was the latter as Liverpool were repeatedly cut open to see another two goals hit the back of the net – and it could’ve been more.
But Vladimir Smicer’s presence would prove to be a blessing in the end.
And then Finnan…
But at half-time, another one followed and what ensued was a hectic 15-minute interval.
Benetiz was set to bring Haann on for Traore, who was already heading to the showers after considering his night over. But he quickly had to get his game face back on as the physio told the manager Finnan was not to last the rest of the game.
Hamann would arrive and Liverpool were instructed they were now to play with three at the back.
You can only imagine the whirlwind of emotions that went through their minds, but 50,000 Reds reminded them who they were fighting for.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
An anthem to inspire at any juncture and at half-time, it was poignant and impactful.
“I could hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in the distance, and as I exited the tunnel it grew louder. It wasn’t the usual version of our anthem, though,” Carragher later reflected in his autobiography.
“To me, it was the supporters’ way of saying, ‘we’re still proud of what you’ve done, we’re still with you, so don’t let your heads drop’.”
Pride had to be restored, and it was.
“The crowd was the secret weapon, what an amazing performance of belief,” Luis Garcia recalled.
Then the comeback…
We all know what happened next in six dizzying minutes, and boy were those aforementioned substitutions handy in that regard!
Not to mention Traore was key in his goalline clearance to deny Shevchenko what would have likely proved the winner. Fate, eh.
And what you might not remember is that each of the 11 goals came at the same end of the pitch that night.
Dudek’s timely stops
The man for the big moment and no doubt a feature of Shevchenko’s nightmares.
Jerzy Dudek’s double save at the death is enshrined in club history but his ode to Bruce Grobbelaar’s spaghetti legs in the shootout saw both Pirlo and Shevchenko become unsettled.
Three times a hero.
Cramp for Carra…
Jamie Carragher was colossal in the second 45, he was a man on a mission with blocks and tackles constantly flying in and in extra time he was besieged by cramp and yet didn’t let that stop him.
But it did stop him from taking part in the iconic trophy lift having fallen to his knees in agony and consequently, he was out of shot!
Red fan gets in on the celebrations
It’s every fan’s dream to see their team lift the greatest trophy in club competition, but to be a part of the moment itself is on another level.
But then 19-year-old Lee Dames made it a reality by sneaking onto the pitch in an official tracksuit and getting in on the celebrations in pictures that were broadcast around the world.
And talking about that trophy lift…
What a moment it was. Childhood dreams came true and the greatest ever comeback made for emotional scenes as unbridled joy bubbled to the surface for all involved.
“As captain of that team, there was no prouder man on the planet that night,” Gerrard would later recall.
In Istanbul, we won it five times.