The 2005 Champions League Final: How the Drama Unfolded
The Champions Return to the Top
Liverpool hadn't reached a European Cup Final since their appearance against Juventus in 1985, but they did boast a continental trophy cabinet that included four previous wins, something most clubs even now would kill for.
Whilst they were still regarded as one of Europe's footballing royalty, Rafa Benitez's new side were still something of a sleeping giant in 2004/05. They had finished in 5th and 4th in the years before 2004/05, and only limped to a 5th place finish in that year's Premier League. Their top scorer in the league was Milan Baros on just 9 following the sale of Michael Owen to Real Madrid, and hadn't even topped their Champions League group, finishing behind Monaco and only above Olympiacos on goal difference.
Whilst they might have boasted undeniably top talents such as Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Sami Hyypia and Luis Garcia, this was still a side that no one predited would trouble the serious sides of Europe.
Backdrop: A.C. Milan
Carlo Ancelotti's Milan side were footballing royalty throughout so much of the 2000s, winning the Champions League in 2003, reaching a final in 2005 and claiming their 7th and latest European Cup win in 2007.
Built from a core group of mentally strong and elite players, there were legends dotted across every single time the Rossoneri stepped onto the pitch, with titanic names such as Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Andrey Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta, Jaap Stam and Cafu all lining up against the Reds on that fateful night in Istanbul.
The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva would soon join Milan as well, only adding to the star-studded squad club owner Silvio Berlusconi was attempting to build.
A.C. Milan had won the Serie A in the year prior to 2004/05 but saw their title defence vanish against Juventus in this campaign. Though their performances in Europe would remain fairly solid in the immediate years following Istanbul, A.C. Milan would fail to win another Scudetto until 2010-11, their last triumph to date.
The Talking Points
The main talking point for Liverpool prior to kick off was the surprise inclusion of Australian forward Harry Kewell in behind Milan Baros over German midfielder Dietmar Hamann in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Baros himself was picked over Djibril Cisse, one of the club's record signings when he came in earlier that campaign.
Similarly for Milan, it was a case of the main talking points for the game lying in the Rossoneri's frontline. Pippo Inzaghi and Jon Dahl Tomasson were both touted in the build up as possible starters, however Ancelotti sided with the experience of striker Hernan Crespo, who was on loan from Chelsea for the season, and Andrey Shevchenko who was arguably the best striker on the planet coming into the final.
A.C. Milan 3 - 0 Liverpool
Rafa's Reds were up against the odds on paper going into the game, however their horrific start to the game seemed to vanquish any hopes of a surprising upset. Milan legend Paolo Maldini became the Champions League's oldest goalscorer when he volleyed in from Andrea Pirlo's free kick within the game's opening minute.
The frantic nature of the game continued even after the goal, with Sami Hyypia coming close for Liverpool before Luis Garcia cleared Hernan Crespo's header off the line and Andrey Shevchenko had a second Milan goal rightfully ruled out for offside.
Milan's second goal would come on the counter-attack as the Rossoneri broke through future Ballon D'or winner Kaka. The Brazilian found Shevchenko in the Liverpool box and the Ukrainian frontman squared up Crespo at the back post to make it 2-0 to Milan.
Milan would counter Liverpool again on the verge of halftime, with Kaka finding a delicious ball that Crespo would latch onto and chip past goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to make it 3-0 and seemingly game over by the 45th minute.
Watch: Crespo's Second Goal - 3-0 Milan
A.C. Milan 3 - 3 Liverpool
Liverpool had already made their second substitution when the second half kicked off, with Hamann and Vladimir Smicer coming on for Kewell and Steven Finnan in a more attacking 3-5-2 formation.
Captain and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard brought the game back to 3-1 with a lofted header from a John Arne Riise cross, right before Smicer threatened to expose Milan's cracks with a long range effort to make the game 3-2 by the 56th minute.
The Champions League's greatest ever comeback was completed just fifteen minutes after the reset through a Xabi Alonso penalty. Gerrard was hauled down in the box by Gennaro Gattuso and, whilst Dida was able to stop Alonso's first attempt, the Spaniard held his nerve on the rebound.
To the whole world's absolute amazement, Liverpool had done it. 3-3.
Despite losing their three goal lead, Milan still looked the most likely to close the game out as winners, with chances coming thick and fast for the likes of Kaka, Shevchenko and Clarence Seedorf. Djimi Traore wrote himself into Liverpool folklore by clearing Milan's best chance of the half off the line from Shevchenko.
Vladimir Smicer Recalls His Goal Against Milan
A.C. Milan 3 - 3 Liverpool
With tired legs rife across both sides following a combative and mentally-draining ninety minutes, both Benitez and Ancelotti made changes to their sides. Milan Baros came off for Djibril Cisse for the Liverpool, with Serginho and Tomasson replacing Seedorf and Crespo for Milan.
Milan would have one final chance at closing the game out, once again through their star striker Shevchenko. With just three minutes left on the clock, the Ukrainian striker shot straight at Dudek, who could only tip the shot back at the Milan forward. From just a few metres out, Shevchenko's follow up strike was double saved by Dudek, tipping the ball over the top of the goal and effectively sending the game to penalties.
A.C. Milan 3 - Liverpool 3 (Liverpool Win 2-3 On Penalties)
Both Milan and Liverpool had won their most recent European Cup via penalties, though the Rossoneri's triumph in 2003 was far more fresh in people's memories.
Serginho had scored the opening penalty in 2003 but was put off by Jerzy Dudek's 'spaghetti legs' distraction, blazing his attempt well over the crossbar. Hamann slotted his attempt away in true German fashion before Milan made it zero goals from two attempts as Andrea Pirlo saw his strike saved by Dudek.
Cisse and Tomasson both scored for their respective sides, making the score 2-2 with Riise stepping up with the chance to make things 1-3 to Liverpool. Riise had played very well during the game but his penalty was saved by Dida. Kaka and Smicer both scored their penalties which meant it was all down to Shevchenko, who needed to score to keep the game alive.
Dudek dived the wrong way initially, but his left hand somehow defied physics and kept the striker's shot out. Game over.
Liverpool were European Champions again, their fifth triumph in Europe, and this easily marked the most memorable and special of any win before or since.
The two sides would contest another final in 2007, though nothing would ever quite match the magic of Istanbul '05.