May 25th, 2005. The Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. If you’re a football fan, you’ll know.
Even before kick-off, Liverpool’s challenge seemed an almost impossible one. A team with Djimi Traore and Milan Baros in it shouldn’t have a chance in hell of beating an AC Milan side littered with some of the game’s greatest ever players. Maldini, Nesta, Stam, Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Kaka, Cafu, Shevchenko. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
In the first half, the game was as mismatched as everyone expected. Milan ran away with it.
Maldini opened the scoring with less than a minute on the clock. Crespo added to that after 39 minutes, before the on-loan Argentine was on the scoresheet again, majestically dinking the ball over a helpless Jerzy Dudek to make it 3-0 before half time. The gulf of class couldn’t be more evident. It was all over, surely.
What do you say at half time when your team has been humiliated by one of the best sides to ever take to the field?
Liverpool’s talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard, who had been at the club since he was nine years old, entered the dressing room, deflated but not defeated. He asked to be alone with the team after Rafa Benitez gave a “really optimistic” speech, despite the circumstances. All coaching staff, including Rafa, left the scouser to address the other players.
Djibril Cisse, who came off the bench to score in the penalty shootout, revealed to The Mirror what Gerrard said:
He said that he is a Liverpool kid, always been his club, he didn’t want to see his club being like this, being humiliated. And he said if we scored in the first 15 minutes we would win the game and he’s the guy who scored the first goal.
He gave the best captain’s speech I ever heard in my career.
He asked everyone to leave, including Rafa, he just asked to be with the players. That’s what gave us the power to go and win the game. You need to have some balls to do this.
Gerrard’s speech made the team believe that the seemingly impossible was possible, and his prediction came true.
Just nine minutes into the second half, Gerrard took his talking to the pitch, bringing the score back to 3-1 with a looping header. Just two minutes later, substitute Vladimir Smicer made it 3-2 from range.
On the hour mark, it was an impassioned Steven Gerrard who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck once again, bursting into the Milan penalty area before brought down. Penalty to Liverpool.
An insane six-minute spurt saw the Reds level.
Fast forward an hour or so and a miraculous one-handed Jerzy Dudek save, the game went to penalties. And there was only going to be one outcome.
Spaghetti-legged Polak Dudek denied one of Europe’s most lethal finishers, Andriy Shevchenko, from the spot. History was made. Liverpool came from 3-0 down against the world’s best team to win on penalties.
Watching the game back 12 years on (which many scousers do, and why not?), it still doesn’t feel real. And that night in Istanbul wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the passion and drive of Steven Gerrard. A legend of the sport.