Liverpool need to summon the spirit of Istanbul

Sam Wallace recalls that night against Milan when Benitez's men showed how to recover a lost cause

The task: recover from 3-0 down at half-time. The result: Liverpool 3 Milan 3 (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties), 25 May 2005, Champions League final, Istanbul.

Steven Gerrard came back into the dressing room at half-time "enraged" by his own performance and vowing to avenge "that smirk" on the face of Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. Jamie Carragher was plagued by the thought of "going home a laughing stock". Outside, in the Liverpool end of the Ataturk stadium "You'll Never Walk Alone" was sung as a dirge rather than a celebration.

Rafael Benitez had picked a risky team: Harry Kewell up front with Milan Baros, Gerrard back in centre-midfield alongside Xabi Alonso and, critically, no Dietmar Hamann. In his autobiography, Carragher remembers Gerrard's voice "quivering with disbelief" when he told him earlier in the week that Kewell would be starting as a striker.

The result was a first-half disaster. Without Hamann, Kaka ran the centre of midfield. Kewell came off after 23 minutes with a torn muscle in his groin. Paolo Maldini scored in the first minute and by half-time Hernan Crespo had added two more. In the dressing room, Benitez, then not having mastered English, tried to re-organise and galvanise his players.

The accounts of how Benitez did it – from Gerrard and Carragher – vary on the details but both agree the Liverpool manager thought quickly on his feet. He originally wanted to replace Djimi Traoré with Hamann but an injury to Steve Finnan meant Traoré stayed on. It was also Benitez's intention to bring on Djibril Cissé at half-time – until someone pointed out that would mean Liverpool fielding 12 men.

Carragher remembers the coach Alex Miller telling the players as they left the dressing room to score one for the fans. "That was the mindset we had," Carragher said, "Get one and pride might be restored." What happened after that, he reflected, was that Liverpool "entered the Twilight Zone".

In that miraculous second half in which Gerrard, Alonso and Vladimir Smicer brought the score level there are details often overlooked. Jerzy Dudek (pictured) made crucial saves at the start of the half just as in extra-time he saved Andrei Shevchenko's header from six yards.

"Looking back on the moments after Jerzy's save [from Shevchenko's final penalty] is like trying to recall pieces of a dream," was Gerrard's lyrical take on the defining moment of the penalty shoot-out that won Liverpool their fifth European Cup.

On the flight home, the players passed the trophy down the plane to family and friends. At the back, I sat next to Pako Ayesteran, then Benitez's assistant, who turned down the offers of champagne and opened his laptop. What the hell was he doing? "Planning the pre-season training," he said. The only people who did not seem able to compute winning in such a chaotic style was the master-strategist Benitez and his team of assistants.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence