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
Tuesday 14 April 2009
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.
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