After the most incredible European Cup Final I’ve ever seen, I wrote a tired headline.
Maybe I was exhausted by the drama.
My headline was too restrained and rather untypical:
Liverpool come back in Istanbul, beat Milan
AC Milan 3 Liverpool 3 – Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties
THE COMEBACK of all time.
Don’t mention Man United in 1999 – they were not 3-0 down to Bayern Munich.
A wild night of despair and joy, a seesaw night of passion and drama, a night of six goals and nine penalties, a night when fans in 169 countries saw all the surprises that a football match can contain, a night when after the fourth goal I thought it could finish 3-2 and 3-2 would be heroic failure but when it went to 3-2, we all thought, “Bloody hell ! Anything can happen here!”
Liverpool winning their fifth European Cup changes the balance in English football, makes it more interesting.
Wenger had a good season. Moyes had a good season.
Ferguson had a bad season.
Chelsea, spending £212m on players in two years and winning two trophies, had a good season.
But Liverpool winning the big one changes the balance.
THE LAST MATCH of the season turned out to be the most dramatic match of the season – and it contained the worst selection decision of the season.
Rafa Benitez, how could you drop Didi Hamann for Harry Kewell ???????
Tacticians sometimes over-think it. The bigger the game, the more likely they are to over-think it.
Rafa wanted to attack from the start, have Luis Garcia and Kewell moving onto flicks by Baros.
But that game-plan went down the toilet after 52 seconds when Maldini scored.
Djimi Traore fouls Kaka on the right.
The free-kick is well-rehearsed, Pirlo popped the ball exactly where Maldini expected it.
Maldini wants to keep his shot down and he over-compensates by volleying into the ground, but it bounces into the net.
On 39, Luis Garcia looks for a penalty when Nesta is on the ground but it’s ball to elbow and Milan break and Kaka releases Shevchenko on the right, low cross reaches Crespo at the far post and he makes it 2-0 from six yards.
On 44,Gerrard jabs a risky ball up to Baros and it hits Pirlo, who volleys to Cafu, who gives it smartly back and Pirlo finds Kaka, who executes a lightning dancer’s turn to evade Gerrard and spurts to the halfway line and measures a very long killer pass beyond Carragher and Crespo stabs home with a true predator’s flourish from the edge of the box.
It is Milan 3 Liverpool 0 and Sky’s Andy Gray said, “Game well and truly over, and I hate saying that.”
Crespo’s second goal is a 9 second goal, from Pirlo to the back of the net.
Milan’s organisation is super-professional, their game-plan very smart.
Kaka, 22, had a fantastic first half. The perfect Milan player : good-looking, fast, deadly skill, sees it all so early, like Bergkamp
One touch to evade Gerrard, his next touch is the defence-splitting pass to set up one-touch finish by Crespo. Football does not get better than this.
HALF-TIME, Liverpool were three goals down and I wondered if it would be 7-0.
I said, “Chelsea could have given them a game.”
We did not know then that the Liverpool players saw and heard the Milan players already celebrating in the dressing room, singing and shouting.
SECOND HALF starts with Hamann on for Finnan and the game became totally different.
Benitez went to three at the back and suddenly Xabi Alonso, Riise and Hamann could push further up the pitch and take the game to Milan.
Suddenly Liverpool had shape, possession, fluidity, confidence.
John Arne Riise is some player. I always wish he had come to Arsenal.
Riise hits a cross, blocked by Cafu, rebounds back to him, he hits a better cross, loads of pace on it, fairly flat towards the penalty spot and Gerrard gets up well and places a power header into the postage stamp.
What a header!
Action man. Gladiator. Roy of the Rovers, an English centre forward’s goal, a Bryan Robson goal out of nowhere.
Gerrard is big and great in the air. He is not one of the world’s best players but he IS one of the world’s most dynamic players.
The 3-2 goal is a howler by Dida and the turning point of the game.
Liverpool pass it across midfield, Xabi to Hamann and Seedorf gets in Hamann’s face so he passes square again to Smicer who blasts a 20-yard shot that Dida should have saved.
BAROS flicked a clever ball into Gerrard’s stride and Gattuso just brushed him and brought him down.
Dida saved Xabi Alonso’s penalty but he followed up and smacked it in for 3-3.
LIVERPOOL HAVE SCORED THREE GOALS IN 7 MINUTES !!!!!!
I wanted to Cisse to come on sooner, even though I didn’t know what he could do.
In 84, Cisse came on with black graphics on the back of his skull.
“His hairdresser’s been busy, ” said Jan.
“Travels with him,” I said.
“No, I’m kidding.”
Some of Milan’s defending, passing, heading and movement was absolutely fabulous, but Liverpool played some great stuff too and the game was packed full of good things, like Carragher’s great tackle in the box in 87 to deny Shevchenko.
Extra time was exciting.
BEFORE THE PENALTIES, Carragher screamed at Dudek, winding him up to wave his arms madly, do a Grobbelaar.
1. Serginho, freaked out by Dudek, fires over.
2. Hamann scores
3. Pirlo shot saved by Dudek, 2 yards off his line
4. Cisse scores
5. Tomasson also scores
6. Riise’s sidefoot shot saved near the post
7. Kaka slots supercool penalty
8. Smicer scores
9. Shevchenko blows it.
Four days after Arsenal score five immaculate penalties in Cardiff, the maestros of AC Milan miss three out of four in Istanbul.
Shevchenko had just seen Dudek make a magnificent and lucky double save.
Dudek saved his header and luckily diverted his rebound stab from two yards, but Sheva takes the worst penalty you will ever see by a truly great player, dinking it down the middle and Dudek dives right and palms it down with his left hand !
Shearer would have blasted that ball AND Dudek into the back of the net.
ON THE NIGHT, Dudek was far better than Dida.
The Milan team needs freshening up. Maybe they will replace Seedorf, Dida, Pirlo.
THURSDAY MORNING I go to the gym and Ben’s in reception.
An Arsenal fan doing sports science at Liverpool University, his term just ended.
He said, “My mate phoned at half-time and he was crying. He called me from the bar of Liverpool University Union. There was no background noise, normally there’s so much noise and singing. It was dead quiet.”
DID YOU SEE THAT own-up quote from Gerrard?
Stevie G said (from memory): “I’ve had a bad season, I’ve been great and I’ve been crap.”
Love it ! Humility! He is singing a new tune!
Gerrard knows he has to improve.
He had a rubbish Euro 2004 because Chelsea messed with his head, offering him £120,000 a week.
All season we’ve heard : Are Liverpool good enough for me ?
LIVERPOOL must replace Didi Hamman with someone who can read the game and make hundreds of tackles.
Xabi Alonso’s pass selection is awesome.
He might become Liverpool’s best player since Dalglish.
Just a shame that Britain no longer produces players as great as Rush, Souness, Hansen and Dalglish.
The only current British player of that calibre is Wayne Rooney – and Rooney can never play for Liverpool.
NO MORE TO SAY, really.
Rafa Benitez is a really nice person and an A-list tactician.
And tacticians win European trophies.
Liverpool need new directors, new investment. They are not the best team in Europe. They are not even in the top ten.
They are not even the best team on Merseyside yet. They are better than Bolton, just .
Liverpool have a long way to go to become the best team in Europe.
BUT THIS WAS HISTORIC.
Uefa took the 50th European Cup Final to the city where Asia meets Europe and Istanbul saw the greatest comeback of all time.
The last match of the season turned out to be the best match of the season, partly because it contained the worst selection decision of the millennium.
But what a night !
THIS WAS the Sixties re-visited.
In 1963 Puskas scored a hat-trick but Benfica but came back to beat Real Madrid 5-3.
IN 1967 Celtic’s Lisbon Lions were underdogs when they came back to beat Inter Milan 2-1.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan (Hamann, 45), Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Garcia, Alonso, Gerrard, Riise; Kewell (Smicer, 23); Baros (Cissé, 84).
Subs not used: Carson (gk), Josemi, Nunez, Biscan.
MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Stam, Maldini; Gattuso (Rui Costa, 112), Pirlo, Seedorf (Serginho, 84); Kaka; Shevchenko, Crespo (Tomasson, 84).
Subs not used: Abbiati (gk), Kaladze, Costacurta, Dhorasoo.
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).
May 27th 2005