Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half-time in the UEFA Champions League final, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Liverpool FC, but what followed in Istanbul was a legendary comeback which made the Reds five-time European champions.
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AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool FC (aet, Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)
(Maldini 1, Crespo 39 44; Gerrard 53, Šmicer 56, Alonso 60)
Atatürk Olimpiyat, Istanbul
Liverpool FC returned to the top of European football in thrilling style with a remarkable UEFA Champions League final victory against AC Milan. Trailing 3-0 at half-time in Istanbul, Rafael Benítez's side stormed back in the second half with three goals in seven minutes to set up a dramatic penalty shoot-out triumph. Andriy Shevchenko, scorer of the winning spot-kick in the 2003 final against Juventus, was this time denied by goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to give Liverpool a famous victory.
Paolo Maldini's fastest ever goal in a UEFA Champions League final and two from Hernán Crespo looked to have secured Milan's third UEFA Champions League crown, but second-half goals by Liverpool's talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso wiped out Milan's seemingly unassailable half-time advantage.
Just reaching the final had had Liverpool fans pinching themselves in disbelief. Their side had been defeated by Grazer AK at Anfield in the third qualifying round and then looked to be on their way out in the group stage until a thunderous, late Gerrard strike gave them the 3-1 victory against Olympiacos CFP they needed to advance. Bayer 04 Leverkusen were brushed aside in the Round of 16 to set up an emotional meeting with Juventus FC in the quarter-finals. The tie marked the first time the two sides had met in a competitive match since the Heysel Stadium tragedy on 29 May 1985 when 39 people lost their lives at the final of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in Brussels.
After a 2-1 victory at Anfield, a superb defensive performance by Liverpool saw off Juve in Turin. Suddenly, Reds fans dared to believe. Chelsea FC were up next in an all-English encounter which Liverpool narrowly won thanks to Luis García’s strike at Anfield, the only goal of the tie. Benítez, a UEFA Cup winner the year before with Valencia CF, had led Liverpool to the final for the first time in 20 years, but few tipped them to overcome Milan in Istanbul.
After finishing top of their group, the Serie A champions had convincingly defeated Manchester United FC and city rivals FC Internazionale Milano without conceding a goal to reach the final four. PSV Eindhoven pushed them hard in the semi-finals, winning the second leg 3-1 but bowing out on the away-goals rule, but Milan still went into the final as favourites. That billing looked set to be confirmed when Maldini scored after just 52 seconds. But Liverpool had other ideas as they struck back to claim the European Champion Clubs' Cup trophy for the fifth time.