Former Liverpool FC midfielder Vladimír Šmicer has vivid memories of beating AC Milan to bring the UEFA Champions League trophy back to Anfield in 2005.
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Winning the UEFA Champions League final represents the ultimate achievement in club competition for any player. Former Liverpool FC midfielder Vladimír Šmicer was fortunate enough to experience such a triumph and the Czech has vivid memories of bringing the trophy to Anfield in 2005.
Šmicer, now with FC Girondins de Bordeaux in France, recently popped into the uefa.com chatroom where he relived that incredible night in Istanbul when Liverpool came from three down to defeat AC Milan on penalties and offered his insight into this year's final, to be contested by the same two sides.
The 2005 showpiece proved to be Šmicer's last match for Liverpool and he capped the occasion by scoring the Reds' second goal and finding the net in the dramatic penalty shoot-out. Yet were it not for an injury to Harry Kewell, who limped off after 23 minutes, Šmicer might never have entered Anfield folklore. "At the time I was surprised to come on - when Harry Kewell got injured, I thought he'd play somebody else," said Šmicer. "But Rafael Benítez called me. I felt physically well before the final so was eager to get on. It was my last match for Liverpool so I was determined to end it in style. I was free in my head and that was my motivation - to do well for the club in my last match. I wanted to enjoy the big game."
Šmicer produced a sensational strike on 56 minutes to make the score 3-2, which many Liverpool fans claim was the best goal of his stay on Merseyside. "It is hard to say which is my best but the most important has to be that one," said Šmicer, who last played international football in November 2005 and, this season, has managed just two substitute appearances for Bordeaux in Ligue 1. "I still remember it every day. It gave me the chance to touch that famous trophy and to bring such happiness to Liverpool supporters. How we won that game still amazes me. It was a miracle - something that might never be repeated.
"But scoring the penalty was the biggest test of my whole career. It's easy to say no when you are asked by the manager but I wanted to prove my worth," continued the one-time SK Slavia Praha and RC Lens winger. "I was 32 and wanted to show I wasn't afraid to take responsibility. I told Rafa I'd love to take one and I sent Dida the wrong way. It was such an important goal for me. If I'd missed, my last game in a Liverpool shirt might have ended differently. The pressure was big. I felt so proud to score. It was easily the best day of my life."
Manager Benítez was at the heart of Liverpool's fightback and his tactical brilliance is perhaps the main reason Šmicer believes his old club can repeat the feat in the Athens final on 23 May. "Rafa's record in Europe is amazing," enthused the 33-year-old. "It's his destiny to win the big cups. He prepares teams very well in the Champions League and we all knew exactly what we had to do - there were no surprises. I hope Liverpool take the lead this time. They have to stop Kaká and Gennaro Gattuso, but Benítez will get it right again."