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The Miracle of Istanbul: Reflections and Tributes
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"We were massive underdogs at the beginning of the competition and I'll put my hands up say and I didn't think we were going to go all the way. But, as you can see, we are never beaten. The manager told us to keep our chins up, to try and score early in the second half and give some respect for the fans. The first goal gave us a bit of belief. The supporters have saved up for weeks and months to come here. I am so happy to lift the cup for the fans."
"My problem is that I don't have words to express the things that I feel at this moment. At half-time we knew we had to change things. You concede one goal in the first minute and it is very difficult, then we lose Harry Kewell.
"It was very difficult, but the players believed and won. Steven Gerrard is a key man, he has the mentality we want."
"We knew we had to do something. We could not lose by four or five goals in front of our wonderful supporters. We said that if we could score one goal it might change the game and then we scored two more. We started to believe and so did the supporters. And we went on from there."
Benitez promised his wife a new watch if his team won in Istanbul:
"This is the greatest night of my career in football. But it will be expensive for sure."
"It is one of the greatest finals of all time. We were all deflated at half-time. We knew we had to get the next goal and we knew we had to push up. When we got the goal Milan just seemed to go. The save Jerzy Dudek made from Shevchenko at the end was unbelievable. I can't believe we've just won."
"If you actually remember AC Milan for a moment, besides those 6 minutes, they did one of the best performances I've seen in a European Cup final. They were outstanding. You know, you think of the players that they had in the team. They had Maldini and Cafu, two great full backs. Jaap Stam, Nesta; Pirlo and Gattuso won the World Cup two years later. Crespo, the best striker in the world in Shevchenko; maybe the best attacking midfield player after that game but rivalling Ronaldhino - the best player in Kaka. And you look back at that team and you think: 'How the fuck did we win that game?'"
"My brother phoned me in the morning and said: 'Have you seen it on TV again?' I said no, I hadn't, and he said you need to see it; the rebound, the second Shevchenko shot was the 'Hand of God' because, from nowhere, came your hand to save the goal. I said I didn't know how I did it. It was fortunate for myself that I did it. Fantastic for me. I was waiting for this moment. I had difficult moments in this game but this is fantastic.
"With this medal around my neck I cannot imagine that I would have to leave this club. With that final I fulfilled many people's expectations of me and for sure that will in some way be remembered. Now I think that nothing is impossible."
"Before the penalties, Carra came up to me like he was crazy - as always! He said: 'Jerzy, Jerzy - remember Bruce (Grobbelaar). He did crazy things to put them off and you have to do the same.'"
"This is the best moment in my professional career. I am a European champion, and I cannot believe it. It is slowly sinking in. It's unbelievable, but I think as the hours progress, we will be able to absorb what we have achieved. I know there is always a first time, and fortunately this was mine. My problem is that I don't have words to express the things that I feel at this moment. It was very difficult, but the players believed and won. Steven Gerrard is a key man, he has the mentality we want."
On Dudek: "For me he was the hero. He made great saves during the game. His save from Shevchenko was incredible. He has been a key player and is now the hero for Liverpool. He kept the trophy in our hands. "
"When we got into the dressing room we just said 'It's over,' but the manager found the right words and gave us back our confidence. The first thing Rafa said was 'Don't let your heads drop. All the players who will get on the pitch after half-time have to keep their heads held high. We are Liverpool, you are playing for Liverpool. Do not forget that. You have to hold your heads high for the supporters. You have to do it for them. You cannot call yourselves Liverpool players if you have your heads down. If we create a few chances we have the possibility of getting back into this. Believe you can do it and we will. Give yourselves the chance to be heroes'."
Houllier visited Liverpool's dressing room after the final whistle:
"I was pleased that some of the players said in the press that it was also because of the foundation, because nine of the players were Gérard Houllier's signings," Houllier said. "That is a kind of gratefulness and acknowledgement that we're not used to. This is why I think Liverpool is special. I had such a wonderful welcome when I went to visit them. I was very happy for the fans, very happy for the players and very happy for the directors, because they become friends. You don't spend six years as I did in Liverpool and just leave like that. I'm their first supporter and they know that."
"It was not just the best comeback in a European Cup final, it was not just the best comeback I have seen in football, it was the best comeback I have seen in sport anywhere in the world.
For any Italian defence to have thrown away a three-goal lead inside six minutes would have been remarkable. But for the defence of AC Milan to have done so - the back four of Paolo Maldini, Cafu, Alessandro Nesta and Jaap Stam - is unimaginable. You could not begin to believe that this kind of defence, experienced and immaculate, could have cracked that completely."
- 27 May 2005, Daily Telegraph
On Dudek's own interpretation of the 'spaghetti legs': "He did a much better job than I did. He looked like a starfish with jelly legs to me but it worked."
"We had six minutes of madness in which we threw away the position we had reached until then," he said. The match was well contested and it's inexplicable because the team played well for all 120 minutes. That's the way it went and we must go forward. We recognise it, we are displeased and disappointed. I think Milan played a marvellous final. We lost without deserving to lose and OK, we have to accept our defeat. We had the penalties and we lost and I think the team should be proud of what we have done. We are unhappy but I think we lost in an honourable way."
"It is very strange and hard to explain. Of course, it is a huge disappointment. I've had a few disappointments in my career but this is certainly among the major ones. But we go out with our heads high and we have to accept the result even if it was so harsh and hard on us."
"It's very hard to explain. But I think it was destiny that decided to change sides and give the cup to Liverpool. With a 3-0 advantage it's difficult to think that any team can come back against Milan. But Liverpool found the courage to continue. Believe me, it's not easy when you are 3-0 down. They never lost hope, they believed right until the end that it was possible and I guess that is the winning mentality. But we must accept it. I don't think we underestimated Liverpool and I'm not surprised at how they played. This team knocked Juventus and Chelsea out of the competition and they did what they had to do to win."
"If I shoot another 10,000 times, Dudek doesn't save it, not even once. But he did it when it counted though -- for the life of me, I don't know how it happened."
"It was a dream game initially, but it was too beautiful to be true. To be 3-0 up at half-time, and to have scored two goals in my first Champions League final, I would never have dreamed of it. But unfortunately, life is like this. You have surprises. It's impossible to explain what has happened to us. We have to congratulate Liverpool because they have given everything for the win when everything looked to be over. Penalties are always a lottery, and in this case it has favoured Liverpool. It's terrible to digest and difficult to explain what I am feeling now. But we must look ahead."
"I still have to come to terms with being left empty-handed by Liverpool. As a player you know that only the really big trophies give your career a super-class status. When you have gone as far as the final, there is nothing worse than losing it. But it was even more painful in Istanbul because of the way we lost. We allowed them to make the biggest comeback in the history of a European Cup Final. We led 3-0 at half-time but ended up losing on penalties. It was the biggest disappointment in my career and it will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.
Now I have entered another huge moment in my career. More than ever I need to get a World Cup winner's medal. If I don't win this final, I will end up even more frustrated. The hunger for winning this one is incredible - don't forget there are a few more players in this Italy team who suffered the same as me that night against Liverpool. What happened in Istanbul taught us a lesson. The experience and drama I will take with me into this final. I will never let a team get away with that again."
From his autobiography I Think Therefore I Play: "I thought about quitting because, after Istanbul, nothing made sense any more. The 2005 Champions League final simply suffocated me.
To most people’s minds, the reason we lost on penalties was Jerzy Dudek – that jackass of a dancer who took the mickey out of us by swaying about on his line and then rubbed salt into the wound by saving our spot kicks.
But in time the truly painful sentence was realising that we were entirely to blame.
How it happened I don’t know, but the fact remains that when the impossible becomes reality, somebody’s f***ed up – in this case, the entire team. A mass suicide where we all joined hands and jumped off the Bosphorus Bridge."
When that torture of a game was finished, we sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room there at the Atatürk Stadium.
We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move. They’d mentally destroyed us. The damage was already evident even in those early moments, and it only got more stark and serious as the hours went on.
Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We’d invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome.
I no longer felt like a player, and that was devastating enough. But even worse, I no longer felt like a man. All of a sudden, football had become the least important thing, precisely because it was the most important: a very painful contradiction.
I didn’t dare look in the mirror in case my reflection spat back at me. The only possible solution I could think of was to retire. And what a dishonourable retirement it would have been.
I glimpsed the end of the line: the journey was over. The story was finished and so was I. I walked with my head bowed even in the places I hold most dear. It wasn’t to avoid sympathetic glances, just that when you don’t know where you’re going, looking ahead makes you tired and worried."
People talk about performance anxiety. Well, ‘non-performance’ anxiety is the perfect description for those of us who simply vanished from the pitch sometime during that final.
The match in Istanbul was on May 25 and the Italian championship had yet to finish. We had to go back to Milanello to carry our cross for four more days, right up until Sunday, May 29, when we played our last Serie A match against Udinese.
That parade of shame was the toughest punishment. A cavalcade of disgrace with us placed front and centre.
It was a brief, intense, s****y period. You couldn’t escape or pull the plug on a world that had turned upside down, and you were forever surrounded by the other guilty parties in this theft of our own dignity.
We always ended up talking about it. We asked each other questions, but nobody had any answers.
I could hardly sleep and even when I did drop off, I awoke to a grim thought: I’m disgusting. I can’t play any more. I went to bed with Dudek and all his Liverpool team-mates.
The game against Udinese ended 0-0, goals a perfect stranger. A nightmare is a nightmare because you know it’ll start when you close your eyes but won’t stop when you reopen them, and so the torment went on.
Painfully slowly, things started to improve during the holidays, even if the wounds didn’t heal completely.
I’ll never fully shake that sense of absolute impotence when destiny is at work. The feeling will cling to my feet forever, trying to pull me down. Even now if I mess up a pass, that malign force could be to blame. For that reason, I steer well clear of the DVD from the Liverpool game.
It’s an enemy that I can’t allow to wound me a second time. It’s already done enough damage: most of it hidden far from the surface.
I’ll never watch that match again. I’ve already played it once in person and many other times in my head, searching for an explanation that perhaps doesn’t even exist.
It was suggested we hang a black funeral pall as a permanent reminder on the walls of Milanello, right next to the images of triumph. A message to future generations that feeling invincible is the first step on the path to the point of no return.
Personally, I’d add that horrendous result to the club’s honours board. I’d write it slap bang in the middle of the list of leagues and cups they’ve won, in a different coloured ink and perhaps a special font, just to underline its jarring presence.
It would be embarrassing but, at the same time, it would enhance the worth of the successes alongside.
There are always lessons to be found in the darkest moments. It’s a moral obligation to dig deep and find that little glimmer of hope or pearl of wisdom.
You might hit upon an elegant phrase that stays with you and makes the journey that little less bitter. I’ve tried with Istanbul and haven’t managed to get beyond these words: for f***’s sake."
"Football is like politics: you think you have won, but that is not the case. Pity, this is a real pity. But I know full well what football is like."
Reaction From Other Players
"I will have to do like Dudek the next time. Maybe if I had done that against Milan in 2003 we would have won. During penalties a goalkeeper has the chance to become a fool or a hero. You have to admire his performance: atypical but still useful. Football is often crazy"
How Barcelona drew inspiration from Liverpool's victory in the 2005 Champions League to launch their own comeback against Arsenal the following year:
"Whatever we did in the first half didn't work, but we fought, dominated the second half and never gave up," said Eto'o, his son Etienne on his knee and Uefa's player of the match award clasped in his hand. "Having seen what Liverpool did last year when they were 3-0 down and apparently well beaten, we knew that you can't just accept you've lost until the final whistle goes. If you look at Liverpool's spirit, you know you have to fight to the end and, God permitting, you can win.
"You can't allow doubts to creep in in a final like this. When we came out after half-time, we heard our supporters and remembered the spirit of Liverpool's players a year ago. We kept trying and trying and, in the end, God wanted us to win. There aren't enough words to explain what we're experiencing. What we have done today will only sink in when we stop playing football. This is probably the most beautiful moment in my entire career."
Reaction From Old Legends
"Even the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup could not have staged a comeback with Milan leading 3-0. I am disappointed as anyone who has played in Italy would be. At 3-0 Milan were convinced that no-one could come back. But what has happened has happened. Milan never stopped playing and Shevchenko could have won it in extra-time. I have seen comebacks like that in football but never against a team that so clearly was superior as Milan were."
"The English club proved that miracles really do exist. I've now made Liverpool my English team. They showed that football is the most beautiful sport of all. The Liverpool supporters didn't let me go to sleep the night before, there were 10 of them to every three Milan supporters. They showed their unconditional support at half-time when they were losing 3-0 and still they didn't stop singing."
"There's not one club in Europe with an anthem like You'll Never Walk Alone. There's not one club in the world so united with their fans. I sat there watching the Liverpool fans and they sent shivers down my spine. A mass of 40,000 people became one force behind their team. That's something not many teams have. For that I admire Liverpool more than anything."
'With fighting spirit and passion, Liverpool pushed themselves over the line for what it is possible to achieve. You have to give them a huge compliment for the way they fought their way back. You can't do it in any better way. They should be able to defend their trophy. They have simply deserved it."
Reaction From Public Figures
"Congratulations on your remarkable win last night. It was a magnificent achievement which will be remembered for many years both in Liverpool and across the country."
Prime Minister Tony Blair was telephoned by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pass on his congratulations, and himself sent a message to the victorious Liverpool team and manager Rafael Benitez.
In the message, Mr Blair said: "Unbelievable. Incredible. Brilliant. The whole country is very proud of you."
He later added: "Wasn't it absolutely amazing? Anyway, Liverpool can be very proud of itself and Britain's very proud of Liverpool."
"This was a rollercoaster that plummeted to the depths of hell before surfacing outside the gates of heaven," he said. Reade confessed that he resorted to "chatting to God at half-time". What did he say? "If He could just get around to knocking three goals into the Milan net, I'd believe in Him forever."
"Three-nil down at half-time I thought oh dear, all the dreams are going to dissolve, but what a second half, they were unbelievable."
"I am absolutely delighted of course as a Liverpool girl. It is a fantastic news for the whole city and the whole country."
The Tory MP and Spectator editor hailed it "the biggest rescue job since Dunkirk ... It was epic. It was biblical."
He went on: "I can't remember exactly what the Spectator said about Liverpool in that infamous editorial. Well folks, it may be time for a new editorial, about a Liverpool team endowed with guts, determination, and an ability to fight the odds."
The Champions League final of 2005 will forever be remembered as one of the all-time great games in the history of football, but especially in Liverpool as the Reds managed to win their fifth European Cup in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
The Reds headed to Turkey on the back of a remarkable Champions League campaign that saw them overcome Grazer AK to qualify, Monaco, Deportivo and Olympiakos in the group stage and Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea in the knockouts.
Their opponents in the final were an AC Milan side led by Carlo Ancelotti and littered with legendary names from defence to attack.
Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Jaap Stam and Alessandro Nesta took their places in front of Dida at the back, with Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka in midfield, and Andriy Shevcheko and Hernan Crespo up front.
By contrast, though the likes of Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso started for Rafa Benitez’s Reds, their lineup was comparatively humble.
That made the miraculous comeback even sweeter, as Liverpool fought back from three goals down at half-time to find themselves level at 3-3 heading into extra time.
Gerrard, Alonso and Vladimir Smicer were the goalscoring heroes, with Smicer also netting the decisive penalty as they lifted the club’s fifth European Cup.
It was a performance of gargantuan resolve and grit, as Benitez’s players, roared on by cramping Carragher, ran themselves into the ground and You’ll Never Walk Alone rang around the Ataturk.
Liverpool's comeback gave rise to the final being known as the Miracle of Istanbul, and is regarded as one of the greatest finals in the history of the tournament.
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