Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
Dec 202013

imagesZ0T1015N Classic Football Theater: The 2005 Champions League Final, AC Milan vs Liverpool



A graffiti artist’s rendition of Liverpool GK Jerzy Dudek’s save during the penalty shootout.

The Time: May 25th, 2005

The Venue: Ataturk Royal Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey

The Starting XI:

A.C. Milan: (4-3-1-2) Coach: Carlo Ancelotti; Goalkeeper: Dida (Brazil) Defenders: Cafu (Brazil,) Jaap Stam (Netherlands,) Alessandro Nesta (Italy,) and Paolo Maldini (Italy) Midfielders: Clarence Seedorf (Netherlands,) Alessandro Pirlo (Italy,) and Gennaro Gattuso (Italy) Attacking Midfielder: Kaka (Brazil) Forwards: Hernan Crespo (Argentina,) and Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine.)

Substitutions: ’85-Forward Jon Dahl Tomasson (Denmark) for Crespo; 86’-Midfielder Serginho (Brazil) for Seedorf; Midfielder Rui Costa (Portugal) for Gattuso.

Liverpool:  (4-1-3-1-1) Coach: Rafael Benitez; Goalkeeper: Jerzy Dudek (Poland) Defenders: Steve Finnan (Ireland,) Djmi Traore (Mali,) Jaime Carragher (England,) and Sami Hyypia (Finland) Defensive Midfielder: Xabi Alonso (Spain) Midfielder: Luis Garcia (Spain,) Steven Gerrard (England,) and John Arne Riise (Norway) Attacking Midfielder: Harry Kewell (Australia) Forward: Millan Baros (Czech Republic.)

Substitutions:  46’-Defender Dietmar Hamann (Germany) for Finnan; 23’-Forward Vladimir Smicer (Russia) for Kewell; 85’- Forward Djibril Cisse (France) for Baros.

Link to the Match: Oy.

Announcers: Andy Townsend and Clyde Tillsley. If you have ever played a FIFA video game from the mid to late 90’s

Match Breakdown:

I suppose if I am going to continue watching Championship-level matches that I should stop being impressed with the crowds at these matches, but the crowd in Istanbul is electric. One of things that you always hear from players and fans is that Turkey almost always has some of the best supporters. Sometimes they can get a little crazy and out of hand. But nonetheless, the crowd is fantastic with a large partiality towards Liverpool. Keep in mind this is Liverpool during the good times of the Rafael Benitez era, not the bizarre end of his regime.

Just as the match begins, a record is broken. The first goal is scored within 50 seconds when A.C. Milan defender Paolo Maldini scores off of a rebound from an Andrea Pirlo volley. The Liverpool supporters, which make a large majority of the fans, were in complete shock. It was as if someone let all of the air out of the building. Maldini’s goal was only the second goal ever to be scored within the first minute of a Champions League Final (the first being Real Madrid-Rennes back in 1959). Maldini, for those who are unaware, is one of the best defenders ever to play the game. An expert tackler, he could also provide good pace from the backline and was known for making the occasional run down the field.  The partnership that he and Cafu had at A.C. Milan was exceptional and a large reason for the team’s success.

After the first goal, Milan continued to dominate play. On defense, Liverpool had a very difficult time breaking them down. Obviously Cafu and Maldini were exceptional talents, but Nesta  and Stam  were also quality defenders. The Liverpool duo of Steven Gerrard and Xavi Alonso were often boxed and pushed to the outside, unable to make that decisive shot. Whenever Liverpool did get a shot off, the Milan goalkeeper, Dida, was able to make the save with relative ease. Dida never got much credit for being a great goalkeeper because he played behind Cafu for both club and country, but he was a solid goalkeeper with good natural ability.

In the midfield, Gerrard and Alonso were matched move for move by the likes of Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, and Andrea Pirlo. Although it would be a few years before Pirlo would become the legend that he is today, you can see glimmer of his skills through this match. His ability to make passes and dribble through tight spots helped set up multiple opportunities throughout the match

Furthermore, the understanding that Seedorf and Kaka had with one another was almost machine-like. The precision of their passes to one another was near perfect. Throughout the first half, the Milan midfield wreaked havoc on the Liverpool defense by placing countless balls into areas that only Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo could reach.

While Milan, had everything going right for them Liverpool struggled through the first 45 minutes.  After the first goal, the Liverpool midfield and defense gave up large areas of the pitch to the Milan attack Defender Djmi Traore had his hands full throughout the first 45 against Shevchenko, who was able to out muscle the strong Malian for 50-50 balls. The Reds almost gave up another goal in the 7th minute when Hyypia bobbled a ball in the box forcing Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to make a last- minute save to avoid the own goal. Liverpool’s misfortunes continued when Midfielder Harry Kewell was forced out of the match due to a groin issue. His replacement, Vladimir Smicer, added to Liverpool’s uneven play by being unable to connect simple passes to Gerrard and Jaime Carragher. Although Smicer would be critical for them later in the match, early on he was not gelling with the rest of the team.

Milan’s work on the attack would pay off for them late in the second half.  In the 42nd Hernan Crespo was able to bury his shot past Dudek. The set-up to the goal was sheer brilliance; it began with Kaka making a pinpoint pass on the right side to Shevchenko, who passed the ball across the box to Crespo.

After Milan went up 2-0, Liverpool finally started to show some life. Gerrard and Alonso were finally able to connect up with Milan Barros and Luis Garcia, who were able to get a few quality shots, including one that went off of the hand of Maldini which was not called for a handball. The handball play was a double shot to the gut for Liverpool because not only did they  not score but Milan was able to go on the counter-attack where Kaka drove the ball down the field and made an excellent pass to Crespo. Crespo, with only the goalkeeper in front, then laid a chip shot to the top left corner of the goal. At 3-0 this game looked like it was over.

The Liverpool fans in Istanbul looked lost. In all of my years of watching sports I have only ever seen that look once before: when the Chicago Cubs blew a two-run lead in the 2003 National League Championship Series. When things go unexpectedly in sports it can rip a fan’s heart out. But the amazing thing while watching these fans at half-time is that they picked themselves up, sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and got them back in the game. There are many things that I appreciate about footballing culture, but the one thing over everything else is the fans never give up.

Sports announcers have used the term “A tale of two halves” to death, often using the term to describe games that do not fit the title. But this match is different. You could see at the beginning of the second half that this was a much different Liverpool team than the team that left the Istanbul pitch just ten minutes earlier. They played with aggression, with fire, and with pace. And all of these attributes were found in the play of Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard gave this team a jolt in the second half simply by playing harder than everyone else on the pitch. The change of pace really began between the 50th and 60th minutes of the match. In the 50th minute, Gerrard led a counter-attack on Milan driving the ball all the way down the field where his passes were not blocked once by Cafu, but twice. Rather than giving up, he battled with Cafu still trying to find whatever space he could to get the ball out to the center of the field. Eventually, he was able to get a pass off of the inside of his left leg to Riise, who delivered a cracking strike that was saved off of the fingertips by Dida.

Liverpool continued their strong form five minutes later when Riise returned the favor to Gerrard skying a cross into the box where Gerrard used his head to score Liverpool’s first goal of the match.  What was so brilliant about Gerrard’ header is that it wasn’t a particularly strong header, just a slight flick that allowed the ball to curve to the top right corner of the goal. Scoring does not always require an iron boot to smash the ball into the net. Sometimes all you need is a simple flick of the head.

Announcer Clyde Tillsley described the change of pace perfectly when he said, “It is amazing what a goal can do for you.” Gerrard’s determination in the previous few minutes  rubbed off on his teammates. In the 58th minute, he delivered a quality pass to Smicer, who it a  howitzer of a shot past Dida to narrow the gap to 3-2.

At this point, the tempo completely changed. Even the referees were giving Liverpool the benefit of the doubt: Milan Barrios looked to be offside on Smicer’s goal. Liverpool finished their comeback in the 59th minute, when Gattuso committed a very bad foul in the box on Steven Gerrard, setting Xavi Alonso up for a penalty. Although the Spaniard had his first chance saved by Dida, he was able to bury the rebound.

With the game evened up, and Liverpool looking to complete one of the most dramatic comebacks in any sports history, the match turned into a battle between Maldini and Liverpool defender Jaime Carragher. After the third Liverpool goal, there is a throw-in where you can see both players giving out orders and instructions to their teammates, but never losing sight of the other. Both defenses clamped down on opportunities and played much better than they had in the previous 60 minutes. Liverpool, in particular, looked much better and more comfortable playing Manager Rafael Benitez’s zone- marking system.  Shevchenko was still trying to take on 2-3 defenders at a time, but as opposed to the first half, he was being met with timely tackles from Gerrard and Traore.

Leading into overtime, Tillsley made another very interesting statement that seems to foreshadow the next 30 minutes: “Overtime leaves a player with heavy legs and a scrambled brain.” Both Milan and Liverpool played very conservatively during the extra time, focusing on possession and focusing their attack on set pieces.  Out of the two squads only A.C. Milan really made an effort on offense. I the 13th minute Kaka placed a cross into the box for Jan Daal Tomasson (who had been substituted in for Crespo late in the second half,) which just missed the post. Tomasson would also give Milan another chance late in the second part of overtime when he delivered a good cross into Shevchenko, who saw his shot saved by Dudek. But Liverpool’s defense was on form during the last 30 minutes, making concise tackles and blocks and relying on Dudek to make the occasional save.

As if a 3-0 comeback was not enough, this match needed penalty kicks to determine the 2005 Champions League Final. Though penalty kicks are seen by some as anti-climactic, there were a couple of moments that were very interesting to see. First, watching Pirlo miss a penalty felt like hearing for the first time that there is no Santa Clause. Pirlo is considered by many to be one of the best spot kick takers in the history of football. His stutter step has killed English goalkeepers for both club and country, so to see him fail in this instance was a very bizarre sight to see. Some credit should go to Dudek, though. He read the shot perfectly and made an excellent save.

The second thing that is fascinating to watch in this last part of the match is the reaction of the Liverpool supporters. Penalty shootouts are like waves in the ocean with the fans emotions being the surfers. There are high tides (scoring) and low tides (missing). As Liverpool jumped out a 2-0 lead, the roar of the supporters could be heard all throughout the stadium. But then Tomasson buried his shot to the left to make it 2-1. Sunny optimism was all but erased in forthcoming shots as Riise missed for Liverpool and then Kaka converted to even everything up. But just when things looked bleak, Smisa completely fooled Dida going left with his shot to take the lead once again to take the lead 3-2. As all eyes focused on Dudek and Shevchenko, the last kicker for Milan, the stadium went about as quiet as you can get 69,000 to be in a Championship match. As my mom would say, “You could cut the tension with a knife.”  And what occurs next puts the cherry on top of one of the greatest football matches ever.

What makes this match so special:

Before this match, only one team had ever come back from a deficit during a Champions League Final, the 1999 Manchester United squad that scored two goals in the 90th minute to beat Bayern Munich. So the thought of a team coming back from not one, not two, but three goals against an A.C. Milan squad was unthinkable.  And the way that Liverpool came back was pure class. No questionable penalties or diving. Just pure technique and excellent pace by the players and a great strategy laid out by Benitez. Liverpool was able to what many teams fail to do in the second half of matches: they learned and adapted to their opponent’s style of play.

The other thing of course is to see so many of the games great players from the past twenty years playing in one match. This match seems to be a bridge of sorts between players who were entering the twilight of their careers (Maldini, Seedorf, Cafu, and Crespo,) and players who were at or just about to enter their prime (Gerrard, Alonso, Pirlo, Kaka, and Gattuso.) And there are of course the players whose careers just were never the same after this match. Shevchenko would leave after another season and head to Chelsea where he only scored 9 goals. Kaka would be plagued by injuries at Real Madrid and is actually back at Milan where he is trying to revive his career. Even Djmi Traore is still trying to live up to his Liverpool days, currently  playing for Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer. Very rarely do you get to see this level talent deliver on the hype of a match. The chance to see so many players at or near the height of their power only adds to how special this match truly is.






Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.