Once upon a time… Paolo Maldini’s star-packed AC Milan side were just 45 minutes away from their seventh Champions League title in 2005. After an opening goal in the first minute of play by the eternal captain Maldini and a brace by Hernan Crespo, the Italians headed to the locker room with a controlling 3-0 lead. Meanwhile back in England, Liverpool fans tragically witnessed their team being humiliated in Europe’s biggest stage.
No one knows what Rafa Benitez said to the Liverpool players at halftime. Perhaps he gave the speech of a lifetime. A type of speech that you see only in the movies where the players suddenly come back and remember how to play. Or he could’ve even given them some of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” from Space Jam. Regardless of what he did, it worked. His players came back ready to battle and create their own history.
Liverpool came out rejuvenated and completely evolved. Much more composed and with the heart of a lion. Just like Milan in the first half, Liverpool’s first goal came from the captain himself, Steven Gerrard. A wide-open header which he placed it perfectly to the far post and gave Milan’s Dida no chance. Gerrard immediatlely began waving his arms to amp up not just the team. The comeback was now on.
The dream began to feel like a possibility after Šmicer’s long range shot sneaked into Dida’s bottom right corner. It was a goal that Šmicer screamed and celebrated like never before. The score was now 3-2 with 34 minutes to play.
Just three minutes later, AC Milan’s meltdown was completed after Gennaro Gattuso idiotically brought down Gerrard inside the box for a penalty. With the whole world tuning in and hoping to see Liverpool’s potential come back, Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the penalty. Dida dove correctly low into the right corner but was unable to hold on to the shot, which Alonso followed up and put it in the back of the net. The game was now tied with 30 minutes to go.
Both teams had chances to close out the game during the last 30 minutes and in extra time but no one was able to capitalize. In extra time, Dudek made a double save off two shots from Shevchenko who was less than six yards away. After a fatiguing period of extra time, the Kings of Europe would be decided from the dreaded penalty shootout.
The say men can become heroes during penalty shootouts. But on May 25th, 2005, Jerzy Dudek became a Liverpool legend. The polish keeper saved a total of three penalties including the decisive shot by Andriy Shevchenko to win it all. As the Milan’s fans wept in uncontrollable pain and disappointment, the English celebrated as their team had completed one of the greatest comebacks the sport had seen.
It’s been 11 years since that historic final. Players have come and gone from both teams. None of the players for either team remain and only a handful still play to this day. Both teams are far from their historic best and it’s difficult to imagine when these two teams were competing for a Champions League. But the memories, either good or bad, will live with us forever. Weather it’s the greatest night of your life as a Liverpool fan or a nightmare you try to forget as a Milan fan, you have to agree, Liverpool vs AC Milan in 2005 was one for the books.