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Rediff.com  » Sports » Liverpool win Champions League

Liverpool win Champions League

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Last updated on: May 26, 2005 11:56 IST

Liverpool produced an incredible comeback to win the Champions League on penalties in one of the most remarkable finals of all time in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday.

Trailing 3-0 after a first half dominated by Milan, the English club scored three times in six minutes early in the second half to take the match into extra time and eventually a penalty shootout which they won 3-2.

A huge travelling support of over 40,000 Liverpool fans rolled around the stands in delight after captain Steven Gerrard raised the European Cup, which the club will now keep after their fifth victory in the competition.

However, it remains to be seen whether they can defend it next season as, under current competition rules, they are not eligible to do so because they finished fifth in the English Premier League and missed out on a qualifying berth.

Bizarrely, the champions do not get automatic right of entry to the competition the following season.

"It must be one of the greatest European finals of all time. I've never seen anything like it in my life. It was difficult to believe," said Jamie Carragher who epitomised Liverpool's determination by fighting on in extra time despite cramp.

MILAN NONPLUSSED

Milan, six times European champions, were nonplussed at how they managed to throw away a three-goal lead in six minutes that allowed Liverpool to become champions for the first time since 1984, a year before they last reached the final, marred by the deaths of 39 fans at the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels.

"It was a strange match, really strange," Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "We had played well but we had six minutes of madness that changed the course of things".

A night that made a mockery of all the predictions of a close, tactical encounter, began in unusual fashion when captain Paolo Maldini, in his seventh final, put Milan ahead after 53 seconds with a downward volley from an Andrea Pirlo free kick.

Maldini, at 36 the oldest man to score in the European Cup final, had not found the target in any game this season and has hardly ever scored with his right foot.

Milan looked at their best and Liverpool were struggling to cope with their fluent attacks.

European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko had an effort ruled out for offside in the 29th minute and six minutes before the break Brazilian Kaka fed Shevchenko on the right and the Ukrainian picked out Hernan Crespo at the back post.

The Argentine, on loan from Premier League club Chelsea, comfortably converted the low cross to make it 2-0.

LIVERPOOL DEFLATED

A minute before the interval Kaka produced a magical turn to lose Gerrard in midfield and then delivered a defence splitting pass that Crespo confidently chipped past the advancing Jerzy Dudek to give the Italians a commanding 3-0 lead.

After the opening 45 minutes it seemed to be only a matter of as to whether Milan would continue to rip open the Liverpool defence or decide to ease off but the Merseyside team launched a fightback that will live long in the memory.

"At halftime we were all just deflated, the only thing we knew was that we had to get the next goal," said Carragher.

That goal came after just nine minutes of the second half.

Gerrard rose well to head a John Arne Riise cross past Milan's Brazilian keeper Dida and two minutes later Milan were shaking after German Dietmar Hamann, a halftime substitute, set up Smicer who beat Dida with a low drive from 20 metres.

Milan needed to get a grip on the game in midfield and put an end to the wave of Liverpool attacks, but after a flowing passing move Gerrard burst into the Milan area and was bundled over by Gennaro Gattuso for a penalty.

Dida dived to parry Xabi Alonso's spot kick but the Spaniard hammered the loose ball into the roof of the net.

Having regained some composure Milan seemed more likely to grab a dramatic winner and Shevchenko almost did so two minutes from the end of extra time but his header was brilliantly saved by Dudek who threw up a hand to deny the striker's follow-up.

Liverpool took control of the shootout when Serginho and Pirlo failed with Milan's first two penalties.

Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Smicer scored for Liverpool before European Footballer of the Year Shevchenko's weak effort was comfortably saved by Dudek to seal the English side's triumph and start a long night of partying.

 

Simon Evans
Source:
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