- Rewind to 2005
Remarkable Liverpool inflict misery on Milan in Istanbul
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will contest the Champions League final on Saturday at Wembley eight years on from when Liverpool staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of the competition to stun AC Milan on penalties.
Liverpool's journey to the Champions League final of 2005 had not been the smoothest, and it so nearly came to an early end in the group stages when they stared elimination in the face.
In the build-up to the must-win match against Olympiakos at Anfield in the final group game, captain and talisman Steven Gerrard had strongly suggested he would leave the club if they finished trophyless come the end of the season. Only in the summer of 2004 had the England international turned down a mega-money move to Chelsea, and the Blues were on high alert after hearing Gerrard's latest views.
"I want to win things with this club but I haven't got time on my side," Gerrard was quoted as saying in the Daily Star ahead of a season and career-defining encounter in the Champions League. "If the club is moving forward and doing well, I won't have to be looking anywhere else. But if it does not look good, I may well have to."
Gerrard was asked about his side's chances of a triumph in Europe's elite club competition, to which he answered: "I have to be realistic and say we are not going to win it. But I do think we can improve on the quarter-final position we achieved a few years ago."
It would be Gerrard who delivered the goods to lead the team by example on a cold wintery night in December as his stunning late goal against Olympiakos guided the Reds into the knockout phase of the competition, prompting Andy Gray's (formerly of Sky Sports) infamous commentary: "OH YOU BEAUTY! What a hit son! What... a... hit."
After the Merseyside outfit edged out Chelsea in the semi-finals through Luis Garcia's "ghost goal" (the one which Jose Mourinho still claims didn't cross the line), Liverpool arrived to the final in Istanbul as the underdogs against an AC Milan side who had only suffered one scare in the competition.
The Italians needed a Massimo Ambrosini strike in stoppage-time to fend off the brave challenge of PSV Eindhoven in the semi-finals, but subtracting the last-four second-leg tie from the equation Milan had been faultless en route to the final, seeing off Manchester United in the last-16 and fierce city rivals Inter in the quarter-finals with consummate ease.
Milan skipper Paolo Maldini was determined to get his hands on the famous trophy for the fifth time, and along with Clarence Seedorf - who had won the competition with three different clubs - and manager Carlo Ancelotti - a previous winner as both boss and player - Milan had experience on their side.
"I have a lot of great souvenirs of these finals," Maldini boasted to the press on the eve of gracing the pitch for a seventh European Cup final. "The first time, I was anxious. Now, I am more serene. But just because you have won these things so often, it does not make you any less hungry for success."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was optimistic his side could counter the Milan experience.
"Milan have a good team, but we can beat them. We have real hunger and are desperate to win. That hunger to succeed can balance out any added experience that Milan might have," the Spaniard said to the Daily Star.
Milan showed why they were the favourites to win on the night with a devastating display in the first half. Maldini fired his side into the lead after 53 seconds with the quickest goal in a final of the tournament, before Hernan Crespo scored twice in six minutes before the interval - the second a clever chip over Jerzy Dudek when Kaka carved open the Liverpool defence with a phenomenal pass.
It would take one of the greatest comebacks in the competition to wrestle the trophy off Milan, and Reds attacker Luis Garcia painted the bleak Liverpool picture at the break.
"We were sitting in the dressing room and we could clearly hear thousands of fans singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. Can you imagine how that felt?" he recalled. "We were 3-0 down in the Champions League final and all we could hear were 45,000 people letting us know they still believed in us. We knew they had endured a long journey and made so many sacrifices to be there. It was at that point we started to believe too."
Belief. A formidable opponent which more often than not cannot be beaten and one which kick-started the Liverpool fight back.
In the space of six second-half minutes Liverpool had put a three next to Milan's total on the scoreboard and completed the unlikeliest of comebacks through Gerrard's header, Vladimir Smicer's long-ranger and Xabi Alonso's show of composure - converting at the second attempt after his penalty had been saved, much to the despair of Maldini and his team-mates.
Milan piled on the pressure in extra-time, with Djimi Traore clearing off the line from Andriy Shevchenko and then Dudek denying the Ukrainian with an unbelievable double save. It was the type to make every Liverpool fan start to believe that maybe - just maybe - their name was on the trophy.
A penalty shootout was required to separate the two sides, and Dudek was to be the hero as the Polish goalkeeper re-enacted Bruce Grobbelaar's wobbly legs movement from the 1984 final against Roma. Shevchenko, arguably the world's deadliest striker, had to score to keep Milan alive (forcing Gerrard to step up for a monumentally nerve-racking fifth penalty), but the Ukrainian was thwarted by Dudek as Liverpool clinched Champions League glory.
"[Jamie] Carragher came up to me before the penalties and asked me if I remembered the final on 1984, and Grobbelaar. So he was the inspiration," Dudek revealed, with Grobbelaar adding: "He did a much better job than I did. He looked like a starfish with jelly legs to me, but it worked."
Afterwards Jaap Stam angrily hit back at claims that Milan had celebrated at half-time with the impression they had wrapped up the victory. "I've heard some people said we were celebrating in the tunnel and in our dressing room, but that is ridiculous. Whoever thinks we would do that is just stupid," the ex-Manchester United defender said.
Gerrard revealed quite the opposite as he and his fellow Liverpool players sat in a deflated dressing room:
"We could hear Milan celebrating and there was nothing we could do about it. We were lucky to be only 3-0 down - their football was world class.
"Then I scored and it started to change. It was amazing and I have never played in a game like it. How do you find words to describe it?"
What happened next?
Liverpool caused a dilemma for UEFA as they had not qualified for the Champions League for the following season after missing out on a top-four finish in the Premier League. The governing body was tough to negotiate with at first as it insisted rules were rules, but in the end Liverpool were given a special dispensation to take part the following season as the champions, and entered through the first qualifying round.