The most unbelievable comeback in the history of football was achieved in Istanbul last night. Liverpool, the greatest English club ever, came back to beat AC Milan on penalties.
It was something beyond belief. Having been schooled in the first half, Liverpool were 3-0 down and most people (including myself) thought this might end up being an embarassing whitewish. Like Lazarus rising from the dead, however, they came back and won the mother of all Champions' league finals.
And what a final it was. Pre-match, most pundits described it as one of the most boring games ever. An ageing Italian pensioner team known for their 1-0 victories against a dull and boring mediocre English team that was lucky to be in the final. Boy were they wrong.
The tone was set from the first minute. Paolo Maldini's 36 year old legs scoring a glorious volley within 53 seconds. Crespo then showing his class in scoring two goals before the half time whistle.
What was Benitez thinking? The idea of an attacking formation is good but at the expense of our midfield? Liverpool looked disjointed and disorganized, with the midfield looking miles away from either the defence or the forwards. Up-front, we were reduced to long balls reminicent of Houllier, and every ball from Milan's midfiled seemed to utterly pierce our defence. Kaka was able to make Gerrard, Alonso, and Garcia look ordinary.
Liverpool's entire champions league campaign (excluding the Olympiakos game) was built on solid defence. Although the defence played an important part in this, the link-up and support role the midfield plays was a crucial factor as well.. Yesterday in the first half our midfield was non-existent, with Milan rampaging down the field like a Qatari Sheikh down a French highway. Omitting a holding midfield player in Hamman or Biscan seemed to be a grave error.
At the start of the second half came the turning point of the game. Either due to tactical genius or pure luck, Didi Hamman was brought on for the injured Steve finnan. The midfield suddenly regained it's composure, and one wondered whether a miracle was on hand.
3-0 down at half point, the obstacle facing liverpool seemed insurmountable: Scoring three goals against what is billed as the best defence in the world. Furthermore, Milan were rampant, playing absolute world class football. The more likely scenario was an embarassing drubbing, maybe 5 6 7-nil? Chelsea, Man Utd, and Everton fans were busy scripting their insults to throw the next day. They (and most of us) wrote off Liverpool too early.
What ensued was the most breathtaking 6 minutes of football ever played. Within the time that it takes to smoke a cigarette, Liverpool, from being 3-0 down, rooted the best defence in the world and were level at 3-3. Gerrard heads, Smicer shoots, and Alonso fires up the crowd!!!!!!
Then came the penalties, and as the saying goes, the rest was history.
Who would've thought that the likes of Jerzy Dudek, Djimi Traore, and Igor Bisan, much maligned at the beggining of the season as lucky to play in the third division, would emerge to become immortal Liverpool legends? Special praise goes to Jerzy Dudek. Although he committed some serious howlers in the first half, he pulled off one of the most stunning saves I have ever seen against one of the world's best strikers, and then topped it off by dancing like a maniac and saving two penalties.
And the most sadistly satisfying part of it all was reading the posts by Man Utd, Chelsea, and Everton fans at half time in the forums on the internet. "For the sake of not embarrasing English footy, referee please end the match." "I love watching the global humiliation of your team." "ps. troare or woteva his name is, is uselsess, not taking a cheap shot, but seriously, u seriously thought u cud win the CL with him in the team?!"
Ahh... how they must be eating their words now. Anyway, who gives a toss about United or Chelsea or Everton. We're in a different league with the big boys now. The likes of Ronaldo, Maldini, and Zidane are who we are competing against, not Carlsley, Drogba, and Heinze. When they can win the trophy five times and keep it forever, then we'll have a chat again.
LIVERPOOL HAVE WON THE EUROPEAN CUP FOR THE FIFTH TIME, KEEPING IT FOREVER!
I don't think anyone will forget where they were watching this game. Some lucky fellas were in Istanbul, shouting their voices off, watching 11 heros on the pitch with a master tactician behind them achieve the impossible. I was in a spanish bodeguita with a group of friends watching the unbelievable unfold. Where were you when history was made?
Dudek - 8 A couple of serious howlers in the first half. He redeemed himself magnificently by first stopping the Shevchenko free-kick and then the doubl-save from point blank in the dying minutes of the half. The penalty saves were the icing on the cake. You gotta take your hat off to any person who's willing to wiggle around maniacally in front of millions of people. Imagine the embarrassment if he didn't save any. That took guts.
Traore-6 Was ripped to shreds in the first half but was able to hold his own in the second.
Carragher-6 Again schooled and outpaced in the first half but made some crucial tackles and played through a stomach injury in the second half. Our player of the season.
Finnan-6 One of the few players to try and attack in the first half. Injury forced him off to bring on Hamman and the turning point of the game.
Hyppia-6 Also outpaced by the Milan defence in the first half. Improved in the second.
Gerrard-7Schooled in the first half. Led the comeback in the second. Great header.
Alonso-7 Like most of the team, mediocre first half but much better second half. It's simply amazing seeing him miss a penalty with his favoured foot but then score the rebound with the other one.
Riise-7 Our best player in the first half, and throughout the game he seemed the player with the most ideas. Great cross for the fist goal. The missed penalty was the only drawback.
Luis Garcia-5 Not the best game the Spaniard has produced. Wasted a couple of good chances, but became more dangerous as game progressed.
Kewell-4 Not much to say. Hopefully he'll be better next season.
Smicer-7 Great farewell match for the Czech.
Baros-5 Didn't have much chances to work with.
Hamman-8 His introduction made the team look completely different. Arguably his entry was the turning point in the game.
Cisse-6 Like Baros not much to work with. He did make some runs which made you think he might just tip the game though.
Benitez-7 The initial tactics backfired badly in the first period. I don't know what he said to the player in the interval, but boy did it work. He also rectified the tactical errors after the interval. It's great to finally see him smile!