Thinking Of Giving Up? Remember The Miracle Of Istanbul
Never, Ever, Give Up!
On the 25th May 2005, Liverpool faced Italian team AC Milan in the final of the UEFA Champions League.
The two teams were among the most decorated in the history of the competition. Milan had won the competition six times previously, the most recent coming two years previously when they beat domestic rivals Juventus.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were four times champions, but they had not won the competition since 1984. It was their final since 1985, when they lost 1–0 to Juventus in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium Disaster, when 39 fans lost their lives.
Despite their successful histories, these were two clubs at different ends of the spectrum. Milan were widely considerd to have the best team in Europe. They were graced with exceptional players such as Maldini, Pirlo, Kaka and Shevchenko. They went in the match as heavy favourites.
Liverpool were a team in transition. It was their manager, Rafael Benitez’s first season. The club had failed to finish in the top four of the Premier League, while excelling in the knockout environment of the Champions League.
On paper, Milan should have been comfortable winners. However, sport, and life, don’t always go according to plan!
Milan started the match like a house on fire, quickly confirming their status as the favourites.
They had scored within a minute. A free-kick was turned into the Liverpool goal by Milan captain Paolo Maldini, who was playing in his seventh final. It looked like it would be a long night for Liverpool.
They managed to hold their own for the majority of the first half, but Milan’s class began to shine through in the latter stages.
They extended their lead in the 39th minute when Kaka took the ball into the Liverpool half, found Shevchenko, who passed to Hernan Crespo at the far post, who tapped the ball into the back of the net.
Liverpool’s task was looking forlorn.
To make matters worse, they conceded a third before half-time. Crespo was sent through on goal by Kaka, and chipped over Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to give Milan a 3–0 lead.
No team had ever overcome a three goal deficit in the final of the European Cup.
The odds were firmly stacked against Liverpool. Not only did they have to find a way past one of the best teams in Europe, they had to do it three times without conceding!
It seemed like an impossible task.
“I just remember the noise from the Liverpool fans, they were still with us — it’s very rare that you go in at half-time 3–0 down and the fans are still with you, but the Liverpool fans are unique and they stayed with us. They were singing and we could hear it from the dressing room.” — Steven Gerrard
At half-time, the Liverpool players returned to their dressing room and pondered how they would respond in the second half.
The immediate thought was on not conceding anymore goals, and scoring to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the Milan players.
As the players gathered for their half-time team talk, they could hear a familiar song echo around the Ataturk Stadium.
It was the club’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Despite the three goal deficit, the club’s fans still believed. They had faith their team could find a way back, no matter how improbable.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez made a key change during the break. He replaced full-back Steve Finnan with defensive midfielder Dietmar Hamann in an attempt to stymie the Milan midfield.
Despite the deficit, Benitez was still confident the game could be turned around.
A lot can happen in 45 minutes.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” — Confucius
Liverpool came out for the second half with the intent of improving upon their first half performance.
Thoughts of levelling the score were far away at this time.
Liverpool started the half brightly, and were rewarded for their start in the 54th minute, when captain, Steven Gerrard, headed home a John Arne Riise cross.
Things got even better two minutes later, when Vladimír Šmicer scored to make the score 3–2. All of a sudden, the situation looked a lot rosier.
Two minutes later, Liverpool had an opportunity to level the score at 3–3.
Steven Gerrard burst into the penalty area and was pulled down by Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. A penalty was all that stood between Liverpool and redemption.
Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the penalty, but it was saved by Milan keeper Dida. However, he reacted quickest, and smashed home the rebound to level the score.
In just six minutes, Liverpool had turned around a three goal deficit when the game looked dead and buried.
But, the game wasn’t finished yet. Could they hold on, and even go onto win the match?
The 90 minutes ended with neither side scoring the winning goal. Extra time was much the same, as both teams failed to score.
Penalties would be needed to separate the sides.
It had seemed a remote possibility when Milan went into the second half with a three goal lead, but Liverpool were still in the match.
Milan were the first to take their spot-kick. Midfielder Serginho stepped up, but he sent his penalty sailing over the crossbar. Hamann cooly slotted home his penalty to put Liverpool 1–0 up.
Andrea Pirlo was next for Milan, but his penalty was saved by Liverpool keeper Dudek. Djibril Cisse converted his penalty to give Liverpool a two goal lead.
Jon Dahl Tomasson scored his penalty for Milan, while Riise missed his. Kaka then scored to level the shootout at 2–2.
In what his last game for Liverpool, Šmicer stepped up to take their fourth penalty. He calmly put the ball beyond Dida to give Liverpool a 3–2 lead.
If Milan missed their next penalty, Liverpool would become champions of Europe for the fifth time. A remarkable turnaround would be complete.
Andriy Shevchenko stepped up to take Milan’s fifth penalty. Two year earlier, it was he who scored the winning penalty in the 2003 final against Juventus.
Could he repeat the trick to keep Milan in the match?
Dudek attempted to put Shevchenko off by jumping around in the Liverpool goal, shaking his legs and gesticulating furiously.
Shevchenko glanced at the ref, waiting for the whistle, appearing pensive. On receipt of the whistle, he ran up to the ball.
His penalty went straight down the middle, but Dudek had anticipated it, his outstretched hand stopped the ball in its path.
Cue bedlam in the stands!
Liverpool had won the match on penalties! After appearing out of the game at half-time, they had fought their way back into the match and won it!
The most improbable of comebacks had happened! They were European champions again!
Never Give Up
“We were massive underdogs at the start of the competition and I hold my hands up, I didn’t think we were going to go all the way. At half-time, I also thought it was impossible and that I’d be in tears at the end. We had a mountain to climb but we kept fighting to the end.” — Steven Gerrard
Liverpool had pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport. To recover a three goal lead against, arguably, the best team in Europe was incredible.
It would have been easy for them to go in at half-time and concede defeat. That would have been the easy option.
Why try when defeat is inevitable?
Except it wasn’t inevitable. Just because something seems improbable doesn’t mean it is.
They may not have come out for the second-half truly believing they could turn the match around, but they came out with a desire to right the wrongs of the first half.
To do themselves justice. Once the first goal went in, they started to believe.
Life is much the same.
It’s too easy to let setbacks affect us. To wallow in despair, and use circumstance and situation as an excuse for our failure.
Too often, people quit just before they see the fruits of their labour. Instead of pushing on just that little bit more, they quit because they feel it will never happen.
You have to trust the process.
What’s worse? To have failed knowing you gave it your all, or to quit and always wonder what might have been?
I know which one I’d rather live with.