What was the ‘Miracle in Istanbul’?

The ‘Miracle in Istanbul’ was the epithet given to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final contested by Associazione Calcio (AC) Milan and Liverpool at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on May 25, 2005. Milan took the lead after just 52 seconds, when captain Paulo Maldini volleyed an Andrea Pirlo free-kick past Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek. By half-time, the Rossoneri had established a seemingly unassailable 3-0 advantage, courtesy of two further goals from striker Hernán Crespo.

Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard later confessed, ‘I was sitting there and my head was in my hands, I thought it was over.’ However, early in the second half, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez introduced experienced midfielder Dietmar Hamann, to hold the ball up in the middle of the pitch and allow Gerrard to play further forward. It would be fair to say that the tactical switch worked like a charm.

Eight minutes later, Gerrard headed a John Arne Riise cross past Milan goalkeeper Nélson de Jesus Silva, a.k.a. Dida, two minutes, later Vladimír Šmicer scored with a low drive and, four minutes after that, Xabi Alonso converted a penalty, won by Gerrard, at the second attempt, to complete the comeback. The scores remained tied at 3-3 for the last 30 minutes of normal time and throughout extra time, despite Milan creating numerous chances, and a penalty shoot-out was required to decide the tie.

Milan left-winger Sérgio Cláudio dos Santos, a.k.a. Serginho, missed the first penalty, and Dudek subsequently saved spot-kicks from Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko to give Liverpool an astonishing 3-2 victory. Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said, bewilderedly, ‘ I can’t explain it. I thought Milan were the better team.’

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