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Miracle of Istanbul: 2005 Champions League final in the words of Liverpool's unlikely heroes

The 2023 UEFA Champions League final was the first at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium since Liverpool's remarkable comeback win against AC Milan in 2005. Some of the Reds' champions offer up a detailed account of the build-up, the game and the aftermath of what subsequently became known as the 'Miracle of Istanbul'.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard lifts the UEFA Champions League trophy following the Reds' stunning win in the 2005 final in Istanbul
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard lifts the UEFA Champions League trophy following the Reds' stunning win in the 2005 final in Istanbul PA Images via Getty Images

With the showpiece back at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in 2023, UEFA.com winds back the clock to Liverpool's stunning 2005 UEFA Champions League final victory against AC Milan, taking in first-hand accounts from four of the Reds' key protagonists in Istanbul.

How the 2005 Champions League final unfolded

1' Maldini volleys in fastest final goal
39' Crespo caps lightning-quick counter
44' Crespo dinks past Dudek
54' Gerrard heads in Riise cross
56' Smicer's low drive evades Dida
60' Alonso scores from penalty rebound

The build-up to the 2005 Champions League final

Jerzy Dudek, Liverpool goalkeeper
We went to Spain for a week to prepare ourselves, to have the same kind of humidity, the same temperature. We were working there for one week and it was special, we knew it was special. I remember that Rafa was always telling us, "Listen guys, we know we have people around [AC] Milan, watching [...] how they train, the fitness is not good [...] they have [had] some problems with their physical condition."

Dietmar Hamann, Liverpool midfielder
Without a shadow of a doubt [Milan were the better side]. Anybody who disputes that needs to see a doctor [...] this was a world XI. I think you can make a case for them to be the best team in the last three or four decades. Man-for-man, yes, they were the better side [...] but that doesn't mean they have the better team.

That was always one thing; we had a great spirit, we had great togetherness, and we knew when the chips were down, we could rely on ourselves, and we trusted each other. After beating two very good teams in the quarters [Juventus] and the semis [Chelsea], we were confident that we could give AC Milan a game, or even beat them.

Liverpool's 2005 road to glory

In the dressing room before the game

Luis García, Liverpool forward
Players normally have their own routine. For me [...] it was about focusing on who I had in front of me and what I could do to beat him. I used to get into the dressing room, get dressed quickly and grab a ball and start moving it. I was moving it and moving it, getting confident, and that helped me to release all the tension and stress that you generate in that hour and a half or 24 hours before these big games.

Dietmar Hamann
To hear the 11 players read out by Rafa was a bit of a blow. Before games, you get an idea or a feeling whether you'll play or not and I was pretty sure that I would play. So, obviously the disappointment [of being left out] was probably a bit bigger.

Harry [Kewell] was an exceptional player [...] in terms of ability, probably one of the best five or six I played with. He could drop a shoulder and walk past players. He missed large parts of the season but, you know, the manager decided that this is the way we were going to set up and I had to accept it because at the end of the day, it's a team game and [...] you can't win games on your own.

After a couple of minutes [of disappointment], it's very important that you're in the right frame of mind, because there could be an injury in the warm-up, an injury in the first half as it happened [Kewell in the 23rd minute], and you've got to be in the right frame of mind to help the team.

The Champions League anthem

2005 final highlights: Liverpool 3-3 Milan (3-2 pens)

Luis García
When the camera started moving around with the anthem [playing] and showing the players, at the end you can see the nerves in the players and the tension of the moment, and I was laughing. I wasn't trying to be arrogant or anything. I was just enjoying the moment and that made me smile. Of course, after, when you're on the pitch, you're focused and concentrating.

The first half

Dietmar Hamann
The first [goal] goes in after a minute and I thought "It's better to concede in the first minute than in the 89th. There's still a lot of time". Just after half an hour, [Alessandro] Nesta goes to ground, Luis García goes past him, he handles it, [that] probably should have been a penalty. They go to the other end and make it 2-0.

[Milan] make it 3-0 with a wonderful pass by Kaká and the finish by [Hernán] Crespo, it's just a thing of beauty. They showed all their class in that third goal. It was beautiful to watch [...] I had to pinch myself thinking, "Wow! If we get beat by these, then so be it."


Half-time: Milan 3-0 Liverpool

Jerzy Dudek
We were in shock. We went to the dressing room. Some of the players were very angry, some of the players were very sad. [Rafael Benítez's] assistant, Alex Miller, said, "Forget about the first half. First of all, you have to score the goal as fast as you can [...] then, you have to score the second goal [...] when they start to panic, you're going to score this third goal straight away, because you're English, you're Liverpool, you always play to the end."

We did a circle and [Steven Gerrard] said, "Listen, guys. Do you hear that? They still believe in us. We have to give them something back." We didn't think that we'd score the three goals but we wanted to keep our level, the character. We wanted to give maybe one goal to give something back to the supporters.

Liverpool fans look to rouse their team at half-time of the 2005 Champions League final
Liverpool fans look to rouse their team at half-time of the 2005 Champions League finalGetty Images

Dietmar Hamann
It was probably the most empty I've felt in my career as a football player and [...] I didn't see a way back [into the game]. [Rafael Benítez said ] we'd make a change. The reason [for] me coming on was to give Steven Gerrard the freedom to go a bit further forward because he was our biggest goal threat.

Every time games got tight and got into a dog fight, there was no better team than us. I thought to myself, "If we get it back to 3-2, let's see how they react." Yes, they are a world-class team, but sometimes even the best teams under pressure do make mistakes. So, from going in at half-time to standing on the touchline 15 minutes later, my mindset had completely changed. I didn't believe we could win it, but I was hoping, I was believing, at least we could give them a game.

The second half

Jerzy Dudek
It was a magical start when we came out. We started to hear 'You'll Never Walk Alone' from the supporters [...] 1,000, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people, stood up and started to sing. [Dietmar] Hamann came on and I think that was the key, he was a key player to stop them going through the middle, and he kept the ball, which was very important.

Dietmar Hamann
When I came on, I didn't expect [us] to score three goals within 15 or 16 minutes. So, I think, the clock, when I turned around when the rebound of Xabi Alonso goes in, I think it was 59:04. Sometimes you forget the time. The longer it goes [on], sometimes you have to look at the clock because, obviously, you may make different decisions [based] on where the clock is. When I turned around [...] I was expecting 76 or 77 minutes.

It cost us emotional energy in the second half to score those goals. The fans came back, we came back, the whole mood and the atmosphere in the stadium changed.

Rafael Benítez, Liverpool manager
I always say that [Carlo] Ancelotti was right because Serginho was a good substitute to bring on [in the 86th minute], he widened [Milan's] attack. We reacted correctly by putting Steven out [on the right] because he could stop him and also attack.

Extra time

Liverpool's Luis García celebrates
Liverpool's Luis García celebrates Getty Images

Dietmar Hamann
We had to change our game plan after we made it 3-3 and then in extra time. You're never on top for 90 minutes. It goes in phases. You talk about game management, you talk about game intelligence, I think we had a few players in that team who had that in abundance. Jamie Carragher was one of them. He was a brilliant reader of the game and we just knew, without the manager having to say anything, what we had to do at which time.

Jerzy Dudek
Someone threw the ball into the box and I saw two, three players. One of them was Jon Dahl Tomasson, and the other was Sheva [Andriy Shevchenko], and I shouted to Sami [Hyypiä] that someone was behind him. And then I turned, and I had the header, the first header. It bounced just before me, a difficult ball. I just pushed the ball from the line, and I went into the goal, maybe half a yard, and I said to myself, "Yeah, now you have to expect the rebound [from Andriy Shevchenko]."

You have to [...] go out of the line and make yourself as big as you can because you only have a few seconds. Sheva put all [of his] power, probably, in this shot, and that's why he gave me the chance to save it. It was a little bit of intuition, [...] a little bit of luck, a little bit of a training session.

Dietmar Hamann
They [had] brought some great players on [...], Rui Costa and Jon Dahl Tomasson, Serginho, and we just had to defend, because [...] in extra time, there were a lot of tired players; Carragher going down with cramp numerous times, Stevie going down with cramp. We just had to hang on somehow and get into the penalty shoot-out.

Penalty shoot-out

Jerzy Dudek denies Andriy Shevchenko in the penalty shoot-out
Jerzy Dudek denies Andriy Shevchenko in the penalty shoot-outAFP via Getty Images

Rafael Benítez
When it went to penalties, that was a result of luck and hard work because of the five penalty takers Milan had, we knew about four of them very well and where they usually shot. We'd been compiling information and statistics on them for some time. That once again came down to our methodical nature.

Luis García
I asked Rafa Benítez to let me take [a penalty] and he said no. I was surprised because when I was with him at Tenerife, I was responsible for taking penalties. I asked a second time and he said, "No, because you're tired and you felt cramps, and I prefer [to let] another player take it." Because he saw I was quite interested in trying, he said, "OK, you will take the sixth one." We'll never know if it was going in or not.

Dietmar Hamann
I thought to myself at the start of the penalty shoot-out, "If we don't beat them now, we never will." My task [of taking Liverpool's first penalty] was made a little bit easier because Serginho missed the first but, at the same time, I knew it was a pretty big moment because we had the chance, or I had the chance, to put us ahead [for] the first time on the night. I had my spot where I was going to go and I thought "If [Dida] doesn't move early, which some goalkeepers do, I'll stick with it", and I probably couldn't have hit it any sweeter. I probably hit it exactly where I wanted to, [...] it was a big relief when it went in.

Jerzy Dudek
When it came to the penalty shoot-out, I went straight to the goalkeeping coach, [José] Ochotorena. Before that game, I watched something like 100 [AC Milan] penalties; from the previous Champions League final [...] and many more. I said, "Ocho [...] when I look at you, you raise your hand, left or right, I will provoke them to shoot to their favoured side."

Jerzy Dudek celebrates Liverpool winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005
Jerzy Dudek celebrates Liverpool winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005 Getty Images

Suddenly, Carra [Jamie Carragher] jumps on my back, [...] pushing me, "Jerzy, come on Jerzy! You need to put the pressure on them! More pressure! Come on [...] do something! Remember Bruce, remember Bruce Grobbelaar." I didn't want to make them laugh, I just wanted to put more pressure on the players.

The first penalty, I was moving a little bit. A little bit to the left, to the right, raising my hands like semaphores, and he shot over. And then [the] next penalty, I was doing something, some spaghetti legs, [like] when I saw Bruce in [the European Cup final] 1984. When I saved [it], I knew I was off the line. I saw the referee and I said to myself, "If you [look at] the referee's eyes, he will cancel it." Then I turned around to the supporters, I was cheering, [...] everything was OK.

The celebrations

Rafael Benítez
Is the cup heavy? You don't even notice. Even if it was a hundred kilos, you'd pick it up anyway. Once you reach that euphoria, [...] that satisfaction and happiness, you enjoy the moment and see everything around you, all the red with so many people with so much passion.

They shoot the confetti and it turns into a party. While that party was going on, I had a friend outside who wasn’t allowed in. So they called me and said, "Hey, there's a friend of yours outside who isn't being let in." So I go out and look for him and after I find him we try to go back inside and I didn't have my credentials and the security guard wouldn't let me in. So, my friend says, "Do you know who this gentleman is? [...] He's God, this gentleman is God." Then finally the guard let us in.

Steven Gerrard and Rafael Benítez lift the UEFA Champions League trophy
Steven Gerrard and Rafael Benítez lift the UEFA Champions League trophyGetty Images

Dietmar Hamann
We left the dressing room 90 minutes, 100 minutes earlier, dead and buried. Now [...] you come back after the second half, after extra time, after penalties, after getting the trophy and celebrating with the fans, all of a sudden you come back in the dressing room, you left two hours before when you thought you were beaten. So there was no dancing or jumping around. With the time difference in Turkey, I think the game didn’t finish until after midnight, it was half twelve, one o’clock. It was all a bit surreal because there were no wild celebrations afterwards. It was more disbelief.

Arriving back on Merseyside

Dietmar Hamann
There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, waiting for us to come back, and then we had the open-top bus going back to the city centre. It was meant to take a couple of hours. I think, in the end, it took four or five because there were up to a million people in the streets. To see so many happy people, bringing the trophy back for the first time in 21 years was just why you play the game.

When you see [...] people from five years old to 90 years old, some of them had tears running down their cheeks, that is what sticks with you, and that was probably the most memorable moment I take out of these few days in Istanbul and then on the way back. That's what makes it so special. It is a special club, it is a special city.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and coach Rafael Benítez arrive back at John Lennon Airport
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and coach Rafael Benítez arrive back at John Lennon AirportGetty Images
The scene in Liverpool the day after the final
The scene in Liverpool the day after the finalGetty Images
The open-top bus makes its way through the crowds
The open-top bus makes its way through the crowds Getty Images
Liverpool players soak up the acclaim
Liverpool players soak up the acclaimGetty Images
The bus winds past Anfield
The bus winds past AnfieldGetty Images

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