Some people regard this final as one of the greatest if not the greatest Champions League finals of all time. So much entertainment and nail biting stuff for both throughout the match. A 6 goal thriller that pretty much all of us would like to see again in a Champions League final.
Road to the Final
Group: In their group Milan had to take on Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic. 3 great teams and all ones who would be strong enough to qualify for the next round. Easily their toughest opponents in the group would be Barcelona, who at the time held the services of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Zambrotta and many other great players. In the group itself Milan finished on top with 13 points to their name 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss (the loss coming against Barcelona at the Nou Camp).
Knockout Rounds: In the first knockout round they saw off English giants Manchester United with two 1-0 wins. In the Quarter Final they faced their arch enemies Inter Milan, they saw them off easily in this game with a 2-0 and 3-0 victory. In the Semi Final they faced Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. They won 2-0 at home but lost 3-1 away, they got through on aggregate for their clean sheet at home.
Third Qualifying Round: Liverpool started at an earlier stage than Milan and had to face Austrian side Grazer AK to seal their place in the Group Stages, they won over the 2 legs with a 2-0 win away from home but a 1-0 defeat at home.
Group: In their group they had to face Monaco, Olympiacos and runners up from the previous year Deportivo La Coruna. In the end they finished up 2nd in their group and sealed their place in the knockout stages with a late winner in their last group match against Olympiacos with a goal from captain Steven Gerrard to give them the 3-1 win they needed to go through. Their tally in the group was 2nd place, 10 points level with Olympiacos, 3 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses.
Knockout Rounds: In the first knockout round Liverpool faced Bayer Leverkusen and saw them off easily with 2 3-1 wins to give them a 6-2 win on aggregate. They then went and faced Italian giants Juventus in the Quarter finals of the competition, a 2-1 win at home was what sealed it for them after they achieved a 0-0 draw away from home. A home derby was what faced them in the semi final against Chelsea. In the match at Stamford Bridge the match was 0-0, however the leg at Anfield tells a different story. In the 4th minute of the second leg, Luis Garcia “scored” what was the goal that put them through under very controversial circumstances. Did the ball really go over the line? I personally don’t think it did, when you look at the replays you see Geremi clear the ball off of the line after Luis Garcia tries to shoot after Cech was in no mans land with the ball bouncing awkwardly. So should Liverpool have gone through to the final? What would have happened if the match went to penalties if Garcia’s goal was disallowed? All questions we will never know the answer to unfortunately, but still Liverpool made it to the final.
The Final itself was just one of those great football showcases showing that if you want something enough then you can get it no matter how much your being beat, you can come back and win as long as you have got the heart and determination to do so… that is what Liverpool showed in this final and that is why I think that this Champions League final in particular is such a special match of football.
AC Milan: Dida, Cafu, Maldini, Stam, Nesta, Gattuso (Rui Costa 112′), Seedorf (Serginho 86′), Pirlo, Kaka, Shevchenko, Crespo (Tomasson 85′)
Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan (Hamman 46′), Traore, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, Luis Garcia, Alonso, Kewell (Smicer 23′), Baros (Cisse 85′)
The Match Itself
Maldini (1′), Crespo (39′, 44′) | Gerrard (54′), Smicer (56′), Alonso (59′)
AC Milan got themselves off to a dream start in this match with Captain and Milan legend Paolo Maldini putting his side ahead when he got on the end of a free kick from Andrea Pirlo and put the ball past Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek. One of Liverpool risks going into the game of playing Harry Kewell didn’t pay of for them as he was taken off with a groin injury 22 minutes in, he was replaced by Vladimir Smicer. AC Milan eventually doubled their lead 6 minutes from half time with, with Andre Shevchenko breaking away then passing the ball across the box for Hernan Crespo to finish. 1 minute from the break AC Milan picked up their third of the match in what was truly a wondrous goal. It started with playmaker Kaka picking up the ball in his own half and then playing one of the best through balls that you will ever be able to see absolutely spitting the Liverpool defence apart. That through ball went to Hernan Crespo who then chipped the ball over Jerzy Dudek who was closing him down and into the back of the net. Absolute heartbreak was what all of the Liverpool team, supporters in the stadium and at home must have felt when the whistle was blown for half time, I am pretty sure that all supporters must have felt little faith with the huge mountain that their team would have to climb. But the Liverpool team were determined to make them proud and when the Second Half started it felt like we were seeing a new team.Liverpool did make a change at half time as manager Rafa Benitez took off Steve Finnan who had a thigh injury and brought on Dietmar Hamman. 10 minutes into the second half we saw 5 minutes of what can only be described as the maddest 5 minutes in a Champions League final ever. It started in the 54th minute with John Arne Riise sending a cross into the box with Steven Gerrard rising to meet and put past AC Milan goalkeeper Dida to give Liverpool a lifeline. 2 minutes later substitute Vladimir Smicer picked up the ball outside the box and smashed the ball into the bottom left of the net from 25 yards, Liverpool were almost there. The 59th minute was Liverpools true moment, with some great build up play a through ball was put through to Steven Gerrard and he was clear through on goal until Gennaro Gattuso pulled down Steven Gerrard in the area as he was about to put the ball away. Xavi Alonso stepped up to take the spot kick and his original shot was saved by Dida but Alonso put the ball away on the rebound to give Liverpool the equaliser. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ACCOMPLISHED. In the last 30 minutes of the second half AC Milan had a number of chances to go ahead but they were saved including 1 chance cleared off the line by Djimi Traore when he cleared the ball of the line when Jerzy Dudek fumbled a cross from Hernan Crespo. The match then went to extra time and Shevchenko was again denied 3 minutes from the end of extra time by Dudek. The match then went to penalties…
AC Milan missed both of their first 2 penalties taken in the shootout by both Serginho and Andrea Pirlo, whereas Dietmar Hamman and Djibril Cisse both converted their penalties for the shootout for Liverpool. Jon Dahl Thomasson then scored Milans first penalty of the shootout to put them back into contention in the shootout and John Arne Riise then missed for Liverpool. Kaka then put Milan on level terms in the shootout nail biting time for Liverpool fans, however Smicer then converted his penalty for Liverpool. The penultimate spot kick of the shootout came down to Europe’s deadliest finisher at the time Andre Shevchenko. He went straight down the middle and Dudek saved it despite diving to his right, winning the shootout and the Champions League for Liverpool.
This was certainly one of the greatest Champions League finals all time and one final that will be remembered forever in the hearts of Liverpool fans. Possibly the greatest match in Liverpool FC’s history…