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Liverpool tale has happy ending
Trevor Huggins |
June 10, 2005 18:11 IST
UEFA's decision on Friday to allow Liverpool to defend their Champions League trophy rounded off a European campaign that will live long in the memory on Merseyside.
The unexpected victory over AC Milan in Istanbul was a throwback to Liverpool's golden era from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when they won four European Cups and a string of domestic titles.
None of those successes, though, could compare with last month's for sheer drama.
Having started the final as rank outsiders and been a goal down in the first minute, Liverpool's nightmare in Turkey continued until halftime, when they trailed 3-0.
Captain Steven Gerrard led the astonishing comeback, scoring one goal and setting up another as Liverpool put three past Milan's much-touted defence in the space of six minutes.
A remarkable double-save by Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek to deny European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko in extra time earned a penalty shootout in which the Pole inspired his team to an improbable 3-2 victory.
It was a fitting end to a European campaign in which Liverpool had been defying the odds all season under their new Spanish coach Rafael Benitez.
After squeezing through the qualifying round with a 2-1 aggregate win over Graz AK, they appeared to be heading out of the competition as they lined up to face Olympiakos in their final group game at Anfield.
Liverpool needed to win by a two-goal margin but had ground out only a 2-1 lead until the 86th minute, when Gerrard blasted an unstoppable third on the half-volley from 25 metres.
His stunning strike lined up what proved to be an easy knockout round encounter with Bayer Leverkusen, won 6-2 on aggregate, and a draw that many in football dreaded, a quarter-final with Juventus, 20 years after the Heysel Stadium tragedy.
Thirty-nine mainly Italian fans died when a wall collapsed following a charge by Liverpool fans at the Brussels stadium, shortly before the English team's 1985 European Cup final against Juventus.
The Italian side went on to secure an empty victory and the two clubs had not met in competition since that night.
Two decades later, players set history to one side as Liverpool chalked up a 2-1 home win and showed their defensive mettle by battling to a fully-deserved 0-0 draw in Turin.
Their reward was an all-English semi-final with a Chelsea side who had beaten them home and away in the Premier League and come from behind to defeat them in the League Cup final.
Liverpool paid no heed to the form book, however.
Another goalless away draw and a controversial 1-0 home win, in which Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia's early effort was judged to have narrowly crossed the line, sent Liverpool through to a final which only their most loyal fans had predicted.