About That trò chơi is a series looking at the data stories underpinning classic matches. This edition looks back at the Miracle of Istanbul, in which Liverpool came from 3-0 down lớn Milan at half-time lớn eventually lift the UEFA Champions League trophy after a penalty shootout.

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The greatest European Cup final ever? The greatest comeback in football history? One of the greatest football matches of all-time?

We’ll let you decide where the trò chơi ranks. Few would disagree that the 2005 UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul is at least in the conversation for each of those questions.

What is fair to say is that frankly the game was a mismatch – or at least it should have been. One of Milan’s finest ever sides with one of Europe’s brightest managers took on a Liverpool team that was in its first European Cup final for trăng tròn years. A Liverpool side that had gone 15 years without a league title. A Liverpool side that had finished fifth in the Premier League that season, below Merseyside rivals Everton for the first time in 18 years.

Indeed, only once since 2005 has a side reached the Champions League final despite finishing fifth or lower in their league that season (Chelsea in 2011-12 – sixth in the Premier League). Và we all know how that one ended up.

Carlo Ancelotti was Milan’s manager. The same Ancelotti who has just become the first manager in history to lead a side to win each of Europe’s big five leagues. Here we are, 17 years on, and he’ll be taking Liverpool on in Europe’s biggest final once more. It will be his fifth Champions League final as a manager – the most by anyone in European Cup history. He had already won the competition as Milan manager once before 2005. His pedigree at the highest màn chơi is matched by few.

On top of this, Milan’s starting XI for the match read like a World XI in the FIFA video game series. Combined, those 11 starters had made 575 European Cup/Champions League appearances before the 2005 final. Liverpool’s had made less than half that number (250).


Eight of Milan’s starting XI had played in – and won – a Champions League final before 2005, while not one of Liverpool’s had done so.

Most notably, Milan captain Paolo Maldini was making his seventh and penultimate appearance in UEFA’s showpiece event, with his eighth & final one coming in the rematch between Milan and Liverpool in 2007 – a joint-record by any player, alongside Paco Gento, who also made eight with Real Madrid from 1956 khổng lồ 1966.

Indeed, the 2005 final was 16 years on from Maldini’s first in 1989. Almost as long as the 17 years it has now been since that final in Istanbul. For some perspective, can you imagine Xabi Alonso – Liverpool’s youngest 2005 finalist at 23 years, 181 days old – also starting the 2021 final? Remarkable longevity from a fabulous player.

That’s the sort of experience Liverpool were up against. Experience that Liverpool fell 1-0 behind lớn within 50 seconds of match starting, the fastest goal in any Champions League final. The then 36-year-old Maldini was the scorer, still the oldest Champions League final scorer ever.


Liverpool were already in trouble. Milan had kept nine clean sheets in 12 Champions League matches in 2004-05 before the final, the most of any side. On đứng top of that, Liverpool had only scored 15 goals in their 12 previous Champions League matches that season – at 1.25 goals-per-game, only two sides have ever reached the competition’s showpiece with a lower ratio: Milan in 1994-95 (1.10) và Arsenal in 2005-06 (1.17).

Matters were made worse for Liverpool when Harry Kewell was forced off with an injury in just the 23rd minute. In fairness, the Reds held their own for a period, not allowing Milan a single shot between minutes 19 to 38. Perhaps if they could get in at half-time with the score 1-0, they would have a chance…

Hernán Crespo had other ideas. He scored twice in the final seven minutes of the first half, the first after a square pass from Andriy Shevchenko và the second phối up quite exquisitely by Kaká – the youngest player on the pitch at 23 years, 33 days old – with an inch-perfect through ball from inside his own half. Crespo remains one of only three players to score twice in the first half of a Champions League final.

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So, the opening 45 minutes was the mismatch it looked on paper. Liverpool now needed to lớn find three goals in 45 minutes against one of Europe’s tightest defences. And this was not a free-scoring Liverpool. All told in 2004-05, they netted a total of 82 goals in 60 matches, or 1.37 per game. That was their lowest goals-per-game ratio in all competitions in a season since 1973-74 (1.31).

It’s no surprise then that Opta’s live win probability model measured Liverpool’s chances of taking home the trophy at just 0.55% heading into the 54th minute of the match, with the score still 3-0.


But then Steven Gerrard scored. The club captain rose to meet John Arne Riise’s cross & head the ball past Milan’s Dida in goal. It was the third of seven occasions that Riise assisted a Gerrard goal for Liverpool – the most often any one team-mate assisted Gerrard in his entire 710-game, 186-goal Liverpool career.

It was Gerrard’s first headed goal for Liverpool in almost four years, và what a time lớn get it. In all, it was his 13th goal of the 2004-05 season in all competitions, but only two of them came in the Champions League proper. He couldn’t have picked better moments to lớn score those two goals – his famous strike against Olympiakos khổng lồ secure Liverpool’s progression from the group stage, và then this in the final.

Also remarkably, 13 goals were enough to make Gerrard Liverpool’s joint-top scorer of the season, along with Luis García và Milan Baros. Only once since the Football League resumed post-World War II has Liverpool’s đứng đầu scorer in a season netted fewer than 13 goals (Michael Owen’s 12 in 1999-00). It further highlights just how incredibly unlikely this comeback was.

Despite this, it then took just two minutes for Liverpool to get their second. The scorer was Vladimir Smicer. It was his first goal of the season. His first, in fact, for a period of a year & 148 days for Liverpool. The Czech midfielder hadn’t even started the match, and only came on after Kewell’s first-half injury. This was his 184th & final Liverpool appearance.

In fact, Smicer remains one of only two players in Liverpool’s entire history to score in a major final in his last trò chơi for the club, with the other being Djibril Cissé in the following year’s FA Cup final.

It was also Smicer’s first Champions League goal since November 2002 against Basel. Và in a frightening coincidence, that game against Basel saw Liverpool 3-0 behind at half-time. Smicer scored Liverpool’s second goal en-route khổng lồ coming back to lớn draw 3-3. You couldn’t make it up.

There have only been eight individual matches in Champions League history in which a team had come from three goals down to lớn avoid defeat, with Liverpool the only club to bởi so more than once, & Smicer scored their second on both occasions.

So, from 3-0 to lớn 3-2. Và Liverpool weren’t done yet. Gerrard was involved again as he burst into the box before being felled by Gennaro Gattuso. VAR didn’t exist in 2005, but if it had it might have got involved lớn spoil the romance of the moment. The contact was faint. But this was a simpler time. The referee’s decision was final. Penalty khổng lồ Liverpool.

Up stepped Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard had never previously taken a penalty for Liverpool before. But here he was, the youngest Liverpool player on the pitch taking the most important kick of the match. But despite his youth, you have to admire his dedication lớn the drama of the night. Because he missed. Or more accurately, Dida saved. However, he parried the ball straight back out, only for Alonso lớn make amends from the rebound.

⌚️ 54 minutes: AC Milan 3-0 Liverpool⌚️ 60 minutes: AC Milan 3-3 LiverpoolWHAT A COMEBACK FROM
ChampionsLeague final we’ll be talking about for generations!