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Champions League: From Istanbul to Anfield, two miracles

That night in Istanbul--May 25, 2005--Liverpool, led by Steven Gerrard, clawed back from a three-goal deficit against AC Milan in six ferocious second-half minutes before winning their fifth European Cup in penalties.

football Updated: May 09, 2019 15:20 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Champions League,Istanbul,Anfield
Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah (2L), manager Jurgen Klopp (C) and defender Virgil van Dijk celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona(AFP)

Liverpool’s sensational 4-0 win over Barcelona at Anfield, overturning a 3-0 deficit from their Champions League semi-final first leg, brought back memories of another famous European comeback, 14 years back.

That night in Istanbul--May 25, 2005--Liverpool, led by Steven Gerrard, clawed back from a three-goal deficit against AC Milan in six ferocious second-half minutes before winning their fifth European Cup in penalties.

It remains one of Liverpool’s greatest nights, a story of defiance in the face of despair. But when the dust settles on this Champions League campaign, and if Liverpool do go on to become European champions on June 1, Tuesday’s 4-0 win could well surpass the incredible Istanbul comeback in the eyes of many. There is good reason for it. Without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita and with influential left-back Andy Robertson injured in the first half, Liverpool summoned the spirit of that 2005 night and steamrolled one of the best teams in the world, featuring arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

Also Read: Spurs ‘super-heroes’ into Champions League final as Lucas breaks Ajax hearts

While the dynamics of a second half comeback in a one-off final and that in a two-legged semi-final are vastly different, there are some striking similarities between the two games.

That night, this night

In Istanbul, for instance, Liverpool lost Harry Kewell to injury in the first half. His replacement, Vladimir Smicer, went on to score in the 56th minute. On Tuesday, Geoginio Wijnaldum replaced the injured Robertson at the beginning of the second half and also scored in the 56th minute, two minutes after scoring Liverpool’s second.

The substitution of Wijnaldum for Robertson, albeit forced due to the latter’s injury, was also similar to the one Liverpool made at the beginning of the second half in Istanbul when a midfielder, Dietmar Hamann, replaced a fullback in Steve Finnan.

Chasing a 3-0 deficit in Istanbul, Gerrard had begun Liverpool’s comeback with a goal in the 54th minute before Smicer got one two minutes later. On Tuesday, Wijnaldum scored Liverpool’s second and third goals in the 54th and 56th minutes, respectively.

It was not just the coincidence in timing, but the manner of Wijnaldum’s equaliser that evoked memories of an iconic image from Istanbul, one where Gerrard took a giant leap to head in a cross from the left flank. A superstitious Liverpool fan will be forgiven for seeing Wijnaldum’s goal as an omen for an impending sixth European Cup.

Also Read: Liverpool legends salute fightback for the ages

To top it off, goalkeeper Alisson made a number of key saves in the game, most notably from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba in the first half. It is difficult to imagine Liverpool reaching the final had Alisson conceded from one of those shots, just as it is difficult to imagine Liverpool winning in Istanbul without goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek making an astonishing double save from Andriy Shevchenko late in the game.

Red fortress

Liverpool will go into the final in Madrid as the favourites to lift the title, but irrespective of what happens in the title clash, the win over Barcelona will lend further credence to the aura surrounding European nights at Anfield. Be it the 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne en route to their first European Cup in 1977, the last-gasp 3-1 win over Olympiacos that took them past the group stages in 2005, the semi-final wins over Chelsea in 2005 and 2007, or the dramatic 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund in the 2015-16 Europa League, Liverpool at Anfield is an untameable beast.

As Arsene Wenger warned Barcelona ahead of Tuesday’s game: “In the return leg, the only place you don’t want to go to is to Anfield.”

First Published: May 09, 2019 15:17 IST