ATHENS, May 21 (Reuters) - AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti called them “six minutes of madness” and they transformed the 2005 Champions League final into one of the greatest matches in football history.
Two years ago this week, on May 25, 2005 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Milan met Liverpool in a match that has no equal in European club football’s half-century of drama.
Milan struck first with less than a minute played when skipper and defender Paolo Maldini, playing in his seventh final, found himself in space after Liverpool failed to clear and lashed the ball home for his first goal of the season.
Milan, buoyed by the goal then tore Liverpool apart in a one-sided first half in which Kaka was awesome. They played with mesmeric pace, controlled passing and their movement on and off the ball left Liverpool in tatters.
Hernan Crespo, on loan at the time from Chelsea, seemed to wrap the match up with two goals in a five-minute spell just before halftime to give Milan a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead.
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who said he has watched the replay of the match many times since, recalled last week how he felt at halftime.
“People always ask me what happened during the interval and want to hear me say we were like lunatics believing we were going to win,” he said.
“But the way they were playing I was fearing it was going to be 5-0 or 6-0. And at the start of the second half Milan look like they are going to score again.
“But we turned it around. I’m only just starting to realise what an achievement it was. It was probably as good a game as there has ever been.”
What did happen at halftime was that Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez reshaped his defence and brought on Dietmar Hamann to mark Kaka. The balance of power had shifted.
The fightback started in the 54th minute when Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard headed wide and high over Milan goalkeeper Dida to make it 3-1.
Two minutes later substitute Vladimir Smicer scored with a speculative 20-metre shot and it was 2-3. Four minutes after that “the madness” was completed when Xabi Alonso scored from the rebound after Dida had saved his penalty.
It was 3-3 with half an hour to play.
Liverpool’s Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek then performced a heroic double-reflex save from European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko two minutes from the end of extra time to ensure a penalty shootout.
Liverpool took control of the shootout when Serginho and Andrea Pirlo failed with Milan’s first two penalties.
Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Smicer scored for Liverpool and Shevchenko’s weak effort was comfortably saved by Dudek to seal the English side’s unlikely triumph.
Ancelotti later said his team lost the match because of the “six minutes of madness” after halftime.
Wednesday’s sequel in Athens is unlikely to be quite as spectacular — but after what happened in Istanbul two years ago, it would take a brave man to say nothing like it could ever happen again.