On this day in 2005, an underdog rabble of pieced-together Liverpool stars pulled off arguably the greatest comeback in the history European football. Barcelona’s incredible turnaround against PSG earlier this season may have set pulses racing, but the La Liga giants beating their lesser French counterparts on their home turf had nothing on the unlikeliness of the Miracle of Istanbul.
Indeed, what can only be described as an unexceptional Liverpool side containing a few genuinely exceptional players found themselves three goals down to arguably the greatest team of their generation, Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan, at half-time. From a near-impenetrable back four to Andrea Pirlo and Kaka in midfield and Andry Shevchenko, at that time the most lethal goalscorer in world football, up top, Rossoneri’s cast was as star-studded as it was talented and their healthy lead after just 45 minutes was by no means surprising.
But then something special happened; Liverpool dusted themselves off, got back out there and pulled themselves level by the hour mark. Suddenly, momentum had shifted and by the time the penalty shootout came to an end it was the Merseysiders who emerged victorious. Certainly not the most convincing European title in the club’s history, but unquestionably the most special. So, where are that gang of unlikely heroes now, twelve years later? FootballFanCast takes a look…
Perhaps the unlikeliest of all heroes in Istanbul considering the doubts that lingered over his goalkeeping abilities for much of his Liverpool career, Jerzy Dudek’s flailing legs were the difference in the penalty shootout, putting off Serginho and Andrea Pirlo before shutting out the deciding spot kick from Andriy Shevchenko. Fast forward twelve years and Dudek is now a racing driver, believe it or not, trading the thrill of football for the adrenaline of 24-hour automotive endurance challenges. From 33 races thus far, however, he’s made the podium just once and is still waiting for that all-important first win.
Steve Finnan worked his way up from the depths of non-league with Welling United to make the Champions League final, the highest pinnacle of club football. He was taken off just after half-time, leaving Captain Fantastic Steven Gerrard to fill in at right-back for much of the match, but is remembered fondly by Liverpool fans as the hardworking, unsung hero of their starting XI. After making his final professional appearance for Portsmouth in the 2010 FA Cup final against Chelsea, the Irishman disappeared off the face of the earth, leading The Liverpool Echo to launch their ‘missing’ campaign in 2015. Finnan turned up shorty after, now living as a property developer in London.
This is an easy one. After retiring as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players, ranking second in their all-time appearances chart, Jamie Carragher moved into punditry, partnering up with former adversary Gary Neville to cement his status as one of the best in the business when it comes to scathing whiteboard analysis. There are still many who beg him to move into management, putting that defensive nous and industriousness to good use, but for now he remains one of the jewels in the Sky Sports crown.
By the time the 2005 Champions League final came around, Sami Hyypia was a declining favourite, edging towards his 32nd birthday and no longer the dominant centre-half of his lesser years. Nonetheless, he played the full 120 minutes and is remembered fondly by the Anfield faithful for his decade at the club. After retiring in 2010, the Finland international turned his hand to management but has struggled to prove successful thus far; during spells with Bayer Leverkusen, Brighton and FC Zurich, he failed to last more than two seasons, leaving the latter club at the end of last season after winning just nine of his 30 games in charge and consequentially relegating them to the second division. He’s still waiting for his next chance.
A strong candidate for the least talented and therefore most fortunate player to ever start a Champions League final, Djimi Traore is equally famed for his comical own goal against Burnley, backheeling the ball into his own net. Unsurprisingly, the Mali international’s Liverpool career only spanned a year after the night in Istanbul, joining Charlton Athletic, then Portsmouth, then Monaco, then Marseille and finally testing himself in the MLS. Somewhat surprisingly considering his lack of common sense on the pitch, the left-back now works as assistant manager at Seattle Sounders, backing up Brian Schmeltzer. That partnership seems unlikely to end any time soon, after Seattle lifted the MLS Cup at the end of last season.
Winning the Champions League with Liverpool was just the start of Xabi Alonso’s incredible career. Equally incredibly, Rafa Benitez saw fit to sell him to Real Madrid in 2009 and buy Alberto Aquillani instead. A year later, he won the World Cup with Spain. Two years after that, he won La Liga. And two years after that, he lifted Europe’s top honour once again. That heralded a move to Bayern Munich, whom Alonso made his final appearance for last weekend. He’s now officially retired, but here’s hoping we see the playmaking maestro return to football as a manager or coach in the near future.
The owner of the ghost goal that took Liverpool to the final, Luis Garcia didn’t have such supernatural luck in Istanbul but added real class and netting prowess to Liverpool’s midfield. After leaving Anfield in 2007, aged 29, he went on to represent a further seven clubs, his most recent being Central Coast Mariners – featuring for them ten times in 2016. He now works as a pundit for beIN Sport, but regularly pops up at Anfield to take in the odd game.
Once famed as the man with the hardest shot in football, John Arne Riise’s left-footed drives created countless memories for Liverpool fans down the years. The Norway centurion didn’t enjoy the best of finals and even missed in the penalty shootout but remains a cult hero on Merseyside. After a prolonged spell at Fulham, the defender-come-midfielder split the remainder of his career between playing in his native Norway, Cyrpus and the Indian Super League – one can only imagine the amount of sun cream he needed. Riise retired in 2016 but has since signed for SK Rollen in the fourth division of Norwegian football, so the 36-year-old may not be done just yet.
The Man of the Match in the Champions League final and the star who ignited Liverpool’s comeback, scoring their first to make it 3-1 and winning the penalty to level the scores at 3-3. Of course, Gerrard went down in the history books as Liverpool’s greatest ever player, leaving after 710 appearances and 186 goals to enjoy a brief swansong in the MLS. After hanging up his boots in November last year, he became a youth coach at Liverpool in January.
An undoubted talent who never quite proved it at Anfield, Harry Kewell’s 23-minute Champions League final appearance, coming off through injury, was symptomatic of his Liverpool career. He was replaced by Vladimir Smicer who netted Liverpool’s second with a delicately-placed shot into the far corner and later the penalty that proved to be the decider. Whereas Kewell took the head coach job at Crawley earlier this week after being dismissed as a youth coach by Watford, Smicer’s last great act of note came in 2014 – when he took an anti-obesity stance in the Czech Republic’s EU elections.
Milan Baros was notorious for his inability to score goals and that’s exactly what happened in the Champions League final, making a muted impression before being eventually subbed off for penalty converter Djibril Cisse. Rather incredibly, however, the flopped striker is still just 35 years of age and continues to ply his trade in the beautiful game, spending the 2016/17 season at Slovan Liberec. He scored one goal in two Europa League appearances this term, but his domestic form – just three goals in 23 Czech First League outings – has left a lot to be desired. No surprises there.