Sportstar’s classics: Liverpool’s miracles of Istanbul, Anfield

With the COVID-19 crisis bringing a halt to sporting events, Sportstar revisits some memorable performances across sporting disciplines from the past.

Back from the brink: Steven Gerrard was at the forefront of an amazing turnaround that is well known as the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’.   -  AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations and postponements of most big-ticket sports tournaments. If the lack of sporting action has left a void in your day, here's something to satiate that hunger — our pick of classic matches from the years gone by that you should revisit.

Liverpool vs AC Milan, Champions League final, 2004-05

Before Calciopoli scandal broke Italian football, AC Milan was the team to beat in Europe. Boasting a star-studded line-up with the likes of Kaka, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, and Andriy Shevchenko, the Rossoneri lost only once, drew once in the group stage and brushed aside Manchester United, Inter and PSV Eindhoven in the knockouts. Meanwhile, Liverpool walked on its fours into the knock-outs, thanks to an inspired win over the Olympiakos in the last group game and held on to a 1-0 aggregate against domestic rival Chelsea to reach the final.

Despite both teams having a sizeable cabinet of European titles, AC Milan was the overwhelming favourite and for the first half of the match, it looked like usual business. Milan captain Paolo Maldini scored in the first minute of the match while Hernan Crespo scored twice at the end of first period to leave Liverpool with a mountain to climb.

The Reds walked back to the dugout shoulders slouched as Rafael Benitez chucked his half-time speech and urged his men to score just one goal as he believed fans will take care of the rest. The travelling Liverpool fans lit up Istanbul’s Olympic Stadium in red flares as they sang a spine-tingling rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Nine minutes into the second half, Steven Gerrard rose high inside the box to head John Arne Riise’s cross into the net. 1-3. In the 56th minute, Vladmir Smicer sent a low drive past Dida sending the Reds fans into raptures. 2-3. Gerrard, who played like a man possessed, spurred on the roaring crowd as he drew a foul from Gattuso inside the box on the hour mark. Xabi Alonso stepped to the spot kick, Dida guessed right but the Spaniard was alert to blast the rebound into the net. 3-3. The match went into extra time and then into the penalty shootout.

Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek kept fidgeting inside the goal to distract Milan’s penalty takers as his antics worked. The Pole kept out Pirlo after Serginho had blasted over, before repelling Shevchenko to complete “Miracle of Istanbul.” It was also the first Champions League final where a team came back from three goals down to lift the trophy.

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Barcelona vs PSG - Champions League Round of 16 second leg, 2016-17

After a demoralising quarterfinal elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the previous season, Barcelona began the 2016-17 season with a 7-0 thrashing of Celtic and topped Group C scoring 20 goals in six matches. Paris Saint-Germain looked imposing in the group stages, beating holder Real Madrid 3-0 to top Group A. Barcelona faced its boogeyman in former Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria who ripped into the frail defence with a sumptuous free-kick in the opening half and added one more in the second half. Edinson Cavani and Julian Draxler added two more to round off a 4-0 win at Parc des Princes and put PSG in the driving seat.

The second leg was altogether a different story. With the capacity crowd of Camp Nou behind them, Barcelona’s then fabled attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar turned on the style. Three minutes into first half, Suarez headed in from close range to put Barca 1-0 ahead. Near the end of the half, Andres Iniesta waltzed into the PSG box and got a deflection off Layvin Kurzawa to put the host 2-0.

The Catalans’ belief of overcoming the deficit grew stronger when Neymar earned them penalty in the 50th minute as Messi calmly slotted home. Cavani seemed to have put the tie to bed when he scored a valuable away goal for PSG in the 62nd minute as Barcelona looked to go down fighting. With two minutes left on the clock, Neymar pulled off a stunning free-kick at the left-side corner but PSG was still ahead 5-4 on aggregate. As the fourth official announced six minutes of injury time, PSG whittled under pressure. Thiago Silva fouled Suarez inside the box as Neymar ran in from outside the area to score from the spot kick. 5-5, one more to go. Brash fouls across the pitch nudged the clock further past six minutes and with less than 10 seconds remaining, Neymar floated a ball towards the far post as substitute Sergi Roberto escaped the off-side trap and poked home as the stands erupted in joy.

As the final whistle went off, Messi, looking dazed in ecstasy, climbed over the advertisement boards to salute the fans creating one of the most iconic images in football history. Dubbed as ‘La Remontada’, or the comeback, it remains the first instance in Champions League knock-outs where a team went through after losing the first leg by three goals or more.

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Liverpool vs Barcelona – Champions League semifinal second leg, 2018-19

It had been 15 years since Liverpool won a continental title and losing two European finals in three seasons did not bode well against a Barcelona team in rampaging form. Lionel Messi scored twice, including an incredible free-kick, in the 3-0 first leg victory as the Catalans looked set to enter the final after a series of heartbreaking eliminations.

Barcelona's players celebrate after their miraculous come-from-behind win in Camp Nou. - GETTY IMAGES

 

Jurgen Klopp, who was missing his key attackers Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, was facing a Herculean task. Despite the heavy first-leg defeat, he stuck to his high-pressing game while a raucous home crowd turned Anfield into a bubbling cauldron. Divock Origi, who started in place of injured Salah, stepped up to the occasion with a goal in the seventh minute while goalkeeper Alisson Becker made a crucial save off Jordi Alba to keep Liverpool in the hunt at half time.

The Reds turned on the heat in the second half with its full-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold bombing forward to send dangerous crosses into the box. Georginio Wijnaldum found an end product to Alexander-Arnold’s low cross in the 54th minute as the home fans danced in the stands. On the sidelines, Klopp stood defiant, only clenched his fist, as if to indicate there was more come. Two minutes later, Wijnaldum jumped above the Barca’s defence to send a header into the back of net as noise levels around the stadium reached fever pitch.

With one goal needed and standing over a corner kick, Alexander-Arnold harked at a ball boy’s voice and noticed that Barcelona’s defenders were busy looking at a second ball being kicked off the pitch. In a flash, the full back whipped in a low ball at the near post as an unmarked Origi deflected the ball into the net. A sense of incredulity prevailed over the stadium. Another bitter elimination for Barcelona, yet another miraculous comeback for Liverpool. This time it was the Miracle at Anfield.

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