Friday, 15 January 2010

The Magnificence of Istanbul

Simon Barnes claims in today's (15/1/10) Times Newspaper that Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph was a, "...great and glorious fluke" and that, "Liverpool's lucky triumph in Istanbul in 2005 was merely a glorious blip for the club during a gradual recession over the past 10 years."

Now, this is an accusation often thrown in Rafa Benitez's face. The claim that his greatest success, not just on the 25th May 2005, when Liverpool overturned a 3-0 half time deficit to win on penalties against the mighty AC Milan, but that the whole Champions League campaign was a fluke, a lucky break not in keeping with his actual managerial ability. However this is demonstratably false to anyone with even a basic grasp of the concept of logic. Only the incredibly foolish, blind or stupid would even dare to entertain the belief that just because Liverpool were 3-0 down at half time in Istanbul means that the whole Champions League campaign was a massive fluke.

In 2005, Liverpool progressed out of the group stages of the Champions League after finishing second in Group A, which also included Greek giants Olympiakos, the talented Deportivo La Coruna and Monaco, who had been finalists in the competiton the previous year. Of course, Liverpool's progress from Group A was mainly down to luck (at least in the view of Simon Barnes) because Liverpool only scraped through thanks to a late screamer from Steven Gerrard on Matchday 6, in front of the Kop, against Olympiakos. However, this ignores the fact that on Matchday Four Liverpool recorded a vital 1-0 victory away in La Coruna, with Igor Biscan prominent in a determined display, with both Alonso and Gerrard out through injury.

Liverpool then faced a tricky, but winnable, game against German side Bayer Levurkusen in the last 16. Levurkusen had finished as runners up a couple of years earlier in this very competition, after losing 2-1 against Real Madrid at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Despite of this, Liverpool thumped the Germans 6-2 on aggregarte, winning both ties 3-1. Of course, all of this was down to luck, and had nothing to do with the abilty of the players, and definitely nothing to do with the managerial abilites of Rafa Benitez, at least in the view of our friend Mr Barnes.

Rafa's Reds had done well so far but no one, not even club captain and local hero Steven Gerrard, expected Liverpool to progress any further in the tournament as Juventus were next to visit Anfield for a mouthwatering quarter final clash. It was an emotional encouner at Anfield, because, incredibly, it was the first time the two club's had met after the tradegy of Heysel in 1985. Liverpool extended the warm hand of frienship to Juventus Football Club, with the Kop displaying a mosaic saying "Amicizia" (Friendship), and most of the Juventus fans graciously accepeted the offer of reconciliation, however a significant minority, quite understandably rejected the offer. Some pain cuts so deep, it can never be healed.

On the pitch, Liverpool dominated as the Juventus players froze. They simply couldn't cope with the cauldron that was Anfield, as the atmosphere repilcated the glory days of Milan in 1965, and St Etienne in 1977. Liverpool won the game 2-1 after a wonderful volley from Hyypia and an unforgettable lob from Luis Garcia, but only had a small advantage going into the second leg in Turin, as Juve only needed to win 1-0 to go through to the semi finals, and with Steven Gerrard missing the second leg through injury Liverpool's task became doubly difficult.

Alonso returned to the starting line up for the first time in months after a serious injury, and helped Liverpool to control the play throughout the second leg, as the Reds managed to limit Juve to half chances only. In hostile conditions, and without their captain and star performer, Liverpool defended tremendously and looked solid from start to finish, earning them a 0-0 draw and a semi final tie against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side. Rafa's tactics had stifled the Italians and carried Liverpool safely through to the semi finals. Even Fabio Capello, Juve manager at the time, admitted afterwards that Rafa had out smarted him tactically. Luck wasn't a factor at any point.

Liverpool went into their Semi Final matches against table topping Chelsea filled with confidence, despite of their domestic failings, as the Reds continued to struggle in their top 4 battle with Everton, which eventually ended in defeat, however this turned out to be of little importance as Liverpool's Champions League success guaranteed European football for the following season.

A dull and boring first leg at Stamford Bridge ended 0-0, which played straight into Liverpool's hands because Rafa had planned all along to keep it tight, as he knew that if the game became too open Chelsea's natural abiltity would greatly surpass the capabilites of the Reds squad. There was an electric atmosphere inside Anfield for the second leg, and this support from the home crowd helped Liverpool to defend resolutely for 86 minutes, plus the insane addition of 6 minutes injury time, after Luis Garcia had scored another crucial European goal in the 4th minute, to give Liverpool a deserved 1-0 victory. Liverpool were now going to Istanbul for there first taste of a European Cup Final in 20 years.

In Istanbul Liverpool somehow managed to over turn a 3-0 half time deficit to send this enthralling encounter into extra time. Second half goals from Gerrard, Smicer and Xabi Alonso in an unbelievable 6 minute spell had drawn the Reds level. However, they still had to endure an agonising 30 minutes of extra time. By this stage Liverpool's players were suffering badly from cramp, and were having to face wave after wave of attack from the Italian giants, AC Milan.

When Liverpool thought they were safe, with only seconds of extra time left, Anrdiy Shevchenko sent in a powerful header that Jerzy Dudek only just managed to parry out. Unfortuantely, the ball fell right at the feet of the prolific (at the time) Ukranian striker but, incredibly, Dudek managed to pull himself up off the ground, to deflect Shevchenko's goal bound shot over the bar, from only 3 yards out. It was at this point that most Reds fans knew that Liverpool's name was on the trophy.

Liverpool won the penalty shoot out 3-2, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, lets analyse that campaign. Liverpool defeated Bayer Levurkusen, Juventus and Chelsea, all fantastic sides, over two legs. Also, they managed to comeback from 3-0 behind against AC Milan, one of the best sides in the world, to win the greatest European Cup final in history. According to Simon Barnes, Chief Sports Writer of the Times, this was a "fluke". In his view, beating 3 of the best teams in world football (Juve, Chelsea and Milan) was purely a lucky occurence that doesn't, in anyway whatsoever, represent the true abilites of Rafael Benitez or any of the Reds players.

Can someone please give me the number of a psychiatric ward, i would like to section Simon Barnes!


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