Report by Barry Glendenning from the Guardian
So here we are. After the long and twisting road to the final there are only two teams left standing in the European Cup. Never mind that they're the second best team on Merseyside and in Italy - they've won it 10 times between them, so their pedigree is unquestionable.
It's a tough one to call: I can't see anyone scoring, but neither can I see Shevchenko or Crespo not scoring. My prediction is that a tired Milan side will play very badly and eventually win, because they usually do. The thousands of Liverpool fans who've been gathered outside the Ataturk stadium in Istanbul since early this afternoon would beg to differ, however. Their wildly optimistic predictions have been keeping the Sky news reporters in colourful quote all day.
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti has paired Argentine striker Hernan Crespo with European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko for tonight's final. At the back, Jaap Stam will partner Alessandro Nesta, while captain Paolo Maldini, appearing in his seventh final, is moved out to left back at the expense of Georgian Kakha Kaladze.
For Liverpool, there's just one surprise: the under-achieving charlatan that is Harry Kewell has somehow managed to worm his way into the starting line-up and will play behind lone frontman Milan Baros. Didi Hamann and Djibril Cisse miss out and will be cooling their heels on the bench.
Meanwhile on ITV1, fledgling pundit Steve McManaman is hoping to see a few goals and a little bit of class tonight. God loves an optimist, but let's face it - it's not as if Macca would recognise either after the season he's just had.
AC Milan: 1-Dida; 2-Cafu, 31-Jaap Stam, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini; 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka; 11-Hernan Crespo, 7-Andriy Shevchenko.
Liverpool: 1-Jerzy Dudek; 3-Steve Finnan, 23-Jamie Carragher, 4-Sami Hyypia, 21-Djimi Traore; 10-Luis Garcia, 8-Steven Gerrard, 14-Xabi Alonso, 6-John Arne Riise; 7-Harry Kewell; 5-Milan Baros.
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).
"Even before the kick-off the Italians are 1-0 up," writes Ben Fitzpatrick. "The Milan team arrive in Turkey immaculately dressed in designer suits, the Liverpool team arrive in suspiciously shiny tracksuits."
"I've never, ever understood this whole support-the-English-team-in-Europe rubbish. I sincerely, truly hope that Liverpool get absolutely stuffed tonight," writes Rob Smyth, once of this parish and a devotee of the MU Rowdies Soccerball Kickers. What would you expect from a pig only a grunt?
"Do you think the usual cry baby Liverpool fans will be on tonight or will they actually take the initative and actually go and watch the game," wonders Kevin Kennedy. "I think AC will win 3-1 but wish Liverpool lots of luck despite the moaners that follow them."
"Rafa knows what he's doing: Milan + Liverpool vs AC Milan = No contest, no?" writes Craig Cottrell, writing furiously on a blackboard covered in complicated looking sums.
On ITV1, Andy Townsend gets the obligatory "they don't come any bigger than this" out of the way early doors, as 800 Turkish military cadets perform an opening ceremony that's so ripe for mockery it hurts. Unfortunately, there's no time for lampoonery as the teams and their mascots click-clack out of the tunnel and line up on either side of the match officials. Milan's players are wearing an all-white kit, while Liverpool wear their familiar red. The fancy Champions League music draws to a close and is drowned out by a rousing rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, the Rogers & Hammerstein staple so beloved of Liverpool fans. Maldini and Gerrard exchange penants in the centre circle and after weeks of faffing around it's ...
GOAL: Milan 1 - 0 Liverpool: ... an unbelievable start! Almost immediately, a totally unmarked Paolo Maldini scores for AC Milan with a 12-yard volley through a sea of players. It came from a set-piece - a Pirlo free-kick taken from the right of the Liverpool box. A blinding start. Milan are one up after 50 seconds.
2 mins: Liverpool are stunned. Carlo Ancelotti predicted that his team would score inside three minutes and he was spot on - they only needed one. Corner for Liverpool, which Milan Baros wins off Jaap Stam.
3 mins: Great stuff from Liverpool. Steven Gerrard swung that corner out to the edge of the box, where John Arne Riise unleashed a pile-driver which looked to be fizzing goalwards until it hit Jaap Stam in the face. Milan cleared, the ball went out to Gerrard on the right wing and from the inevitable cross, Sami Hyypia brought a smart save out of Dida with a fine volley from the edge of the box.
6 mins: Andriy Shevchenko beats the Liverpool offside trap and pelts down the right wing with nobody near him. As he shapes to cross, with Liverpool looking in big trouble, Sami Hyypia appears out of nowhere to provide a crucial block. There are only six minutes gone and this match is shaping up to be a belter.
8 mins: Free-kick for Liverpool about 40 yards straight out from goal. Gerrard curls it towards the far post, where Harry Kewell attempts to get his head to it. Kaka leans into him and does enough to knock him off balance. The ball skims off Harry's alice band and goes wide.
11 mins: Andriy Shevchenko picks up the ball in the corner, deep in Liverpool territroy. Steve Finnan shepherds him towards the sideline, forcing him to play the ball back towards Maldini. The ball finally ends up with the terrier that is Milan Baros deep in Milan territory, but he's hopelessly outnumbered and loses possession.
13 mins: Milan go close again. Crespo won a corner which was sent into the near post by Pirlo. Crespo nicked half a yard on Steven Gerrard, who was asleep, and flicked it goalwards. It was left to Luis Garcia to chest the ball off the line as it looked set to creep in between player and post.
15 mins:John Arne Riise squanders possession with a feeble attempt to dribble around Gennaro Gattuso deep in Milan territroy. That kind of nifty footwork might work against Darren Purse in the Premiership, John, but it won't work here. Moments later, Steven Gerrard floats a cross into the Milan box, but it's a smidge too high for Harry Kewell.
18 mins: Andriy Shevchenko sneaks in behind Djimi Traore and is mere inches away from controlling a Pirlo purler from midfield, that would have seen him clear through on goal. For Liverpool, Harry Kewell is hobbling. The physio is trying to persuade Kewell to continue, but he doesn't want to. He's indicated to Rafa Benitez that something has snapped and he's in real pain. Either that or he's tired. You never really know with Harry.
21 mins: Vladimir Smicer is getting ready to come on. Apparently he didn't have his boots on - hence the delay. And to think some people say footballers are dumb. Liverpool substitution: Kewell off, Smicer on.
23 mins: Luis Garcia has moved into the space behind Baros previously occupied by Harry Kewell, while Vladimir Smicer has taken up a position on the right side of midfield. Meanwhile, your emails: "After a weekend in which one team showed how it was possible to totally outplay the opposition for 120 minutes and still end up losing, I guess anything's possible. But for the sake of sanity, I hope a classier, more gifted, AC Milan side wipes the deck with this shambles of a Liverpool outfit which just shouldn't be there," writes Reg Gorczynski, who I'm guessing might be a Manchester United fan.
26 mins: Their team may be a goal down, but Liverpool's supporters are still making lots of noise as they cheer them on. Gerrard picks out Finnan with a cross-field pass and he delivers the ball up the wing towards Baros. He wins a throw-in deep in Milan territory off Jaap Stam. Nothing comes of it.
28 mins: Shevchenko celebrates after side-footing a low ball past Dudek and into the Liverpool goal, but the linesman puts a stop to his gallop with a wave of his flag. Offside. Kaka had gone on a rampaging run through Liverpool's midfield and played a through ball to Shevchenko, which may have come as a result of a Carragher tackle. In that case it wouldn't have been offside. A let-off for Liverpool.
31 mins: Djimi Traore, who's having a bit of a shocker, plays Shevchenko onside. The Milan striker traps a long ball from Pirlo, but is muscled off the ball before he can poke it past the onrushing Dudek. Shevchenko appeals for a penalty but doesn't get one.
33 mins: Luis Garcia shanks a good knock-down over the bar from the edge of the Milan box. He had all the time in the world to tee that one up and should have done better. Feel Steve Osmond's pain: "Promising start - not for the moaning scallies, but for me cos I've got an accumulator worth £80,000 involving Maldini as the first scorer," he says, before adding the caveat: "It does however need Kewell to score too." Two bets on the same game in an accumulator, Steve? Methinks you're telling porkies.
36 mins: The Liverpool defence is split by Kaka and Crespo is released. Through on goal with only Dudek to beat, he's flagged for offside.
38 mins: Liverpool 0 - 2 Milan Hernan Crespo scores a tap-in from six yards mere seconds after Liverpool had a great shout for a penalty turned down in the wake of a Nesta hand-ball in the Milan box. Luis Garcia had been prevented from shooting by Nesta, who was on the floor in his own penalty area when the ball rolled against his hand.
Milan countered as Liverpool appealed for a spot-kic and the red defence was rent asunder by Andriy Shevchenko, who eschewed an opportunity to shoot from a narrow angle. Choosing instead to roll the ball across the edge of the six-yard box, he provided it on a platter for Crespo, whose job was an easy one.
Liverpool 0 - 3 AC Milan This is turning into a rout. A fine, fine goal from Chelsea's Hernan Crespo, who bags his second. Latching on to a long ball from midfield, he ducked the flat-footed Liverpool centre-halves and without breaking stride, contemptuously lifted the ball over the horribly exposed Jerzy Dudek. It was a sublime finish. If the Liverpool team was a dog, you'd shoot it at this stage.
45 mins: The second half gets underway with Liverpool up to their necks in it. Didi Hamann has come on, with Steve Finnan making way. Liverpool are playing three across the back with four in midfield. Can they claw their way back? No chance, going on their dreadful first half performance, but stranger things have happened.
47 mins: Steven Gerrard shins a ball he should have controlled over the side-line, while the ITV1 commentators continue to blow sunshine up his nether regions. How badly does he have to play before his legions of cheerleaders in the media will put down their pom-poms and pass comment on it?
49 mins: Xabio Alonso sends a long-range effort narrowly wide of Dida's right-hand past from about 35 yards. Good effort- he had Dida beaten.
51 mins: Free-kick for Milan for a Hyypia foul on Kaka, just to the left of the D. Shevchenko sends a low screamer wide of the wall and Jerzy Dudek pushes it out for a corner with a strong left hand. Great strike, great save. Incidentally, it was more hapless defending from Djimi Traore that allowed Kaka through in the first place.
Liverpool 1 - 3 Milan At last! Steven Gerrard scores. The ball was crossed from the left and the Liverpool skipper looped it into the top right-hand corner with a fine header from the edge of the six-yard box. Good goal.
Liverpool 2 - 3 Milan Vladimir Smicer scores. Unbelievable! Vladimir Smicer picks up the ball just outside the Milan box and shoots. The ball bounced just in front of Dida and crept in at the right-hand post. The two quid I put on Liverpool to win this match at half-time at 188-1 is looking like a great bet. I need two more before the 90 minutes are up.
59 mins: This is astonishing. A penalty for Liverpool after Gerrard was pushed in the back by Gattuso. The Liverpool skipper has flicked a switch and grabbed this match by the scruff of the neck.
60 mins: Liverpool 3 - 3 Milan
More drama. Xabi Alonso's penalty is saved by Dida, before the Spaniard follows up and scores from the rebound from a tight angle.
62 mins: Smicer stings Dida's palms with a fine long-range effort. Milan are in tatters.
64 mins: Come on Liverpool! It's worth noting that Gennaro Gattuso wasn't sent off for bringing down Gerrard when he conceded that penalty. He should have been as the Liverpool skipper was clean through and bearing down on goal. Gerrard's been magnificent since I gave him that morale-boosting bollocking earlier, but you won't see me taking the credit when Liverpool win this match. I'm good like that - I'm only in this for the £378.
67 mins: Milan are gradually regaining composure after being rocked back on their heels by those three quick sucker-punches. Now Djimi Traore redeems himself, hacking a Shevchenko shot off the line after Dudek blunders. Jamie Carragher is screaming at his goalkeeper, who's been looking very jittery in this second half, albeit on the rare occasions the ball has come near him.
71 mins: Steven Gerrard sends a screamer blazing over the bar from a few yards outside the box.
72 mins: Clarence Seedorf concedes a free-kick wide on the right. Xabi Alonso plays the ball into Luis Garcia on the endline, who attempts to wriggle towards towards the near post before being penalised.
74 mins: "This match is a microcosm of Liverpool's season," writes Simon Vaughan in Toronto. "Rubbish followed by brilliance followed by ..."
75 mins: Jamie Carragher picks up a yellow card for high feet. Somewhat harshly, it could be argued.
77 mins: The match has quietened down a bit, at last. Liverpool's defenders stroke it around the back, before Jamie Carragher sends a long ball into the Milan penalty area. Milan Baros is penalised - I know not why - and Milan win a free-kick which enables them to play the ball out from the back.
79 mins: Jamie Carragher saves Liverpool's bacon with a brilliant tackle on Kaka, who was waiting to stroke home a cross from Crespo. Moments earlier in the Milan box, Luis Garcia had failed to control a long ball from Steven Gerrard. If he hadn't trapped it so far, he'd have been unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box with only Dida to beat.
81 mins: Rafa Benitez is giving it a lash. Good stuff. He's about to send on the new Lord of the Manor of Frodsham, otherwise known as Djibril Cisse. Before he can do so, Liverpool's players get their fans ole-ing as they (the players, not the fans) stroke the ball around between them. They look very relaxed.
84 mins: Liverpool substitution: Djibril Cisse replaces Milan Baros. Milan substitutions: Tomasson on, Crespo off. Seedorf off, Serginho on.
86 mins: Milan attack down the centre, courtesy of Tomasson and Gattuso. Riise dispossesses Gattuso and sets off into the Liverpool half. Milan win the ball back, go on the attack and just as Shevchenko shapes to shoot, Jamie Carragher dives in with another match-saving tackle. Corner.
88 mins: Milan go close from the corner. It was sent into the box and Jaap Stam's free header went towards Kaka at the far post. The Brazilian could only skim it wide off the top of his own bonce; if he'd had his wits about him, he'd almost certainly have scored.
90 mins: The game enters its death throes and extra time beckons. Milan are doing all the attacking at the moment. Pirlo loops the ball towards Kaka at the far post, but Hyypia hacks clear.
90 + 1mins: Peep! Peep! Peep! Extra time beckons and the greatest opportunity I'll ever have to trouser an easy £378 goes down the pan with it. I'm absolutely gutted.
ET 1: Liverpool get the first period of extra time started. There'll be no golden or silver goal buffoonery to worry about - it's two sides of 15 minutes, followed by penalties if necessary. "This match is also a microcosm of Milan's season," wriates Fyaz from Toronto. "Brilliance followed by rubbish followed by..."
ET 2: Liverpool are holding possession well, although no sooner do I type that than they gift possession to AC Milan. Nothing noteworthy happens and the ball ends up back at Jerzy Dudek's feet.
ET 6: Sorry, lost a chunk of commentary there, but you missed very little. Pirlo blazed one over the bar for Milan, before Djibril Cisse was penalised for being offside after missing a quarter-chance. Meanwhile, Ant in Sheffield has this to say: "Here's a bit of a cliched football thought for you: Liverpool probably won't win the European Cup tonight, but at least we won our pride back in the second half. There. Said it. I'm barely able to take my eyes off this match, so you'll forgive me if I don't extend this email any further." Churning out that syrupy gloop is all very well Ant, but it won't put £378 in my wallet.
ET 9: It's fairly pedestrian stuff compared to the frenzied pace of the first hour. Tomasson is the latest player to have a probing run cut to an aprupt halt by a very late linesman's flag.
ET 10: Jon Dahl Tomasson misses a great chance to put Milan ahead. A cross fell nicely for him at the far post, but he failed to make contact with his poorly-timed lunge and could only watch in despair as the ball bounced wide.
ET 12: Slowly but surely, Milan are begining to dominate. They're turning the screw on a very tired looking Liverpool side.
ET 15: Dudek gathers a high ball with Tomasson and Shevchenko waiting beneath him for the scraps. Their wait is in vain and the goalkeeper catches it cleanly. The ref blows for half-time in extra time. If the players' legs are feeling any way as cramped as my typing fingers, it could be a fairly lethargic last 15 minutes.
ET 16: There's no fannying around as the teams switch ends and get straight back down to business.
ET 17 mins: Djibril Cisse takes on Gattuso and goes pelting down the right wing. His attempted cross is blocked and goes out for a corner. Vladimir Smicer swings it into the box, but his feeble delivery is cleared at the near post. Milan half-clear, only to see Liverpool win another corner. Gerrard sends it long towards Sami Hyypia, whose header is hacked clear by Paolo Maldini.
ET 19: Djibril Cisse tries a shot from distance, but it's overly ambitious and doesn't trouble Dida one jot. Jamie Carragher is suffering badly from cramp, but looks okay. For Milan, Rui Costa replaces Gennaro Gattuso.
ET 22: Rui Costa swings in a corner, conceded by Jamie Carragher, which curls across the face of goal and wide. For a moment it looked as if it might go in and Jerzy Dudek was nowhere to be seen.
ET 23: Serginho sends in a very dangerous cross, which Hyypia heads clear. Luis Garcia takes the ball out of defence, but loses it to Pirlo, who's brought down by Hyypia on the edge of the box. Milan win another corner, while Liverpool's players look dead on their feet.
ET 27: Jerzy Dudek pulls off the greatest double-save I've ever seen to deny Andriy Shevchenko from point-blank range twice in quick succession. How did he keep the ball out? Two reaction saves in a row - it was amazing goalkeeping. The first was a bullet-header from the edge of the six-yard box, while the second hit his hands and went over the bar. I'm not sure how much he knew about it, but it was an astonishing block.
ET 29: My heart is still thumping after those heroics from Dudek. The fans from both sides are whistling as Hamann breaks from midfield, only to lose possession at the edge of the Milan box. Seconds later, Liverpool win a free-kick a couple of yards outside the Milan box, just to the right of the D. Up steps Steven Gerrard ...
ET 30: Who tips it to Hamann, who rolls it back to Riise, who thumps it into the wall. What a waste! The referee blows for full time and it's time for a penalty shoot-out.
The penalty shoot-out
1. Serginho misses for Milan
2. Hamann scores for Liverpool
3. Pirlo misses for Milan
4. Cisse scores for Liverpool
5. Tomasson scores for Milan
6. Riise misses for Liverpool
7. Kaka scores for Milan
8. Smicer scores for Liverpool
9. Shevchenko misses for Milan
Liverpool win the Champions League!!!!
An unbelievable result after a wonderful game of football. Liverpool have come from 3-0 down at half-time to win the Champions League on penalties. During the shoot-out Dudek indulged in some Grobbelaar-esque wobbling which caused Serginho to sky his penalty, before diving off his line to save well from Pirlo and Shevchenko. Riise was the only Liverpool player to miss - his shot was saved by Dida.
The Liverpool players are, needless to say, quite pleased. So are their fans. The players are jumping up and down in a mass huddle, while assorted men in headphones drag them away to be interviewed by some ITV1 buffoon who thinks now would be a good time to ask Steven Gerrard about the excruciating minutiae of his future plans. He also keeps calling him "Stevie", as if to suggest they're great chums.
Now I'd love to stay and chat all night, but unfortunately I have to correct all the typos in this report, insert gags where appropriate and remove all the bits where I slagged off Steven Gerrard, who is about to lift the Champions League trophy for Liverpool. He was dreadful in the first half, but outstanding in the second. Two halves, two totally different performances - if only there were an appropriate entry in The Big Book Of Football Cliches to cover such a situation.
As the Liverpool players collect their medals, the Lord of the Manor of Frodshom, Djibril Cisse, does a most unregal, groin-thrusting boogie around the plinth on which the trophy stands. There's no need for that, Djibril. Before things get out of hand, the trophy is presented to Steven Gerrard, who hoists it skywards with a loud roar.
How can Liverpool win this and not beat Crystal Palace?