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In England, the tale of the 2005 Champions League final is naturally told through the eyes of Liverpool, of this magnificent triumph against the odds and the greatest comeback of them all.
But what about how it was viewed from a Milan perspective? Wasn’t this also one of the most spectacular chokes in the history of the Champions League? Particularly by a team who had thrown away a similar advantage in the competition a year earlier, against Deportivo La Coruna?
It certainly had a lasting impact on one player, who you would think is an unimpeachable Milan legend.
“When they flew back, there was a group of fans waiting for the Milan team,” said James Horncastle on the Totally Football Show this week. “They tell them they’re not worthy of the shirt, they need to work hard, all these classic tropes. Paolo Maldini goes to confront them, and says “Never tell me that I haven’t given 100% for this club. This club is in my family.”
“The interesting thing about that was his relationship with the Curva, with the ultras, almost ended there. A few years later when he retires – even after going to Athens two years later and winning it against Liverpool, which was huge for them – there were banners saying ‘Baresi is our captain, not you.’ That fracture came about post-Istanbul, him standing up for that team, getting to the final and how well they’d played in the final.
“But there wasn’t a sense of blame for the most part, in the media and the wider Milan support.”
Indeed, as James Richardson said, there was very much a senses with many that this was just a. Freak game, never to be repeated, and thus little blame could be issued.
“It took me back to Baggio’s penalty in 1994: there wasn’t even a sense of blame there. People say was Ancelotti to blame – yes, there were questions about Milan’s mentality after what had happened the season before, but there was almost a sense of ‘well, sometimes life’s just going to do that to you, and there’s nothing – nothing – you can do about it.’”
James Horncastle added: “The moment that was the real turning point for Milan – although they conceded three goals they still have a chance of winning it – [was when] Andriy Shevchenko has the chance, and when Dudek makes that double save, that’s when everyone at Milan knows: it’s not our night – even after being 3-0 up at half-time, the gods are against us.
“Even when it came to the penalty shoot-out, that was the mindset. “What do we have to do to get past this Liverpool side? Something ‘up there’ is behind them tonight and we can’t get past it.”
The real irony – cruelty, perhaps – is that Milan were largely brilliant that night, save for the seven minutes when the football world turned upside down.
“The third goal at the end of the first-half is one of the great Champions League final goals,” said James Horncastle, of that Hernan Crespo goal from that Kaka pass. “The pass is like a hot knife through butter, and the finish was everything you’d want to cap off a stunning move like that.
“Ancelotti is right to still claim that 45 minutes was one of the best halves of football in a Champions League final, regardless of who won or lost.
“They were magnificent, and a lot has been made of Milan’s mood at half-time: there was a story that came out that Milan players were celebrating in the dressing room, but it’s just not true. They still went out for the second-half, hoping to see out the game and they still played well, but for a seven-minute period.
“I think we all miss AC Milan and nights like this, because they haven’t enjoyed them for quite some time. But particularly in this period between 2003-2007, they were always there or thereabouts.”
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