Champions League final clockwatch
Liverpool beat AC Milan 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out to win the Champions League after sensationally coming from three goals down at half-time. Maldini gave Milan a first-minute lead and Crespo's double gave Milan a seemingly unassailable lead. Gerrard gave Liverpool hope and Smicer and Alonso levelled in a seven-minute spell. Dudek then saved from Andrea and Shevchenko in the shoot-out to clinch a stunning victory. It capped an amazing turnaround, with Liverpool looking out of contention after they were completely outclassed in the first-half. Liverpool's advance to the final was a major shock as they invaded the established order of Europe's footballing elite over-turning the odds against Juventus and Chelsea to reach Istanbul.
And in a show of character that broke Italian hearts they claimed the trophy for the fifth time - a feat that ensures the trophy will now stay at Anfield permanently. Liverpool's fans were determined to savour the occasion, with well in excess of their official 20,000 ticket allocation inside the Ataturk Stadium at kick-off. Manager Benitez made a bold team selection when he excluded Dietmar Hamann- so successful in the European campaign - on the sidelines in favour of Harry Kewell. It was a decision that back-fired in the worst possible fashion in a catastrophic first 45 minutes for Liverpool.
Milan were ahead inside the first minute, when Pirlo's free-kick was met by the unmarked Maldini, who swept a finish high past Dudek. Liverpool's lack of a holding midfield player allowed Milan to cut a swathe past Gerrard and Alonso. And Kewell's ill-fated selection looked even more of a failed gamble when he limped off with a groin injury after only 22 minutes, to be replaced by Smicer. Milan ended the first half exerting almost embarrassing domination, with two strikes in the last six minutes of the opening period. Shevchenko broke away down the right flank in a sweeping attack, and crossed for Crespo to turn home from close range.
And four minutes later, Milan added a third when Brazilian Kaka, the most influential player in the first 45 minutes, unlocked Liverpool's defence with a brilliant pass that released Crespo for a clever chip over the onrushing Dudek. Benitez made a change at half-time - introducing Hamman for Steve Finnan, who had a thigh injury. Dudek produced a fine diving save from Shevchenko's free-kick to stop Liverpool going four down before Benitez's side launched an astonishing comeback.
Gerrard threw Liverpool a lifeline with a header from John Arne Riise's cross after 53 minutes, and when Dida fumbled in Smicer's tame 25-yard shot a minute later, they were alive again. And Liverpool's recovery was complete on the hour when Gennaro Gattuso pulled down Gerrard in the area as he was poised to equalise. Dida saved Alonso's spot-kick, but the Spanish midfield man followed up to score the rebound with Milan's defenders looking on in stunned disbelief.
The massed ranks of Liverpool supporters, who sat in desolation during the interval, were now in ecstasy and contemplating a victory that seemed impossible just 15 minutes earlier. The final then reverted to a cat-and-mouse affair, but Djimi Traore rescued a poor personal display when he cleared off the line from Shevchenko after Dudek fumbled Crespo's cross. Milan dominated possession in extra-time, and they were denied by a miracle double save by Dudek from Shevchenko with three minutes remaining. Serginho and Pirlo missed Milan's first two penalties, while Hamann and Cisse scored for Liverpool. Tomasson put Milan in contention before Riise missed for Liverpool. Kaka scored for Milan, and after Smicer scored for Liverpool, Shevchenko's kick was saved by Dudek to spark wild scenes of celebration by Liverpool and The Kop.
Place of Birth:
Whiston, Merseyside, England
Date of Birth:
30 May, 1980
Liverpool (England, Premiership)
AskMen's Rating of Player:
(skills, leadership, etc., out of 100)85%
Importance to Team:
8 out of 10
How Stevie G defied nature to become star...while it was plain sailing for Rooney.
By NEIL WILSON
Steven Gerrard should never have made it as a professional footballer.
The odds were stacked against him from the day he was born. That is the conclusion of remarkable research by a Loughborough University team who reveal that only a tiny number of Britons born between March and August make it in elite sport. Sporting success, literally, may be an accident of birth. Gerrard, born in May, is one of the exceptions but he admitted yesterday that he struggled through his schooldays, failing to make it into the England Under 16 team and being rejected for the FA Academy.
The research, commissioned by a new independent think-tank, Sportnation, discovered that around thre - quarters of those who make it to the top in sport in Britain are born between September and February. Incredibly, almost half of those selected by the FA Academy were born in three months, September, October and November. Just two in 100 were born in June, July and August. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that more than half of all professional footballers and cricketers born in Britain were born in the last four months of the year. Wayne Rooney, for example, has an October birthday. Similar percentages were found in other sports. More than half of the under 15 finalists in the English Schools Athletics Championships ships came from the same three months, and almost half in swimming. Three-quarters of Britain's elite junior tennis players were born between September and February.
The reason, it seems, is that teachers and coaches, seeking instant results, pick the biggest children and those are the oldest in the school year. The research found that at 14 a child born at the beginning of the year is 7cm taller and 6kg heavier than one at the end of the same academic year. Gerrard was born six months later than Michael Owen, who not only made it into the England Under 16 team but was selected for the Academy at Lilleshall. Gerrard said: 'I was lucky because even though I didn't make it to the FA school at Lilleshall, my parents and the coaches at Liverpool kept complete faith with me until I developed more physically. But it cannot be fair that many of the youngest kids in the school year are left on the sidelines.' The think-tank, chaired by former world champion athlete Steve Cram, believes Britain is wasting a huge pool of talent because of the 'relative age effect'. Cram said: 'What is required is a sea change in perceptions of age in sport to eliminate what amounts to unfair and damaging ageism.'