Former Hibs boss Alex Miller recalls his part in ‘Miracle of Istanbul’

Steven Gerrard lifts the trophy in 2005
Steven Gerrard lifts the trophy in 2005
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It remains the greatest comeback in a Champions League final, Liverpool down and out as they trailed an AC Milan side packed with world superstars 3-0 at half-time only to wrench the trophy from the hands of the Italian giants.

Little wonder former Hibs boss Alex Miller can recount virtually every detail of that pulsating match in Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium as if it were yesterday, rather than 13 years ago. And the memories of that epic night will come flooding back tonight as he watches the Anfield side set out to try and emulate those heroics when they face Spanish giants Real Madrid in the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.

Rafa Benitez and Alex Miller look on from the sidelines

Rafa Benitez and Alex Miller look on from the sidelines

Miller was Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez’s right-hand man, the Merseyside club very much the underdogs despite having overturned the odds against Juventus and Chelsea on their way to the final. But given Milan boasted stellar names such as Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, Hernan Crespo, Cafu, Alessandro Nesta, Andriy Schevchenko, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka and Rino Gattusso. the odds were stacked in favour of the Rossonero.

More than 20,000 Liverpool fans made the journey to Turkey but their dream appeared over almost before it had begun, Maldini giving the Italians a first-minute lead before Crespo’s double earned them what appeared an unassailable advantage at the break.

“They settled early and totally dominated,” recalled Miller. “They were a very experienced side, one packed with superstars and throughout the first half we never had any sustained phases of play.

“They got that early goal through Maldini and two more from Crespo and it might have been more.”

Andrew Robertson

Andrew Robertson

The interval, though, gave Benitez the opportunity to calm things down and to make a tactical switch, replacing right-back Steve Finnan with Dietmar Hamann but even so, conceded Miller, there was the worry Milan might go on to ensure the Liverpool players’ faces ended up as red as their shirts.

He said: “The record defeat since the Champions League had been introduced was Barcelona being beaten 4-0 by Milan and that sort of thing does flash through your mind. No-one wants to get to the final of the Champions League only to be beaten by four or five goals.

“Our supporters had been terrific, singing all the time trying to lift us and when we went back out our objective was just to score a goal. Hamann coming on was a major factor. At that time, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso were at that stage of their careers where they were forward-going players which gave Kaka a lot of freedom in the hole behind Shevchenko and Crespo. Hamann closed off that space for him.”

If one goal might have been something of a consolation – provided Liverpool could prevent Milan scoring again – few would have envisaged what actually unfolded as Benitez’s players found the net three times in just five crazy minutes.

Gerrard gave them that glimmer of hope and, said Miller: “We’d spoken about the next goal and how it would give us a lift but we’d told the players a second would un-nerve them, that they would begin to panic despite the experience they had and that’s exactly what happened.”

Vladimir Smicer saw Milan goalkeeper Dida fumble his long-range shot and then former Rangers midfielder Gattuso pulled down Gerrard in the penalty area. Dida appeared to have redeemed himself by saving Alonso’s penalty but the Spanish midfielder immediately netted the rebound.

Miller added: “To be fair, Milan came back at us, Shevchenko missed a sitter than Jerzy Dudek made a great double save from him at the end of extra-time.”

Dudek was again the hero in the penalty shoot-out which followed, saving from Shevchenko after Serginho and Pirlo had missed, sparking wild celebrations as Liverpool took the trophy for the fifth time.

Miller said: “It was unreal in a sense, fantastic, great to get to that final and win it. The feeling was ‘wow, we’ve done it’. My thoughts were that as a wee boy from a Glasgow housing scheme who’d worked hard to become a footballer and then coach – to have done that, the pride...”

Tonight it will be the chance for another Scot, left-back Andrew Robertson to write his name into the Anfield history book, Miller admiring the youngster. “All credit to him, getting knocked back early in his career only to take himself to where he is.

“Given the dynasty at Liverpool, all those huge names who have gone before, there’s a lot of pressure when you go in there. I don’t think Andy’s signing excited many people but, for me, the turning point was a game against Manchester City at Anfield. They’d passed the ball back and forward across the pitch time and again, Andy must have done five shuttle runs before putting in a good tackle.

“The fans were right behind him from that point. He might tell you different but, for me as an outsider looking in, that was the turning point. There’s been few Scots involved in games such as this in recent years, so it’s fantastic to see him there.”

As in 2005, Jurgen Klopp’s side will go into tonight’s final knowing Real, 12-times winners and three of them coming in the past four years, are favourites, but Miller envisages a tactical battle.

He said: “I think Real will try to be physical in the early period, play with a holding midfielder and try to get out through Marcelo at left-back. If they come out Liverpool will give them problems, the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are really quick on the counter with Roberston getting down the side.”