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Liverpool prove the comeback kings


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ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Liverpool produced one of the greatest comebacks in football history to claw back a three goal deficit before beating AC Milan in a penalty shoot out to win the Champions League final.

The match in Istanbul appeared over as Hernan Crespo added two first half goals to an early Paolo Maldini strike inside the first minute.

But three goals in six minutes from Liverpool's inspirational captain Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso sensationally brought them level on the hour.

With the scores tied at 3-3, the match went into extra time and with Milan again looking the stronger side, it took a stunning double save from Jerzy Dudek to deny star striker Andriy Shevchenko the winner with just two minutes remaining.

In the subsequent penalty shoot out, Milan missed their first two penalties as Serginho blazed over and Andrea Pirlo saw his effort saved by Dudek.

Dida in the Milan goal kept out a John Arne Riise effort, but another Dudek save from Shevchenko gave Liverpool an improbable fifth triumph in Europe's premier club competition. They can now keep the trophy to mark the achievement.

"I don't think I have the words to express how I feel at this moment," said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez who had led Valencia to UEFA Cup triumph last season.

"We played a good match. We had six minutes of craziness," Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "It was something which can't be explained. It's not the moment of regrets. We are sorry, embittered, but this is soccer."

It all looked so different as Maldini put the Italians ahead in the first minute with a downward volley from an Andrea Pirlo free kick, which bounced through a crowded area and beat the outstretched arm of Liverpool keeper Dudek.

The defender's goal, his first of the season, was the fastest in a European Cup final since Enrique Mateos for Real Madrid against Stade de Reims in 1959. At 36, the Milan captain also became the oldest player to score in a final.

Liverpool bravely rallied and gave the massed ranks of their spectators in the Ataturk stadium reason for hope as captain Gerrard crossed for Sami Hyppia to force a good save from Dida.

But the respite was only temporary with Milan's midfield trio of Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Kaka giving them a vice-like grip on the game.

Crespo saw a near post header cleared off the line by Luis Garcia and Andriy Shevchenko had the ball in the net from a Kaka pass only to be pulled back for offside.

Six minutes from half-time and a rare dangerous Liverpool attack saw appeals for a penalty as Alessandro Nesta blocked the ball with his elbow as he fell.

They were waved away by Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez and in the Milan counter attack Shevchenko burst in to the box and crossed for Crespo to sidefoot home the Milan second.

The brilliant Kaka then produced a sublime pass for Crespo to score his second and Milan's third, chipping the ball over the onrushing Jerzy Dudek.

Sensational comeback

There was little to indicate a Liverpool comeback as Milan started the second half in the same confident vein, Kaka being fouled by Hyypia and Shevchekno forcing a brilliant save from Dudek from the subsequent free kick.

But a reshuffled Liverpool, with Dietmar Hamann coming on in midfield for defender Steve Finnan, gained renewed hope as Gerrard scored with a looping header from John Arne Riise's cross.

Milan were reeling and two minutes later Vladimir Smicer, who had come on as a first half substitute for the injured Harry Kewell, scored Liverpool's second with a low shot that eluded Dida.

The equalizer was not long coming as Gerrard was tripped by Gattuso in the penalty area going for a return pass.

Xabi Alonso saw his spot kick saved by Dida but turned in the rebound to complete a stunning comeback.

Both sides had glimpses of goal in the remainder of normal time which ended with the scores tied at 3-3, but then came extra-time and the drama of the penalty shoot out, won 3-2 by Liverpool with Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Smicer converting their crucial spot kicks.


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