In 2005 we went on holiday to Cancun in Mexcio. Little did we know when booking the trip it would coincide with one of the most memorable European Cup finals in football history, the Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan. 11 years later Liverpool are in another European Cup final, this time the Europa League Final. With both major European Finals coming up this week we thought it would be a great time to reminisce!
The holiday itself was fantastic, we stayed in a great hotel, enjoyed delicious food and lots of cocktails, we certainly took advantage of the all inclusive board basis! The weather was boiling hot, which meant we had to spend a lot of time in the pool to keep cool. As Liverpool fans and football fans in general we decided the Champions League final was too good to miss, because of the time difference between Istanbul (where the game was played) and Mexico the game kicked off around lunchtime in Cancun, perfect for a little rest from the searing heat.
In the morning we enjoyed a large buffet breakfast - We didn't understand balance in those days and holidays were all about overindulging. We then caught a couple of hours in the sun by the pool before heading out to watch the game. The sports bar in our hotel was only small so we decided to find a bar on the Cancun strip which was only a few minutes walk from our hotel.
We found the perfect bar with a large drop-down TV screen, ordered a bucket of Sol and got ready for the game. The bar was full of British football fans representing many different club sides, what was interesting was everyone appeared to be wanting a Liverpool win, even the Chelsea fan behind us - Despite Liverpool knocking them out in the semi-finals!
After the anthems, the handshakes and the formalities it was time for kick-off. We settled down for the game full of optimism, enthusiasm and hope.
For any Liverpool fan the first half was a disaster, the worst 45 minutes in the history of the European cup. They went 3-0 down thanks to a goal from Paulo Maldini in the first minute followed by 2 goals from Hernan Crespo. AC Milan were superb and absolutely dominated the first half, it could and probably should have been a bigger winning margin by the time the referee blew his whistle to bring an end to the carnage, it appeared to be all over from a Liverpool perspective anyway. At half time the bar began playing "We are the champions" and one of the waiters was dancing on the stage in celebration! We considered heading back to the pool but being true fans we decided to stick it out until the end, besides we still had some ice cold beers in our buckets to enjoy, even if the game was somewhat of a disaster.
We're not sure if we were even watching the opening exchanges of the second half, its quite possible we were sharing our anguish at the situation with the neutral fans sat beside us, when out of nowhere Liverpool hero and talisman Steven Gerrard scored in the 54th minute. At least they got one goal, a bit of respectability to the scoreline if nothing else. The goal got our attention back to the game and we were shellshocked 2 minutes later when Vladimir Smicer scored. Suddenly this game had us on the edge of our seats! If only Liverpool could score 1 more, to our utter disbelief 4 minutes later they did! After Gerrard was brought down in the penalty area Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the resulting penalty, it was saved but he scored from the rebound. 3-3 we couldn't believe it, the whole bar was in shock.
The next half an hour was stressful, willing Liverpool to score one more goal and having everything crossed Milan wouldn't find the net at the other end. There were some tense and nerve wracking moments but at full time the score remained 3-3, it was time for an extra 30 minutes to see if either side could settle the tie. This enthralling game was end to end with both sides trying to snatch that late winner, all the players from both sides were giving it their all, some going down with cramp after last ditch tackles to deny the opposition. Seconds before the final whistle Jerzey Dudek (Liverpool's goalkeeper) made an outstanding save from world class striker Andriy Shevchenko to keep Liverpool in it, finally the referee brought the game to a close and the dreaded penalty shootout beckoned.
We quickly topped up our beer bucket in preparation for the shootout, one of the cruelest and most stressful aspects of knockout football. The European Cup was ready and waiting for one joyful team to raise into the air as the champions of Europe.
So it began with AC Milan's Serginho missing his penalty, most likely put off by Dudek's "jellylegs". Liverpool's Didi Hamann scores followed by Andre Pirlo missing for Milan, advantage Liverpool. Next both Djibrill Cisse and Jon Dahl Tommasson score for their respective clubs, 2-1 to Liverpool! Distaster strikes as John Arne-Riise misses his spot kick while Kaka scores for AC Milan, the tension was almost unbearable at 2-2. Vladimir Smicer does his part for Liverpool and makes it 3-2 with each team having 1 penalty remaining. Andriy Shevchenko comes to the spot knowing he must score or the game would be over, he shoots straight down the middle and Jerzy Dudek saves it! Liverpool are champions of Europe for a fifth time, unbelievable!
The atmosphere in the bar was incredible, after such a tense game there was relief everywhere and huge cheers as Stevie G lifted the cup high into the Istanbul night sky. The cheering waiters from earlier had now changed teams and were singing and celebrating for Liverpool, you couldn't make this up!
It was a game we will never forget, not only because we watched it in a special place but because the game itself is already set in legend for all Liverpool fans and indeed all football fans. It was a game which gave hope to the underdog and proved it's never over until the final kick! After this win Liverpool got to keep a European Cup in recognition of their achievements, they were the last team to ever get this honour as UEFA have changed the rules regarding keeping the trophy so it was special to see the cup when we went on the Anfield Stadium tour last year.
You can see some highlights from the game here:
Did you watch the European Cup Final in 2005? What are your memories from it? We'd love to know, so comment below!