The UEFA Champions League Final between Barcelona and Juventus happens this Saturday (2:45 p.m. Eastern, FOX), and if the match is even half as entertaining as the final played 10 years ago, most fans will leave feeling pretty satisfied.
Because the 2005 clash in Istanbul, which pitted Liverpool of England against AC Milan of Italy, was one of the greatest in the tournament’s 60-year history. If not one of the greatest soccer games in history. If not one of the greatest events in the history of the world. (Assuming you’re not a Milan fan.)
A quick recap: Milan scored within the first minute and tallied two more within the first 45 minutes to take a 3-0 lead into halftime. In the second half, Liverpool regrouped, changed its formation and netted three goals in a frantic six-minute span to tie the game.
“Just as we were leaving the locker room, something amazing happened. All of our supporters, they were standing and singing the greatest song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ We were thinking, ‘Wow, what is going on? We are losing three-nil and they are supporting us.’ And I think that created something special.”
Then in extra time, Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek—a lanky 32-year-old from Rybnik, Poland—denied Milan super-striker Andriy Shevchenko twice from point-blank range to keep the game level and force a penalty shootout. It’s a play that would later be voted the greatest Champions League moment of all time.
In the shootout, Dudek was equally stellar—pacing on the goal line, waving his hands like a madman and even using a somewhat comical “spaghetti legs” tactic to distract the Milan shooters. He stopped two of them—the normally sure-footed Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko yet again—to seal the victory and give Liverpool its fifth Champions League trophy. All of which is why the game is commonly referred to as the Miracle of Istanbul.
Dudek made a rare appearance in the States as part of a Champions League trophy tour presented by Heineken, and we grabbed a few minutes with him in New York to ask about his magical night in Turkey.
OK, so the 2005 final against AC Milan. You’re down 3-0 at halftime. What was being said in the locker room? Did you think you still had a chance to win?
Well, clearly this was not how we wanted it to be. Before the game, we were all very motivated. We thought that Milan was not so strong. And after 45 minutes, we were down three-nil, and when you go into the locker room, you’re really sad and you’re thinking, “Wow, what’s going on? We’re playing the biggest final in our lives, and we are losing three-nil already. What’s going to happen now?”
And remember, you actually have only 10 minutes to collect things. But we said to each other in the locker room that we have to forget about it as quick as we can, the first 45 minutes, and we have to do everything to score the first goal of the second half. If we score the first goal, they will not panic yet because they were leading three-nil, and they were a very good team, AC Milan, with big stars. Then we can use that as an advantage and we can make a second goal. And then they will start to panic [laughs], and when they start to panic, then we can use it as an advantage and go out and try to make the third goal.
And that’s what happened. When they conceded the second goal, they started to panic. They said, “What’s going on? We’re in the Champions League final against an English team, they always fight to the end…” and we scored the third goal.
But just as we were leaving the locker room, something amazing happened. Something special happened. All of our supporters, they were standing and singing the greatest song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” We were thinking, “Wow, what is going on? We are losing three-nil and they are supporting us. They are singing to us.” And I think that created something special, a special atmosphere, which of course helped us to get this fantastic trophy back to Liverpool.
Of course, your double-save against Andriy Shevchenko in extra time was crucial to keeping the game tied and forcing a penalty shootout. To the point that in a poll on UEFA.com, it was voted as the greatest Champions League moment of all time. How did that sequence play out from your point of view? And would you consider it the best save of your career?
Yes, probably it was the best one. The most important one as well. I don’t have any doubt about it. You wait for this moment your whole football career. Sometimes you will never have that, sometimes it will never come. And you are waiting because that happened just before the end.
And yeah, to be honest I was thinking that I had the double-save from a different player. After the match, somebody told me that Andriy shot twice. I was thinking that they were two different players. And when I saved the second one, which was amazing, I thought, “Wow.” That’s what you wanted, you know? That’s what you live for. That’s what you work for, and sometimes you have to be very patient to get that kind of action. And to be honest, later on it helped me in the penalties because I said, “If I did that save, nothing is going to change this destiny, you know?” It gave me a lot of confidence in that moment.
I’m sorry for Andriy Shevchenko because we’ve become good friends since that. But I told him when I met him after two years—because we were organizing a European championship tournament for Poland and the Ukraine—and I told him, “Don’t worry mate, you won it two years earlier against Juventus.” He scored the crucial penalty in the last match against Buffon. I said, “We needed it much more than you did, this cup.” And yeah, the fortune was on our side.
You came up big in the penalty shootout, too, stopping shots from both Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko and possibly throwing off the first shooter, who missed badly. What was your plan of attack going into those? Had you done research on the shooters?
Oh, you know, that’s a long story. Back then, it was not like it is now. I used to have a book and I would watch these guys on television and write down all these penalties that the players were shooting to the left or to the right. And now you have everything on video, everything on YouTube.
But before the game started, I had something like 100 penalties to remember from AC Milan players. And of course you can’t remember all of them. Then when the penalties started, I was talking to the goalkeeper coach, and I decided to look at him before each penalty was taken. And if he was raising his left or right hand, that meant that the player was picking that side to shoot.
But when I watched him lifting his hands and I turned back to the goal, I just lost it. I was so focused, you know, I didn’t even realize. I didn’t even remember which hand he raised.
I wanted to provoke the players to put them out of their concentration, to put more pressure on them. Because on the penalties, to be honest, the shooter has much more pressure than the goalkeeper. They need to score the goal, and the goalkeeper, you know, he’s supposed to concede. And yeah, I did a little movement, a little dance, a little raising of my hands, spaghetti legs. I did everything to put more pressure on the players, and I think it worked fantastic.
Overall, would you consider that the best performance of your life?
If you ask every Liverpool player on the pitch that day, I think the answer would be yes. As a young player, you watch the Champions League games. You dream to be part of those games. And maybe you will win the trophy once and we had this opportunity. And yeah, I think that that game was the best game we ever played. Before and after, we never reached that level. Which is okay. Especially the way the game was played.
You’re 42. Any chance you’ll come out of retirement and play in MLS?
You know, MLS is growing. Every season it’s getting bigger and bigger. I think the soccer here has never been more popular than it is right now. And I’ve got all my colleagues—Kaká, David Villa, Steven Gerrard—they’re all coming here to play for MLS. But I think it’s a little bit too late for me. I’m a little bit… I don’t want to say too old, but I think it’s too late. The level is very high, and I don’t think I’m able to play on that level anymore. It’s fantastic to see how the MLS grows. But sorry, I’m disappointed I did not have the chance to play in MLS.
Finally, who will win a World Cup first, Poland or the United States?
[Laughs] I think we have some great history between us. I remember the World Cup in South Korea in 2002 when we beat United States 3-1 but they were already advancing in the group. I think you will have a much better chance to get to the final than Poland, but let’s say if we ever have a chance to play in the World Cup final, uh… what do you expect me to say? I will be the coach for the Polish national team, and I will do everything to beat you guys. Like I would anybody. But the soccer is getting better here, with the national team and MLS, there’s a lot of passion. And I think one day the US will be proud of the national team playing football in the final.