Chelsea take on Bayern Munich tomorrow in the 2012 Champions League final.
Bayern Munich are the first finalist in the Champions League era to enjoy home advantage in the final, and will be aiming for their fifth European Cup win.
For Chelsea, it is a second final appearance and they’ll be looking to become the first London team to be crowned European champions.
Whatever complaints some may have about how money and corporate sponsorship have created a competition that often appears more concerned with finance than football, it remains the biggest single match in the European football calendar, and the final is an event that I love.
It seems a long time since Liverpool were amongst those competing for the greatest trophy in club football, but during the years in which I attended matches regularly, I was lucky to be present at some of the club’s finest Champions League nights.
In the first of a three-part mini-series, here’s a run down of my personal all time LFC Champions League XI, listed in chronological order.
1. Liverpool 2-0 Roma
In Liverpool’s first season in the Champions League, progression to the second group stage may have represented reasonable progress, particularly when grouped with Barcelona, Galatasaray and Roma.
After collecting three points from their first four games, Liverpool needed to pick up something from the Camp Nou on matchday 5 to avoid being knocked out before the final match – against Fabio Capello’s Italian Champions, Roma.
A 0-0 draw in Barcelona kept the Reds in the competition, but they were still bottom of the group going into the match against Roma.
Requiring a win by at least two goals in order to guarantee progress into the last eight, Jari Litmanen provided the perfect start, scoring from the spot in the opening ten minutes.
Emile Heskey’s headed goal at the Kop end made sure of victory mid-way through the second half on a night which was also memorable for the return of Gerard Houllier to the dugout after 4 months out following life-saving surgery earlier in the season.
2. Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 Liverpool
Not many defeats live long in the memory but despite the result, the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League quarter-final provided plenty of drama.
Holding a narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg, Liverpool went into the half time interval at the BayArena having scored a vital away goal. At 1-1 on the night, Leverkusen needed to score at least twice in the second half to progress.
But within minutes of Gerard Houllier withdrawing Dietmar Hamann from the action, the home side netted twice and stormed into a 3-1 lead.
Liverpool came back once more though, and it was Litmanen who provided another vital away goal with just ten minutes remaining, after beating three men before finishing superbly from the edge of the box.
With a semi final against Man United on offer for the winners, there was still just enough time for Liverpool’s defence to be caught out one more time and after Lucio fired Bayer Leverkusen into a 4-2 lead, Liverpool’s first taste of Champions League football came to an end.
3. Liverpool 3-1 Olympiakos
In Rafa Benitez’s first season in charge, Liverpool’s Champions League group consisted of two sides who had reached the semi final stage during the previous year’s competition.
Yet it was Olympiakos, the Greek champions, who topped the table with one game remaining. Liverpool were three points adrift in third place, and with Monaco facing the already eliminated Deportivo La Coruna in their final game needing only a point to qualify, it was likely that Liverpool and Olympiakos would face a straight fight between themselves for the second qualifying place. And so it proved.
A Liverpool win would only be enough to equal the number of points of Olympiakos, at which point the sides would be separated on the basis of results between each other.
And after losing 1-0 in Athens, Liverpool’s chances of qualifying became even more remote once Rivaldo had put Olympiakos ahead at Anfield. In the context of the head-to-head situation, it was an away goal and Liverpool then needed to win by two clear goals.
Substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle scored an early second half goal, and it was followed up by a strike from another substitute, Neil Mellor with a little more than ten minutes on the clock. The seemingly impossible suddenly became realistic, but as time started to run out, it seemed a long and tense wait before Steven Gerrard’s stunning finish completed the dramatic turnaround with more than 86 minutes played.
Played out in an electric atmosphere at Anfield, the evening set the tone for everything which was to follow for Liverpool in the Champions League that season.
And the three-goal second half comeback might have been a source of encouragement to Liverpool’s players during half time in a certain Turkish dressing room five months later…