I was living on an island in the summer of 2005. I watched this game at Cafe Soito, Praia do Norte, Faial, Azores. It is a small village of white houses with orange roofs, and packed with Benfica fans. Benfica won the Portuguese league championship that year and the day they won it Cafe Soito was jam packed with people partying and celebrating. On May 25th the bar was empty except for me and a few friends. My two Manc supporting friends stayed home to watch the first half, and naturally showed up at half time to rub it in. "Liverpool are an embarassment", and "what a shame they made it this far; too bad Milan aren't playing a GOOD team" they said.
Thankfully, they stayed in the bar for the second half, the one half of football that I will never forget for the rest of my life. When it came to penalties I had to tell them to shut the fuck up as they were complaining about how terrible penalties were as a way to decide a championship. They could clearly see the writing on the wall and were trying to ruin my moment, and of course it didn't work. When Dudek batted away Shevchenko's penalty I tore out of the bar and ran through the streets screaming. It was raining, and I was crying, and I don't know if I've ever been happier.
Rafa sitting down for the pens, Gerrard's heroic header, Carra battling cramp, Smicer with the perfect sendoff, Xabi following up the penalty, the likes of Djimi Traore playing completely out of their depth...I will love that squad forever for giving me one of the best days of my life.
To me, after all the joy it was the sense of relief that I remember. After getting told for years by people you know about winning the league, the atmosphere at the big european finals, winning that...when you spend so much time under Evans and Houllier not being quite there in the two big competitions, there's a fear that the club's done for good even if you're young. Irrational, but it's there nonetheless. With Istanbul, that vanished. I may never see us win the league, but I do know what winning the 'grand prix' feels like at least once. That's something to cherish for life as we now consider the merits of the Wigan v Swansea manager. One of them may take us there, but you know what lads, even if you don't I don't have that fear anymore.