Rafa on Istanbul


Speaking to Benitez, it would be foolish not to ask about the night that will forever define him as a manager, the miracle that will always have his name etched on it. Three goals down against a fantastic Milan side – what happened next?

“Obviously, it was my first year in England. My English is not the best now – imagine what it was like all those years ago!

“At the beginning before the game, I said: ‘Listen, they’re a fantastic team so don’t make any mistakes.’ Then they kicked off, we missed the first ball, we gave it away, conceded a free-kick and then they scored – all inside one minute!

“So we’d made mistakes from the beginning, we conceded the second goal and then I was thinking about changes. But we’d also had Harry Kewell going off injured. So I’d had to change everything during the game. So then I had to write a list of notes that I would be able to say to the team in English, while losing 2-0 in the Champions League final against AC Milan – and they were so good.

“And then suddenly, just as I’m preparing my words for half-time, we concede a third goal [as Crespo ran through on goal]. 2-0 down – maybe we have a chance, but 3-0 down against that team – whoa! And I had to go and say to the team, ‘Guys, 3-0 down, nothing to lose – we’ve worked so hard to get here. Now we have 45 minutes to change things. Keep working hard.’

“But the main thing we changed was the tactics – we went to three at the back, with Didi Hamann in front. And then, when I was finishing my talk and organising the team and changing the position of the backline, I sent [Djimi] Traore to the shower. But what I didn’t know was that the physio was working with [Steve] Finnan and then he told me that Finnan probably could not play another 45 minutes so we should change him. So then, at the last minute, I had to change Finnan for Traore, who was in the shower! And I had Finnan who was not very happy with the physio.

“And then after scoring the goals and going into extra-time, we were much better and we did much better than them. And then it went to penalties. We knew we’d done a lot of work on penalties. And we knew four of the five Milan takers – apart from Tomasson. It was a great advantage – and of course, we had Dudek moving on the line as well.

“Because it was the final and the way that it all happened in the final, I’d have to say [that it was my best night as a manager].”

“Some people talk about luck. But if you analyse it, we beat Olympiakos – a good team with Rivaldo, in the last game of the group stage to qualify. Then afterwards, we had to play against Bayer Leverkusen with Berbatov and Voronin. We had to beat Juventus with Ibrahimovic, Nedved, Buffon, Thuram. They were an amazing team. And after, we beat Chelsea in the semi-final – and they were champions of England.

“So we beat champions of Italy, champions of England and then we played against AC Milan with Cafu, Nesta, Maldini, Pirlo, Gattuso, Kaka, Shevchenko, Crespo. So I don’t think the run was lucky – it was [the result of] working so hard and doing so well. In the last game it could be a little bit of luck. But I think that the way that we reached the final and the way that we played the final, I think that we deserved to win.”

Photograph: wikipedia

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