How Liverpool Defied the Odds in the 2005 Champions League Final
Britons are avid bettors, whether it’s in the form of sports betting or at the casino, as our list of recent UK winners highlights. But when it comes to substantial sports payouts one of the most iconic instances happened in 2005, in Istanbul.
The Value of In-Play/Live Sports Betting
Some bettors are into live betting on sports, others prefer to bet-and-forget or take the approach of setting up a hedge on a betting exchange. However, sport can be pretty volatile. Anybody who watched the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, in which 60/1 shot Sergio Perez claimed his first-ever win or Japan’s astonishing 34-32 victory over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be all too aware that tremendously long shots do sometimes come off.
But perhaps the epitome of the sporting event that gets turned on its head, and the perfect example of why live betting can be a very smart move, is one of the most famous football matches ever played: AC Milan versus Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul.
Setting the Stage, and Pre-Match Betting
The Champions League Final in 2005 was held in neutral territory, in the Turkish city of Istanbul (the Atatürk Olympic Stadium). The competing teams were AC Milan, one of the biggest teams in Italy, and Liverpool, one of England’s foremost football clubs. Both clubs had a long and impressive history with the Champions League, having won it on multiple occasions in the past.
There’s always some degree of variance among bookies, but before the match kicked off the gambling world (along with the punditry) thought that Milan were the favourites to win. Milan were just over evens, on average, to win in regular time, with Liverpool out at 5/2 or thereabouts. In a two-horse race, with the extra option of a draw by the end of regular time (just over 2/1), Liverpool had relatively long odds.
The First Half
The first half made the odds on Milan seem excessively generous, as this 45 minute was absolutely dominated by the Italian side. It took less than a minute for Paolo Maldini, the Milan captain, to score. Both sides had some chances but it was only offside that stopped Andriy Shevchenko from scoring and worsening Liverpool’s night. The reprieve was short-lived, however, with Hernán Crespo making it 2-0 and then 3-0. Things were not looking good for the reds. In fact, numerous Liverpool fans started drifting out of the stadium to get an early flight home.
They weren’t the only ones feeling that way, with Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher describing some years later how he had felt embarrassed and feared an even worse final score than 3-0.
Prior to the match, Liverpool had been around the 5/2 mark, with Milan barely longer than evens. When the whistle blew for halftime the odds had shifted massively, with three figures against Liverpool (100/1 was eminently possible, and the odds even stretched as high as 188/1 at some bookies). The reverse, naturally, had happened with Milan for whom a halftime bet of £100 would yield the princely sum of £1.
Because we know the outcome, the odds on Liverpool were fantastic, but it isn’t only in this way that in-play betting makes sense. If you had backed Milan before the match started then this bet could be safely hedged at a bookie or exchange, risking only a few per cent of the highly probable profit to ensure an all-green result (profit regardless of the outcome). It was literally a case in which pennies could produce pounds.
The Second Half
In front of a slightly smaller crowd, Liverpool started the second half knowing they had an absolute mountain to climb. There were early chances for both sides with Xabi Alonso of Liverpool and Shevchenko of Milan coming close but failing to score. But it was Liverpool who got their goal, with captain Steven Gerrard’s header pegging things back to 3-1. Vladimír Šmicer got Liverpool’s second shortly thereafter. Just three minutes later Gerrard got fouled in the box by Gattuso, and the referee awarded a penalty for Liverpool. Up stepped Xabi Alonso to take it. His shot was saved by Dida, luckily, the ball bounced back to Alonso who was able to put it in the back of the net.
Having been nowhere, the 100/1 shots were suddenly on equal terms. Both sides had more chances but were unable to capitalise, and so extra time beckoned.
Extra Time, Penalties, and the Result
Fatigue played a part in extra time, and, again, both sides had chances that proved fruitless. The closest the deadlock came to being broken was when Shevchenko’s shot was magically saved by Liverpool’s goalie, Jerzy Dudek, only for Shevchenko’s rebound shot to be saved as well. With no goal in extra time, the lottery of penalties would determine the victor.
Both sides had a good record on penalties, having each won their last European tournament this way. Dudek, being well aware of Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar’s spaghetti legs moment, did likewise to try and distract the Milanese players, and it worked a treat, the first shot going over the crossbar. Liverpool scored three out of four, and when Milan’s Shevchenko missed the fifth penalty the reds won the match, the tournament, and completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in footballing history.
It’s worth noting that you can, of course, bet in-play during the live-action. Odds shift extremely rapidly but are a little steadier during the relative calm of halftime. And odds tilting significantly offer an opportunity not only to back an outsider but to spend a few pennies hedging a sure thing to guarantee profitability.