Oh Holy Night…

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Slakr reckons this magical night was almost as good as one he remembers from twelve months ago…

It was almost worth walking out of the place. Liverpool needed to beat Olympiakos 1 – 0, or by two clear goals to progress past the group stages of the Champions League. After seeing a Milan Baros effort disallowed, a piece of pure magic by Rivaldo “The Cheat” Rivaldo meant that 1 – 0 was no longer an option. By the time the half time whistle went, it felt like Basle all over again.

I planned on walking out if we hadn’t scored by the 55th minute. Pongolle beat that by 8 minutes. At 1 – 1, we were still out of The Cup That Matters though, so I gave us till the 80th minute to score a second, or I was walking. Fortunately, I was a little slow finishing my beer and signing the tab. Mellor scored with his first real contribution. 2 – 1 Liverpool after 81 minutes. Liverpool were still going out. And then, 4 minutes from time, HE made it count. HE lashed home a third goal from 20 yards out to end what seemed like the greatest comeback in European Cup history. I think only Liverpool fans understood that when HE said that the Champions League was where HE wanted to be playing, HE meant HE was going to grab the entire team by the scruff of their necks and drag them kicking and screaming into the knockout phases. And beyond.

It was a night that will never be forgotten at Anfield. In any reasonable year, it would have been the match of the season. But last year wasn’t an ordinary year. This was the first of three magical nights that will all have their place in Liverpool’s storied European history. The second was a chance – 20 years after Heysel – to reach out a hand of friendship and apology to Juve. And the last took place on a magical night in Istanbul in May.

Compared to that night, the events of the last couple of days almost seem like non-events to a Liverpool fan. But then I imagine what a Rangers fan must feel like. Of course they have no hope of repeating Liverpool’s heroics from last season, but then again Liverpool had no hopes of repeating Porto’s feat from the previous season either. Would still like to see them come up as our next opponents though. And while we spare a thought for Sir Alex (yes, the guy is a twat, but he’s also a great manager who deserves to have his players show a little more fiber than they did today), lets also celebrate for Benfica. After years of playing second fiddle in Portugal, they made a decent argument for a promotion, even without five top names. A drink too for Schalke. Is there anyone not from the Red side of Milan that wasn’t hoping against hope that they would get the third goal and knock the mighty Milan out of the cup? And after seeing Gattuso’s reprehensible reaction to the final whistle, is there anyone hoping they don’t get drawn against Chelski in the next round?

There are some days that are underrated in the football calendar. You can keep your World Cup final. 11 defenders vs. 11 defenders doesn’t interest me in the least. I’ll take the final day of qualifying any day of the week. And I’d take the final day of the Champions League group stages over most others too. Even if the Soviets and My Reds tried to make me fall asleep in my beer.

So to some, its goodnight and Happy Holidays. We’ll see you in 2006. To some, its Au Revoir. We’ll see you next year, if you’re good and behave yourself at home. And to some, undoubtedly, its goodbye. Vanderlei, we hardly knew you (and to be honest we don’t care much about you). Sir Alex: we’ve hated you for years, and we still think you’re a bore and a twat. But there’s no doubting your greatness. If this is your final bow on one of the two greatest stages of world football, we tip our hat to you Sir. Its been an honour, though never a pleasure. You were great. An arse, but great. But also an arse.