New Delhi: Miracle (noun): an effect of extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
The very definition of a miracle embraces a thought that goes beyond the realm of mankind. It can then be safely assumed that when a miracle occurs, a lot can be left to chance or perhaps, a unique alignment of the stars. Rest assured, it’s an incident that doesn’t happen every other day. Or so you thought.
The manner in which the Champions League semifinals panned out over the last two weeks would suggest another look at this definition.
At the back of our heads, we always realise that there is room for a miracle, whether you put it down to a hearty effort or simply, fate. But for it to occur on consecutive nights is something that would leave believers searching for answers and for non-believers to, well, believe in miracles.
The miracle of Istanbul is what every Liverpool fan has been riding on, ever since that final played out in 2005 against AC Milan. Down 0-3 at half-time, it took a mighty push for the Reds to bounce back and level scores, eventually winning the shootout to be crowned the most unlikeliest of champions.
It’s been 14 years to that date. When a rousing performance by Lionel Messi handed Barcelona a three-goal advantage after the first leg at Nou Camp, Liverpool were staring down the barrel.
The only thing in their favour was that the ignominy of the elimination wouldn’t be as embarrassing as the 1-3 loss in the final in Kiev last year. This was more about Messi pushing to reinstate the fact that he was, indeed, immortal.
– This is the first all-England final since Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in 2008.
– It is only the third major European final featuring two English clubs.
– This will be Liverpool’s ninth final in European competition.
– Liverpool are the first English team since Manchester United to reach back-to-back Champions League finals.
– This is the first time since 1986 that a team has recovered from a three-goal, first-leg deficit to win a semi-final tie in this competition.
– This is only the fourth time a team has overturned a three-or-more goal deficit in a knockout tie to progress.
– Barcelona have been eliminated at the penultimate stage in three of the last four Champions League semi-final ties.
– This was Barcelona’s heaviest defeat against an English club in all European competition.
– Divock Origi scored his first Champions League goal of his career.
– Spurs have never made the Champions League final in the past.
– Spurs are only the second team in the Champions League to lose the first leg of their semi-final at home and make the final.
– Spurs are the 8th English team to feature in the final of a European competition.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could only smile after Messi’s drool-worthy free-kick that handed the Catalans their third goal in that first leg. And after the game, he quite rightly told his players, “I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you, I think we have a chance”.
That chance comes from knowing what Liverpool is all about – all heart and the belief that takes you back to the basics. That it’s not one man who makes the team. Besides, what is football without a little bit of romance in the hope of a fairy tale ending?
No, there was no Mohammed Salah; no, there was no Roberto Firmino either. Instead, there was Xherdan Shaqiri, who had played only 10 matches in all competition in the new year until then, and the on-and-off striker Divock Origi, who had just about saved Liverpool the blushes with a late winner against Newcastle in the Premier League on the weekend.
And they were joined by nine other men on the field who believed in miracles against all odds, on what was another one of those cliched yet rousing, “European nights at Anfield”.
If the early, first-half goal from Origi wasn’t a good indicator of what was to come, the relentless pursuit of the second surely was, despite the score reading 1-0 at the half.
Enter a second-half substitute, the unassuming Gini Wijnaldum, who fired up proceedings with two goals in as many minutes. And the winner came through the promptness of a dreamy, teenaged ballboy on the sidelines and the instinct of a Liverpool man, Trent Alexander-Arnold, to seal a memorable night that will be firmly etched in the memory of this generation of football aficionados.
That sealed a safe assumption of a Liverpool-Ajax final in most heads. The Dutch side last made the final in 1996, having won it the previous year. And in the current campaign, they had earned a reputation for running circles while dumping out the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus.
With a goal from the first leg to fall back on at the start and a Tottenham Hotspur side that was missing their talisman, Harry Kane, surely this one was in the bag?
Two Ajax goals in the first half seemed to suggest just that. As Spurs’ forward Lucas Moura walked off the field, he looked to the sky, sending out his plea to the Almighty.
For the cynics, the next 45 minutes would change everything, given that the tie ended in a 3-3 aggregate win on away goals for the English side. And it only reinstated Moura’s belief in God and more importantly, his own abilities.
While Spurs collectively gave it all that they had, this was down to the brilliance of one man. A Paris St-Germain discard and dropped from Brazil’s World Cup squad last year, Moura outran his markers, shimmied past younger legs and put on a show of his own to score one of the most memorable hat-tricks of the tournament.
In the dying minute of injury time, the Johan Cruyff Arena was already buzzing at the prospect of hearing the final whistle. And just like that, Moura once again appeared out of thin air to eliminate what has been one of the most entertaining young sides of the competition in the last few years.
As Moura later shared, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible”. Including a second miracle.