‘Just give the trophy to Liverpool’, said Andy Gray in the second half of extra-time. And having just watched Jerzy Dudek rapidly deny Andriy Shevchenko twice in unorthodox fashion, it was hard not to agree with the co-commentator. A penalty shoot-out later, Liverpool were European champions in Istanbul, winning a game in which they were three-down at half-time, just about had only a good six-minute spell, and needed goal-line clearances and fortuitous to get to penalties.
Their route to being European champions in 2005 involved a three-goal salvo against Olympiakos in their final group game, as well as that famous ‘ghost-goal’ against Chelsea in the semi-final. Was it fate that willed them on to a destined triumph?
It’s a thing you hear once in a while. Words like ‘name on the trophy’ are used in that situation, for example, after Manchester United scored their stoppage-time equaliser in that famous European final against Bayern Munich in 1999, Clive Tyldesley uttering those words following Teddy Sheringham’s leveller. Two minutes later, he was proved right. Fate?
Another example was Portsmouth’s FA Cup journey in 2008, which involved a sixth round game at Old Trafford, where United had two open goal opportunities, as well as numerous other kinds, yet Pompey won thanks to a penalty. Fate?
Of course this might seem a bit overplayed. After all, how about those sides who may have been deemed fated for a league or cup triumph, but fall short? History only remembers the winners, they say, fate willing it or not.
But with Atletico Madrid and Juventus meeting each other in the Champions League last 16, you could almost call it a meeting of two teams keeping an eye out on fate, two teams who could have a look at destiny over the recent European history.
That may be debatable, but one thing that isn’t, is the fact that both sides have been bridesmaids of late.
Juventus haven’t won the Champions League in 23 years, despite having appeared in five finals in that same period. Every time they get close to continental glory, it walks away from them; every time they reach the cusp of triumph, it slips from their grasp.
Since 1996, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid (twice), AC Milan and Barcelona have had the better of them in final showdowns, as the Old Lady continue to have the look of nearly men.
For Atletico, there hasn’t been as much appearances in the final as their Italian opponents, but there have been just as painful experiences, if not more. Late equalisers in two finals, a penalty shoot-out defeat in the other, Los Colcheronos fans live the memory of being denied European titles by a combination of four minutes, and a few yards. That two of those losses have come against their bitter city rivals (Real Madrid) only deepens the cut of failure.
And this season may have been one in which they’d consider themselves fated to be the champions of Europe.
Juventus signed Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the men who denied them European glory (in 2017), almost primarily for their assault on the continent, and maybe that combined with the departure of Gigi Buffon is a sign that fate wants them to finally rule in Europe.
For Atletico, their home stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, hosts the Champions League final at the start of the June, and after their previous heartaches, fans can be forgiven for thinking they’re destined to make amends in just about the greatest way possible.
Not that the abstract – and probably non-existent – theories should distract us from the fact that this has the prospect of being an intriguing tie in itself. Two teams with archetypal defensive nous and impressive tactical discipline; this has the look of a tactically fought encounter where remarkable levels of concentration will be on show, and it would eventually be decided in the narrowest, a game that might scream classic Atletico or emphasise why Juventus brought in Ronaldo.
Both teams have watched rivals, both domestic and continental, walk off with European glory in recent past, and, after years of heartbreak, will feel like fate owes them success, like the fabled gods of football is meant to do right by them.
But with both teams facing each other in this round, one’s journey will surely end, and will watch on as the other goes on its quest to right past wrongs. If the door of fate does exist, it can only take in one of them.