Rome. 1984. Bruce Grobbelaar. Any Liverpool fan old enough to remember now has that picture of the Zimbabwean keeper doing an impression of a nervous man, with his comedy knee-knocking legs in the penalty shoot-out. Roma’s players were put off, Liverpool won the shoot-out and their fourth European Cup.
Grobbelaar was often criticised for his "eccentric" methods, but it generally worked. Since Brucie came along though Liverpool’s keepers have always received more than their fair share of criticism. Jerzy Dudek is going to be between the sticks on Wednesday night. He’s made more than one mistake himself since arriving at Anfield shortly after the Super Cup win on August 24th 2001, but is ready for the challenge of AC Milan. "We have to be focused as much as we can. We have to forget about Milan and we will have to play the best game of our lives."
Dudek continued: "As a goalkeeper, you have to be focused and just do your job. You have to be very attentive, you must keep your concentration and do everything you can to stop the opposition scoring. Some people have asked whether I have watched the Champions League final between Milan and Juventus two years ago and I have said yes because it was the worst game ever because both sides defended and it went to penalties. Maybe it will be like that. Let’s see what happens."
Penalty shoot-outs aren’t for the faint-hearted, but goalkeepers perhaps have the easiest job of the 22 players involved when a game is decided that way. If they let a penalty in, it’s to be expected. If they save one, they can become a hero – like Brucie 21 years ago. Dudek said, "If it does go to penalties, you have to make the striker make a mistake. If he does that, then you have a chance to stop the penalty. There is no pressure on the goalkeeper. It’s like a lottery. If you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win. Every time I try to buy the ticket!"
Dudek looks back at what Grobbelaar did in the shoot-out in Rome that night: "Psychologically it was very good. Doing something like that works against the opponents because it is only between two players. Whoever has the strongest nerves wins."
Jerzy is well aware of the strike threat from the Milan team: "Milan have a lot of good strikers. Kaka, Shevchenko, Jon Dahl Tomasson. Every time he plays, he always scores. I played with him for three years in Rotterdam and I know him very well. I spoke with him a couple of months ago but we haven’t spoken since we got through to the final. I will speak to him after the game – but not before!"
Jerzy revealed that Benitez was telling his players they needed to be sure of themselves and that they could get to the final as far back as December: "After the Olympiakos game, the manager told us that we had to look to the final. He told us that we had to believe in ourselves and we now believe that we can actually win the competition. We have never been favourites. Not against Chelsea, not against Juventus and not even against Bayer Leverkusen. We have proved that we can play good football and we can beat any team."
Again, Liverpool players say they are glad to be considered as underdogs: "We love to be in this position. We love it that the opposition will have to worry about us. Of course we will have a plan and we will work very hard to play our game. We will see what happens."
Liverpool’s Polish keeper arrived at the club at the same time as Chris Kirkland, and Gerard Houllier wasted no time in showing the door to Sander Westerveld to avoid having too many keepers at the club. Those two keepers are still at Anfield, but with new England international Scott Carson also in the squad now, and Jose Reina said to be on his way, the speculation is all about Dudek being about to leave Anfield. Has the speculation caused him any problems? "It hasn’t helped but I just prefer to talk about my game," he says. "I am happy with how I am playing. We have a new manager and a new goalkeeper coach and you have to learn all the time. Every day, Rafa wants more and more from you. If you have done well, he wants to see you improve again. It takes time, of course it does, but I see myself in a very good position and I have no problem."