Liverpool reached the Champions League final for the first time since 2007, advancing 7-6 on aggregate despite losing a dramatic second leg to Roma.
A journey that started on 15 August in Germany against Hoffenheim in the play-off round will end on 26 May when Jurgen Klopp’s men face 12-time winners Real Madrid in Kiev.
Liverpool conceded three times in the second half in Rome to lose for the first time in the competition this season but Klopp and his players celebrated wildly in front of 5,000 travelling fans after the final whistle at the Stadio Olimpico.
Virgil van Dijk sank to his knees and James Milner lay flat on his back in front of the travelling fans, who were kept in the ground long after the final whistle.
A delighted Klopp came back out after conducting television interviews to applaud the Liverpool supporters while the team posed for photographs with a banner in support of Sean Cox, the Liverpool supporter who was seriously injured after being attacked outside Anfield before the first leg.
Leading 5-2 after a devastating first-leg performance at Anfield, Liverpool went further ahead when Sadio Mane finished from Roberto Firmino’s clever pass.
An own goal by Milner, after Dejan Lovren’s attempted clearance cannoned off his team-mate, levelled the scores on the night before Georginio Wijnaldum’s header made it 2-1, and 7-3 on aggregate.
However, Roma scored three more times to give Liverpool plenty of anxious moments in a match which appeared to pass off peacefully inside the ground after a large scale police operation in the Italian capital.
Edin Dzeko gave the home side hope with his side’s second goal before Radja Nainggolan added two late strikes, including a stoppage-time penalty.
However, Liverpool just about kept their hosts at bay to become the first Premier League club to reach the Champions League final since Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in 2012.
Cool heads, raging hearts in Eternal City
Liverpool are on their way to a third Champions League final in 13 years despite losing for the first time in this season’s competition.
The Stadio Olimpico evokes powerful memories for Reds fans.
It was the scene of their first European Cup triumph back in 1977 and they returned seven years later to break Roma hearts in the final.
The damage in the tie was done in the space of 33 minutes either side of half-time at Anfield, when the Reds rattled in five goals without reply.
Roma had given themselves a fighting chance by scoring two late goals in the first leg but any hopes of another memorable European comeback after their heroics over Barcelona in the previous round realistically disappeared when Mane made it 6-2 on aggregate.
After a hat-trick away to Porto and two against Spartak Moscow, the Senegal forward has been a driving force in Liverpool’s charge to the final.
Mane made it nine in the competition this season – six behind Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo – after pouncing on Firmino’s superbly weighted pass following a mistake by Nainggolan.
That left Roma needing to score four times but their spirits were briefly raised when Milner’s own goal levelled the scores on the night, an attempted clearance by Lovren hitting Milner in the face and flying into the net.
Yet Liverpool’s potency and threat saw them stretch their aggregate advantage to 7-3 through an unlikely source.
Dzeko got it horribly wrong while trying to make a headed clearance from a corner, and an unmarked Wijnaldum nodded his first away goal in a Liverpool shirt.
Stephan El Shaarawy, helped by a deflection off Milner, hit the post before Roma’s late rally.
Dzeko scored early in the second half after Loris Karius had parried a shot into his path, and Nainggolan put Roma ahead for for the first time on the night with a shot that went in off the post four minutes from time.
Liverpool faced more anxious moments when Nainggolan scored from the penalty spot after substitute Ragnar Klavan handled – but it was literally only moments as the three minutes’ added time were already up.
The final whistle was greeted with roars from the travelling fans as Liverpool reached their eighth final in Europe’s most prestigious club knockout competition.
Klopp one win from first Reds trophy
Klopp will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky when Liverpool head for Kiev later this month.
The 50-year-old German has yet to win a trophy since taking charge in October 2015 – his side lost the 2016 League Cup to Manchester City on penalties at Wembley before going down to Sevilla in the Europa League final three months later.
Klopp has a chance to write his name in Liverpool’s history book by becoming the fourth manager to lead them to a European Cup/Champions League triumph after Bob Paisley (1977, 1978 and 1981), Joe Fagan (1984) and Rafael Benitez (2005).
Yet the former Borussia Dortmund boss has struggled since winning the 2012 German Cup final.
His past five finals have all ended in defeat, a statistic that will have to end if Liverpool are to be crowned champions of Europe for a sixth time.
Man of the match – Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
‘Roma deserved extra time’ – Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp:
We had a bit of luck and we needed that. It would have been deserved by Rome if it went to extra time but I don’t know how we would have coped with another 15 minutes each way.
We came into the competition as a qualifier and now we are in the final so I’m delighted for the club, the players and the fans. We will go to Kiev to play the final.
Repeat of the 1981 final – the stats
- The Champions League final will be a repeat of the 1981 European Cup final, in which Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0.
- Liverpool v Real Madrid will be the third final to have been played in the competition as both the European Cup (1956 to 1992) and Champions League (1993 onwards), after Ajax v Juventus and Ajax v AC Milan.
- With 13 goals over the two legs, this is the highest scoring Champions League semi-final ever, overtaking Monaco v Juventus (4-6) in 1998.
- Roma conceded twice in the opening 25 minutes, having kept a clean sheet in each of their five previous home Champions League games this season.
- Liverpool have scored 20 away goals in the Champions League this season, equalling the record for a single campaign in the competition (level with Real Madrid 2013-14).
- The Reds also became the third team to score 40 goals within a single season in the Champions League, after Barcelona (45 in 1999-00) and Real Madrid (41 in 2013-14).
- Sadio Mane’s strike was his ninth in the Champions League in just his 10th appearance – no player has scored more in their opening 10 games in the competition (level with Harry Kane and Simone Inzaghi).
- Mohamed Salah (10), Roberto Firmino (10) and Mane (nine) have scored 29 goals between them in the Champions League this season, making them the highest scoring trio at a club in a single campaign in the competition.
- Georginio Wijnaldum’s strike was his 19th for an English club in all competitions (11 for Newcastle, 8 for Liverpool), though this was his first away from home.
Roma look to hang on to third place in Serie A at Cagliari on Sunday (19:45 BST), and Liverpool play their penultimate Premier League game on the same day when they meet Chelsea (16:30) in a fifth-versus-third clash at Stamford Bridge.