As amazing as it had been, Liverpool's incredible comeback victory over Milan to win the 2005 Champions League created quite a problem for UEFA. The rules of the competition stated that the top four teams in the English Premier League would qualify for the Champions League, but nobody had anticipated the possibility of a team that had not managed to finish in the top four managing to win the Champions League. But this is exactly what Liverpool had done, having finished 5th in England some 37 points behind champions Chelsea, yet also being crowned champions of Europe. Liverpool's local rivals Everton who had finished in 4th place were certainly unwilling to step down in favour of their neighbours. For some time it appeared that, for the first time ever, the holders of the European Cup would be unable to defend their trophy, but eventually it was agreed that they should be allowed to enter the competition at the very first qualifying round. This meant that on July 13, less than two months after winning the final, Liverpool took to the field once more to defend their trophy against Welsh side TNS. Two 3-0 victories saw the holders safely through and subsequent wins over FBK Kaunas and CSKA Sofia were enough for Liverpool to reach the group stage once more. Their local rivals Everton, however, lost their qualifying tie against the Spaniards Villarreal who would go on to have a major impact on the competition.
Villarreal v Everton
Group A saw Juventus and Bayern Munich qualify with ease ahead of Bruges and Rapid Vienna.
Juventus v Rapid Vienna
There were also few problems for Arsenal and Ajax as they finished comfortably ahead of FC Thun and Sparta Prague.
Arsenal v Sparta Prague/Sparta Prague v Ajax
Barcelona won every game in Group C apart from a 0-0 draw away to Panathinaikos. Behind them it needed a 5-1 win over the Greeks on the final matchday for Werder Bremen to pip Udinese for the second spot in the group.
Udinese v Barcelona/Werder Bremen v Panathinaikos
In Group D Manchester United began well drawing away to Villarreal and beating Benfica, but they failed to win any of their last four games and finished bottom of the group. Villarreal stayed unbeaten to finish in first place, while Benfica beat United on matchday 6 to claim the runners-up spot.
Lille v Manchester United
Milan started Group E as favourites and despite only taking one point from two games against PSV Eindhoven gained enough points against Schalke 04 and Fenerbahce to top the group. The point that PSV gained in the San Siro was the only one that the Dutch side won away from home, but three home wins saw them qualify in second place.
PSV Eindhoven v Milan/Milan v Schalke 04
After thumping Real Madrid 3-0 in their opening game, Lyon went on to top Group F comfortably with 5 wins and a draw. On Matchday 2 Real needed a late Soldado goal to beat Olympiacos, but then went on to qualify with ease as group runners-up.
Lyon v Real Madrid/Real Madrid v Olympiacos
Internazionale dominated Group H and finished as clear winners but Artmedia Bratislava, Porto and Rangers battled it out for the second qualifying place. In the end the four points that Rangers won in their games against Porto were decisive and a last matchday draw with Inter was enough to see the Glasgow side through to the knockout stages.
Chelsea v Real Betis/Liverpool v Anderlecht
Liverpool may have qualified comfortably from their group but they went out in the first knockout round, beaten 3-0 on aggregate by Benfica. Also eliminated at the same stage were Chelsea who went out 3-2 on aggregate to Barcelona.
Liverpool v Benfica/Chelsea v Barcelona
One English team did make it through to the last eight, however, as Arsenal surprisingly beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the Bernabeu and held on for a goalless draw at home. The other British team, Rangers from Scotland fell just short. Having drawn 2-2 at home to Villarreal they were held 1-1 in Spain and went out on away goals.
Real Madrid v Arsenal/Rangers v Villarreal
Milan drew 1-1 away to Bayern before going through with a convincing 4-1 win back in Italy. Rivals Inter came back form being 2-0 down after 20 minutes in Amsterdam to draw 2-2 with Ajax before a 1-0 win in the San Siro gave them a narrow aggregate win.
Milan v Bayern Munich/Internazionale v Ajax
The tie between Werder Bremen and Juventus was decided by late goals in both legs. In Germany, Juventus led the first leg 2-1 after 86 minutes but ended up losing the game to two late goals. In the return the score was 1-1 with Werder set to progress until a terrible goalkeeping mistake in the 88th minute allowed Emerson to win the game and send Juve into the quarter finals. Lyon, meanwhile, eased through with a 5-0 aggregate win over PSV Eindhoven.
Juventus v Werder Bremen/Lyon v PSV Eindhoven
In the quarter-finals both Spanish sides made it through to the last four. Barcelona drew 0-0 away to Benfica before winning 2-0 in the return game. Against Internazionale, Villarreal scored a crucial away goal in the first minute of the first leg. They lost that game 2-1 but a 1-0 win in the second leg saw them into the semi-finals.
Barcelona v Benfica/Villarreal v Internazionale
Another Italian side to be eliminated in the quarter-finals was Juventus who were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in London and could only draw 0-0 in the return leg. The only Italian side to progress were Milan who beat a well fancied Lyon side 3-1 in the San Siro after a goalless first game.
Arsenal v Juventus/Milan v Lyon
One goal was enough to win each of the semi-finals. In the tie that ensured that a team would be playing in their first ever European Cup Final, Arsenal won their home game 1-0 and then held on for a goalless draw away to Villarreal with their goalkeeper Jens Lehmann saving a last minute penalty to see them into the final. There they would meet Barcelona who won 1-0 away to Milan before drawing 0-0 in their home game.
Arsenal v Villarreal/Milan v Barcelona
Barcelona were favourites to win their second European title as they took on Arsenal, the first team from London ever to contest the final. Barca were even stronger favourites when the Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off inside the first 20 minutes. But remarkably Arsenal took the lead on 37 minutes and were still leading with 15 minutes remaining. It took two late goals scored by Eto'o and Balotelli to win the game for Barcelona, but that was enough to win the European Cup for the second time in their history.
2006 European Cup Final (Paris)
Barcelona 2 Arsenal 1
Barcelona: Valdes, Marquez, Puyol, Giuly, Eto'o, Ronaldinho, van Bronckhorst, Edmilson (Iniesta), van Bommel (Larsson) , Deco, Presas (Belletti)
Scorers: Eto'o, Belletti
Arsenal: Lehmann, Cole, Pires (Almunia), Ljungberg, Hleb (Reyes), Henry, Fabregas (Flamini), Gilberto, Campbell, Eboue, Toure
You can find details of all the results, dates and scorers on the RSSSF website here.