It took nine long years, eight different managers (and more than £60 million in compensation for the termination of their respective contracts), innumerable player signings worth millions and several occasions of heartbreak, but at long last, Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea have finally gotten their hands on the European Cup.
A penalty shoot-out victory over Bayern Munich ensured the illustrious trophy went to Stamford Bridge (or indeed any London club) for the very first time. The talismanic touch of interim coach Roberto Di Matteo worked again as his team defied the odds to win 4-3 on penalties after it finished 1-1 after extra time.
Bayern Munich were essentially the ‘hosts’, with the final being played on their home ground; the Allianz Arena and their imposing performance in the match did not suggest otherwise. This was the first time since 1984 (AS Roma vs Liverpool in Rome) that one of the contestants of the European Cup final was on home turf and they were more than eager to not let this opportunity pass.
The Bavarians played the entire game on the front foot; forcing Chelsea back in their own half, creating chance after chance only to waste one after another. The only chance converted was not made use of as five minutes after the goal (two minutes before the 90), the Chelsea equaliser came that took the game into extra time and later penalties.
Chelsea had four players - Raul Meireles, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires - suspended, but clearly they were missing the raw energy of the latter in central midfield the most. Terry’s replacement in central defence, Gary Cahill, was brilliant alongside David Luiz as the duo kept out the threat of striker Mario Gomez.
Bayern - themselves suspended of the services of David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Luiz Gustavo - wasted no time in taking the initiative and it soon became clear which team was intent on attacking. Yet, with Bayern letting Chelsea off the hook so often, it also became clear that the game was not a foregone conclusion.
Some say that this year, the UEFA Champions league victory was in Chelsea’s destiny and seeing the luck they got in this game and in the semi-final against Barcelona, you might be inclined to feel the same way. There are some things which Abramovich’s money cannot buy: fight, grit, spirit, determination and yes, luck. You need luck to become the kings of Europe; and Chelsea got that. Maybe it was indeed written in the stars for them.
The more Robben and Ribery went forward, the more they were thwarted. Cahill, Luiz, Bosingwa and Cole were dominant in the back four. Cole was brilliant in particular as he came up with two tremendous blocks.
The more the game went on, the more the crowd got edgy about whether Bayern will actually convert their chances or not. Even half-time did nothing to vitalise Chelsea’s lethargy or Bayern’s profligacy.
Mario Gomez, usually so deadly in front of goal, barely looked himself while Ribery was having his shots blocked.
The breakthrough finally arrived in the 83rd minute when Thomas Mueller headed in from a Toni Kroos cross. It looked like one goal might settle it. But five minutes later, when it seemed that their changes had been made too late, substitute Fernando Torres won a corner. Didier Drogba met Lampard’s corner with ferocious power that goalkeeper Neuer could just not keep out.
The equaliser came out of nowhere and remarkably, it was Chelsea’s only corner of the game which they made use of. Compare this to the 20 corners taken by the German giants of which not a single one threatened Petr Cech and his defenders - extra time was upon us.
Bayern’s carelessness was not limited to the 90 minutes. More chances went begging and even with Ribery later off injured, chances were aplenty.
It looked like Drogba had suddenly turned from a hero to a villain when a clumsy foul in the box earned the favourites a penalty in the first few minutes of extra time. But Petr Cech defiantly saved Robben’s penalty and the game went on.
Bayern put in one last show of over-generosity when Olic tried to set up fellow substitute Van Buyten for an open goal. However, the latter - being a defender - did not have goal-scoring instincts and failed to read the Croatian’s move.
Penalties beckoned and the odds were stacked strongly in favour of Bayern Munich. This was no surprise due to the competence and composure German teams (both clubs and national team) have shown in penalty shootouts for decades .
When Mata missed and Bayern converted their first three to make it 3-1, a repeat of Moscow four years ago was on the cards for Chelsea. But veteran Lampard scored his and Olic had his saved to bring the shootout back in the balance. Five penalties apiece might not have been taken, but the sudden death stage of the shootout was effectively reached at 3-3.
However, when Schweinsteiger’s spot-kick hit the post, Chelsea had the advantage and Drogba – so often associated with their previous European losses - converted his decisive penalty to ensure his name in Chelsea history and clinch the Champions League for Chelsea.
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