KEIR RADNEDGE in MUNICH
– The most amazing match in the entire history of Chelsea Football Club saw them withstand a two-hour battering from Bayern Munich in the Bavarians’ own stronghold before winning the UEFA Champions League for the first time to fulfil the dream which prompted Roman Abramovich to buy the club back in 2003.
Chelsea appeared to be doomed so many times. First Thomas Muller headed Bayern in front in the 83rd minute only for Didier Drogba, five minutes later, to head a magnificent equaliser. Then in extra time they conceded a penalty only for Petr Cech to save from Arjen Robben; lastly Juan Mata missed Chelsea’s first kick in the shootout only for them to recover from 3-1 behind to win it 4-3.
Drogba, having headed the equaliser and conceded that extra-time penalty with his trip on Franck Ribery, converted the decisive last penalty. He was named official man of the match in a storybook finale in what was almost certainly the 34-year-old’s last game for the club.
Chelsea’s triumph was depressing for others apart from Bayern.
Tottenham, for one: Chelsea will return to the Champions League next season as holders and thus snatch the last Premier League slot from fourth-finishing Spurs who drop into the Europa League;
UEFA president Michel Platini, for another: his concept of financial fair play took a battering as an oligarch-enriched club beat one who pride themselves on financial probity. To rub it in Abramovich, beaming broadly, even joined his players for the trophy presentation.
Bayern had only themselves to blame.
They created just about all the half-chances in a tight game staged in a context which was all in their favour: they were playing in their own Allianz Arena while Chelsea were the more seriously weakened by the suspensions legacy from the clubs’ semi-final victories over Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Also, on the only three previous occasions when a Champions’ finalist had been the home team ‘their’ winning success rate was 2-1.
Both clubs had painful recent memories to exorcise. Bayern had lost 2-0 to Internazionale in the 2010 final in Madrid while Chelsea had been pipped on penalties in Moscow by Manchester United two years earlier.
At least Chelsea had claimed one other trophy this past season: the FA Cup. Bayern had ended up empty-handed after Dortmund had outstripped them in the Bundesliga and crushed them 5-2 in the German cup final. Make that runners-up three times now, just like fellow Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.
Chelsea should have competed in the very first European Champions Cup, back in 1955-56. They had been invited – along with the likes of Real Madrid, Milan, Reims etc – but declined under orders from the Football League.
Hence they were still pursuing a cup-winning dream which had come true four times previously for Bayern and on an occasion generally considered as potentially a last hurrah for a team built around an ageing core.
Not all their squad were veterans. Their surprise selection was 22-year-old reserve leftback Ryan Bertrand, lined up wide in midfield to help wear down Robben. Bertrand counted only seven Premier League starts among his 14 appearances in all competitions this past season.
Bayern accepted the responsibility of setting the tempo in their own fortress: Ribery had a shot deflected wide for a left-wing corner then a Toni Kroos sent a drive skidding safely wide. The scramble for territory also brought an early booking for Bastian Schweinsteiger for a silly, nervy handball.
Chelsea continued to resist solidly prompting a sense of German impatience which prompted Robben and Muller to start roaming. That almost paid off in the 21st minute. Robben turned up on the left, slipped into the penalty box and rapped out a low drive which caught Petr Cech unsighted. Fortunately for Chelsea the ball ricocheted off the keeper’s shins and up against his right-hand post.
The first casualty of the night was Ribery, helped off briefly after being kicked on the back of the ankle by Jose Bosingwa. Conversely, that was a prelude to Chelsea’s first half-chance, a free kick on the right which Juan Mata curled over the wall but also over the bar.
Ribery, back on the pitch, ran away at the other end to pull a shot wide. Then he played Diego Contento into an overlapping run for a cross from which Muller volleyed wastefully wide. Suddenly the game snapped up a gear. Chelsea kept pace with a snappy counter-attack which saw Manuel Neuer forced to a sharp save by a near-post drive from Kalou.
Bayern should have been ahead at the break. Just before the interval a rapier break conjured by Muller and Robben ended with Mario Gomez turning David Luiz in style but then lofting high over goal from 12 metres. For the man who had rammed home 26 Bundesliga goals it was a terrible miss.
Hence, for Chelsea, referee Pedro Proenca’s half-time whistle sounded out ‘mission accomplished’ . . . so far.
Bayern did manage to put the ball in the net seven minutes after the break. Muller was again the creative force, this time breaking down the left. Robben’s shot ricocheted off Ashley Cole to Ribery who put the ball into the net only to be ruled offside, correctly.
Cole was having a storming game. Minutes later he came to the rescue of his central defenders yet again, flinging himself in the path of another effort from Robben. The Dutchman was at the heart of every attacking effort and yet Bayern were struggling to infiltrate the Chelsea penalty box.
On one rare occasion Ribery had his deflected cross pushed over the bar by Cech and then Muller dragged a shot wide after a sweeping move downfield involving Schweinsteiger, Robben and Ribery. But eventually Muller, in the 83rd minute, made no mistake with a close-range header after Ribery sailed in another cross from the left.
Bayern pulled off the tiring Muller and sent on defender Daniel Van Buyten to secure the game, the final and the cup . . . all in vain. Chelsea charged forward, forced a right-wing corner and the relentless Drogba headed home Mata’s kick magnificently at the near post. It was the only corner Chelsea won all night compared with 20 for Bayern.
Extra time brought a brief role reversal. Initially Chelsea seized the attacking initiative but then Ribery escaped and Drogba, chasing back, caught the back of his ankles. Robben drove the penalty low and hard to Cech’s left . . . only to see the goalkeeper save. Last month Robben had missed the penalty which effectively handed the German league title to Borussia Dortmund; now he had missed the penalty which helped hand the Champions League to Chelsea.
The final whistle which signalled the shootout saw the context shift in favour of Chelsea. This was the 10th shootout in the history of European Champions’ finals. German clubs had won just one of the previous nine (Bayern against Valencia in 2001) while English clubs had won three (Liverpool in 1984 and 2005, Manchester United in 2008).
Make that four even though Mata saw Chelsea’s first kick saved by Manuel Neuer. The shootout turned Chelsea’s way first when Cech saved Ivica Olic’s fourth Bayern penalty then when Schweinsteiger – the shootout winner in the semi-final against Real Madrid – hit a post.
Thus Drogba was presented with the chance to make history: and the Ivorien does not miss such chances.
Shootout (Bayern first): Lahm 1-0, Mata saved 1-0; Gomez 2-0, David Luiz 2-1; Neuer 3-1, Lampard 3-2; Olic saved 3-2, Cole 3-3; Schweinsteiger hit post 3-3; Drogba 3-4.
Bayern: Neuer – Lahm, Boateng, Tymoshchuk, Contento – Schweinsteiger, Kroos – Robben, Muller (Van Buyten 85), Ribery (Olic 97) – Gomez. Trainer: Heynckes
Chelsea: Cech – Bosingwa, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole – Mikel – Kalou (Torres 84), Mata, Lampard, Bertrand (Malouda 73) – Drogba. Manager: Di Matteo
Referee: Proenca (Portugal).
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