Chelsea win dramatic Champions League shoot-out
Bayern Munich 1 Chelsea 1 (Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties)
So Roman Abramovich finally gets his Champions League courtesy of a coach he never wanted to appoint and a group of players he has been planning to rid himself of.
It seems the best part of a billion pounds can buy that famous old “cup with the big ears”, but it won't necessarily make you look clever in the process.
Maybe this was all part of the Abramovich masterplan. Maybe the motivational method to take what was once Europe's most expensively assembled football team over the final, recalictrant hurdle was to place manager and many of his most important players in fear of their futures; make them believe it was now or never for the Champions League. Maybe.
Or maybe Abramovich just hit it lucky. In the snap decision to make Andre Villas-Boas manager without exploring his man management skills. In the instruction to Villas-Boas to prepare the ground for a massive overhaul of players. In the tumble into repeat defeats and internal mutiny that forced a sacking. In the refusal of anyone but the coolly intelligent Roberto Di Matteo to take on the fire fighting job. In the resolution and desire of Chelsea's veterans to win a trophy that had made them suffer like no other.
That Di Matteo and co concluded an extraordinary campaign by defying Bayern Munich in their intimidating home stadium sums up this team. Without four suspended starters, against opponents charged with saving their own season in their final match, Chelsea stood as defiant as they had against Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona to arrive here.
Their great figures – Didier Drogba, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard – were immense. No more so than in a penalty shootout that the goalkeeper turned back in Chelsea's favour and the centre-forward finished with joyous authority. As a piquant bonus, the victory sent Tottenham Hotspur tumbling back into next season's Europa League.
“Our City, Our Stadium, Our Cup” read three vast banners at the Bayern end. “Bring it on,” had been Frank Lampard's reaction to Bayern's favourite status. A club that had revelled in Champions League adversity, sent out an eleven shaped by it. The centre backs were playing their first game since mid-April, on the left wing was Ryan Bertrand, a 22-year-old left-back who had never even been a substitute in the Champions League.
Minus his dynamic left-back David Alaba and their most reliable central defender, Jupp Heynckes' principal concern was to avoid conceding the opening goal. His tactical solution was to spend so much time in Chelsea's half of the field it would be hard for the visitors to acquire it.
Bayern's dominion over possession and space was almost absolute. Chelsea managed just one, admittedly impressive, effort on target in the opening hour. Mario Gomez spurned sufficient chances to have decided the game by himself. When shots were directed on target, Petr Cech or a Chelsea defender threw themselves into blocks or saves.
With eight minutes of normal time remaining, Bayern finally found a way past them. The persistently excellent Thomas Muller escaping a marker, rising to a Toni Kroos cross and heading down off turf then bar to net. Thinking the game won, Heynckes attempted to add insurance to his defence by exchanging Muller for Daniel van Buyten and only succeeded in imbalancing it.
Chelsea threw themselves forward and Manuel Neuer made some poor decisions in the home goal. When Juan Mata propelled an 88th-minute corner towards Didier Drogba their cup final talisman responded with a header of velocity and precision. If Chelsea are to make this the out-of-contract striker's last game it will be a goal that encapsulates his career there.
Drogba can forget the penalty he then conceded in extra-time by clipping Franck Ribery's heels in the corner of the area. When a German club chose a Dutchman to take the critical penalty it was one Cech knew well from three seasons training together. Diving to his left, the goalkeeper blocked a poor attempt with his body.
Bayern kept creating, most notably when Ivica Olic laid the ball across goal for Van Buyten, who implausibly checked his run, declining what would have been a chance at an open goal. The relentless Philipp Lahm teed up Gomez for another miss. Chelsea were waiting for the penalties that came.
Lahm winning the coin toss, they were taken in front of Bayern's raucous core support. Their outstanding captain went first, just eluding Cech's hand. Mata went low to Neuer's left, but not wide enough to evade him. Kissing the ball before taking it, David Luiz converted with the exuberance with which he plays.
Neuer's own kick seemed inelegant yet found the right hand corner well; Lampard's power penalty went down the middle and through the home keeper. Then came Cech's moment, hand in the air he watched a hesitant Olic's kick and swatted it away. Ashley Cole levelled the score.
Bastian Schweinsteiger paused in his run up, shot past Cech's right arm but back off the post. Chelsea celebrated in the centre circle, with the final penalty falling – not as it had in Moscow to John Terry – but exactly the right man, Drogba finished emphatically.
For Bayern it was a vicious end to a horrible season. Bundesliga ceded to Borussia Dortmund, a worst defeat in 40 years in the German Cup final – and the worst possible conclusion to a two-year plan to recover the European Cup on home turf.
The Champions League is Chelsea's. Yet Di Matteo, Drogba and several others may not be offered the opportunity to defend it. Things remain as they always have in Abramovich's empire. Extraordinary.
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Published: May 20, 2012 04:00 AM