Chelsea land holy grail

Di Matteo & Co. win club’s first-ever Champions League after beating Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties

Written by New York Times | Munich | Published:May 21, 2012 12:52 am

Didier Drogba gave Chelsea life,then nearly caused its demise in the final of the European Champions League on Saturday night. Given a reprieve after his mistake in extra time,Drogba converted the penalty against Bayern Munich that gave the Blues the most coveted title in club football for the first time. Drogba,a 34-year-old striker from Ivory Coast,brought Chelsea back from the brink on a goal with just two minutes remaining in regulation to tie the score at 1-1. Then,after 30 tense minutes of overtime,Drogba scored the final and deciding penalty to give Chelsea the win,4-3,in the shootout.

“I’ve been here for eight years and always so close and so far at the same time,” said Drogba,who may not return to London as his contract expires next month. “Today,we have it,we have this cup. The cup is going back to Stamford Bridge,and this was the best feeling ever.”

The game had all the drama that a major final demanded,and it concluded with a title that ended years of frustration in European play for Chelsea. The victory must have eased memories of Chelsea’s defeat in the 2008 final to Manchester United,also in a shootout. And it stifled the retirement-home jokes about the team’s key players,whose ability to compete in their 30s at the top level was often questioned.

An ecstatic Frank Lampard,33,who has played for Chelsea since 2001,carried the trophy onto the field,streamers in Chelsea blue and white tied to the handles of the cup. “In Moscow,it was very difficult,very painful for the players,the club,for the fans,” Drogba said of the 2008 defeat. “Today,we managed to change it,and again it was an amazing game,a crazy game.”

The defeat was especially bitter for Bayern. It not only had to watch as Chelsea celebrated on its home field,but it also controlled play throughout,taking 35 shots at the goal to just 9 by Chelsea.

Predictable script

For more than 80 minutes the game followed a predictable script. Bayern had the ball. Bayern got close to the Chelsea goal. A swarm of blue-clad defenders smothered the attack. After 82 scoreless minutes,the game seemed destined for penalty kicks,and it was. But the path to get there was unexpectedly thrilling.

In the 83rd minute,Bayern finally made the most of one of its chances when Thomas Müller bounced a header off the grass and over Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. “Thomas!” screamed the announcer. “Müller!” the crowd answered — once,twice and a third time.

There were seven minutes to go and the dream of a European title at its home stadium seemed closer and closer as time wound down. Bayern dominated Chelsea on corner kicks throughout,taking 20 to Chelsea’s 1. But Drogba made sure the only corner was one that counted. With two minutes to go in regulation,Drogba silenced the celebrating crowd,driving home a header on Juan Mata’s corner kick. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could only deflect the ball into the net.

Costly mistake

Bayern had another chance to win five minutes into extra time when Drogba fouled Bayern’s French star,Franck Ribéry,in the penalty area,a mistake that could have cost Chelsea the game and negated his earlier heroics. But Arjen Robben took the penalty and kicked the ball low,and Cech stopped it at the line.

The most dominant team in the history of German professional football,Bayern ended the season without a title,failing to win the Bundesliga,the German Cup and now the Champions League. This was without question the bitterest taste of all.

Each club had an allotment of 17,500 tickets,but Bayern fans clad in red and white outnumbered the Chelsea blues. In many ways,the pressure was all on Bayern. Its fans and management expected a victory on home turf. Chelsea could blame injuries and its four suspended players,including John Terry,the captain,to Bayern’s three if it came up short again.

Time and again,Bayern had chances in regulation and in extra time. As late as the 107th minute,Ivica Olic,the Croat substituted for Ribéry,took a soft cross from Philipp Lahm and sent the ball rolling just past the far post.

The shootout

The shootout came in front of the Bayern fans,a sea of red and white. Lahm,the Bayern captain,converted the first penalty. Then Neuer blocked Chelsea’s first try by Mata. Once again,it seemed as if Bayern would win,exactly as it dispatched Real Madrid in the semifinals. Mario Gómez,the second-leading scorer in the Champions League this season,was barely a presence in the match,but he made his penalty kick. David Luiz countered for Chelsea,and it was 2-1. Neuer took the next shot and sent it past Cech to give Bayern a 3-1 advantage.

Lampard stepped up and drilled the next Chelsea penalty high into the net,setting up the dramatic conclusion. First,Olic was denied as Cech guessed right and batted the ball away. Chelsea’s Ashley Cole made his penalty,and it was now 3-3.

Bastian Schweinsteiger,who has been at Bayern since he was on the youth squad,stepped up to take his turn. He must have known that Drogba was waiting behind him. He hesitated and took a stutter-step before sending a soft kick off the goal post. He walked away with his shirt pulled over his head,and Drogba did the rest.

Di Matteo silent on his future with Chelsea

MUNICH: Despite leading Chelsea to the biggest trophy in club football,Roberto di Matteo’s future as manager of the London club is still in doubt. Di Matteo had a conversation with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich after the team’s penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on Saturday,but he would not disclose what he discussed with the Russian billionaire.

“What was discussed with the boss we don’t disclose publicly,’’ Di Matteo said after Chelsea lifted the title for the first time. “He looked very happy. The only thing I know is that I am capable of going on holiday,it’s been a challenging three months,’’ he added. “Whatever the future holds for me I’d be happy,whatever the club decides I’ll respect it.’’

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes knew what he’d do if he were in Abramovich’s position. “If I were the owner,I’d give him a three-year contract,’’ Heynckes said after the match.

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003,but the London club had been unable to win the Champions League until Di Matteo’s brief — and officially temporary — tenure. The Italian-born,41-year-old Di Matteo took over when Andre Villas-Boas was fired following a 3-1 loss to Napoli in the round of 16 in March. “Nobody could have predicted this,the last three months,to finish like this is incredible. Football is like life,unpredictable and crazy,’’ he said. “It’s a great achievement.’’

Chelsea also won the FA Cup but finished sixth in the Premier League. By winning the Champions League,they have qualified for next season’s competition. “It’s a huge difference,we’ve always said that playing in the Champions League was crucial,’’ Di Matteo said. “I don’t know what the future holds,it’s the first time we won and it’s a very difficult competition to win.’’

Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck,meanwhile,has already indicated that any decision on appointing a permanent manager will be made sooner than later.

For all the latest News Archive News, download Indian Express App

    Live Cricket Scores & Results
    Express Adda