SEE YOU IN ROME!
Chelsea suffered defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League Final, going down 6-5 in a penalty shootout. It was loss of the most heartbreaking kind, a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes sending the match to extra time, the score remaining the same to ensure that penalties would decide the Champions of Europe. In a shootout of high drama, John Terry had the chance to win the game, but a crucial slip saw his effort hit the post. Eventually, van der Sar’s save from the substitute Anelka gave United victory.After picking up a knock in training the day before the match, Ashley Cole was passed fit to start at left back. Ahead of him, Florent Malouda was preferred to Salomon Kalou, whilst Essien was again deployed at right back. Of our two Champions League winning right backs, Ferreira was the one left out of the squad, Belletti on the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson went for a 4-4-2 formation rather than a 4-3-3, deploying Owen Hargreaves unlikely, but not totally unfamiliar wide right role, Ronaldo chosen on the left, by means of avoiding being shackled once again by Chelsea’s Cole. Consequently, Tevez started up front with Rooney, Scholes and Carrick in midfield. Vidic was fit and started in defence.
Petr Čech, decked out in “warning” orange, got an early touch of the ball, as he was alert to claim Hargreaves’ cross at the near post. Makelélé and Scholes were enjoying a decent tussle in the centre of the park, the latter fouling the former on 18 minutes.
It was Scholes who was involved again in the 25th minute, as he was booked for a high challenge on the same Chelsea player. However, Makelélé was also given a yellow card for his part.
Scholes contribution was altogether more positive two minutes later, when he combined with Wes Brown, to set up Cristiano Ronaldo for his 42nd goal of an incredible season. Brown and Scholes worked around Ashley Cole near the corner flag, the United fullback then delivering a hanging left footed cross, that Ronaldo powered past Čech, having out jumped the stagnant Essien. It was a tremendously worked goal from United, though it did serve to spark Chelsea into life.
Michael Ballack began to get involved and assert his considerable authority on the game, and his physical presence forced Ferdinand to awkwardly head back towards his own goal, van der Sar making a decent save to keep it out. Two minutes later, Čech wowed everyone with a spectacular display of athleticism and goalkeeping dexterity, as he made a phenomenal double save to keep Chelsea in the game. Rooney’s raking 50 yard pass picked out Ronaldo, who then crossed for Tevez. The Argentine’s diving header was parried by Chelsea’s keeper, and when Terry’s clearance fell for Carrick, Čech gathered himself from the turf and made a fantastic reaction save with his right hand, as Carrick smashed the ball goalwards from 18 yards. It was a truly magnificent piece of goalkeeping from the world’s top goalkeeper.
Just before half time, a dangerous cross from Hargreaves eluded Makelélé and luckily for Chelsea, Tevez also, the chance going begging. It was to prove crucial, as with six seconds of the first 45 minutes remaining, Frank Lampard equalised, notching 20 goals for the third season in succession. It was typically opportunistic from the England midfielder, as Essien’s long range shot was twice deflected before falling into his path. A slight slip from van der Sar proved crucial, as Lampard coolly tucked the ball away, to take Chelsea into the break level pegging with United.
It took ten minutes of the second half for Chelsea to fashion a genuine chance. It was a typically robust break from Essien, however once he worked himself into a shooting position on the edge of the area; he shot over on his weaker left foot. Nevertheless, it was a sign of intent from Avram Grant’s men.
With Chelsea in the ascendancy, Michael Ballack found space to shoot at goal from 30 yards, his sweetly struck effort viciously dipping and swerving, but missing the target by a yard. United were struggling, as Ballack and Lampard dictated the tempo in midfield, whilst Makelélé mopped up behind them.
Didier Drogba was having a quiet match up front, but he sprung into life with twelve minutes remaining, as he turned and shot against the post from 25 yards out. It was shades of Thierry Henry from Drogba, who was to have a much more negative influence on the match in the latter stages.
With two minutes remaining and the match still tied, Ryan Giggs entered as a substitute and in doing so, became Manchester United’s record appearance maker. He replaced Paul Scholes, who had been one of United’s better players. However, after 90 minutes, the score was still 1-1, and extra time beckoned.
A little bizarrely, Grant replaced Malouda in the second minute of the first period of extra time, with Salomon Kalou making his entrance on the left wing. Two minutes later, Chelsea hit the woodwork for the second time, Frank Lampard’s delicate left footed chip coming back off the bar after a beautifully disguised pass on the edge of the box from Ballack. United were lucky to escape a second time. However, that luck went Chelsea’s way, when a penetrating run from Evra split open the defence down the left. He cut the ball back for Giggs, whose shot was amazingly headed off the line by the heroic John Terry. As you were, then.
Nicolas Anelka replaced Joe Cole for Chelsea, whilst Nani replaced Wayne Rooney, who looked distinctly unimpressed by the decision. The threat of penalties was drawing nearer as the second half commenced, though United were kind enough to gift Chelsea a set piece opportunity 25 yards out. Drogba’s effort, nevertheless well struck, was off target.
With four minutes of the match remaining, Drogba stupidly and ridiculously got himself sent off, for a tame slap on Vidic. The ruckus had started after Tevez and Terry exchanged words, Michael Ballack’s “mediation” doing little to calm the melee that ensued. Chelsea was down to ten, but most vitally, missing a renowned penalty taker.
With seconds remaining on the clock, Avram Grant and Sir Alex Ferguson both introduced substitutes with the sole aim of involving them in the now inevitable shootout. Juliano Belletti, scorer of the winning goal for Barcelona in the 2006 Final, replaced the exceptional Claudé Makelélé, whilst Anderson replaced Wes Brown.
The crowd’s early enthusiasm gave way to a jittery nervousness, as the referee blew full time, signaling that a penalty shootout would decide the victor.
United captain Rio Ferdinand won the toss and elected to shoot first, the shootout taking place at the Manchester United end. The rain was now torrential.
Carlos Tevez was first to take, the antagonist in the extra time melee keeping a cool head to slot into the bottom right hand corner, with Čech sent the wrong way. First for Chelsea was Michael Ballack, who showed his very own world class cool, smashing his kick past van der Sar.
Carrick was second for United, and he went left as Čech went right, making the score 2-1 to United. The substitute Belletti, sent on for this very moment, was second for Chelsea. He delayed the taking of the kick for a few moments after the referee blew his whistle, but held his nerve to slot the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
Next up was Ronaldo. The Portuguese wing wizard stuttered, stopped and feinted in his run up, however this time it was Čech who held his nerve, holding still before diving to his right to make a truly great save. The other goalscorer, from what seemed like so long ago, gave the advantage to Chelsea, Lampard drilling his penalty past van der Sar.
Hargreaves was next, brilliantly placing his penalty in the top left hand corner. Ashley Cole’s was much less sure, but it snuck in despite two strong hands from van der Sar. Čech got two hands to Nani’s penalty too, however the young winger still managed to score.
This meant that the next penalty, if scored, would mean a 5-4 win to Chelsea. With Drogba off, the heart and soul of Chelsea Football Club, John Terry, stepped forward. With one hand on the trophy, Chelsea’s captain stepped up and with the aid of a slid on the greasy turf, smashed his penalty against the upright, with van der Sar nowhere to be seen. Heartbreaking, for a true Chelsea hero, a leader of men.
Anderson smashed United back in front, only for an extraordinarily composed Kalou to keep the scores level by placing his penalty into the top right hand corner. Giggs stepped up for the seventh penalty, showing all the composure expected of the seasoned veteran, as he sent Čech the wrong way to score.
And then finally, Anelka. The Chelsea striker never looked confident as he walked to the spot, and the question must be asked as to his confidence levels, having declined the opportunity to take one of the first five penalties. His lack of faith showed, as his poorly struck and placed penalty was parried by van der Sar diving to his left, sparking wild celebrations from Manchester United. Terry was in tears, as was Ballack. Lampard couldn’t look on, Grant could do nothing to console the players that had made him so proud over the course of the season, culminating in playing their own part in an epic European Cup Final.
Have no doubt, John Terry, Petr Čech and maybe even Avram Grant will be back next season, keeping the blue flag flying high, into the next campaign and beyond. All roads lead to Rome…
Chelsea (4-3-3) Čech; Essien, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Ballack, Makelélé (Belletti 120), Lampard; J Cole (Anelka 99), Drogba, Malouda (Kalou 92).
Manchester United (4-4-2) Van der Sar; Brown (Anderson 120), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Hargreaves, Scholes (Giggs 87), Ronaldo; Rooney (Nani 100), Tevez.
Referee Lubos Michel (Slovakia)