The 2012 Champions League treated those with the stamina to survive an 80-minute snooze fest to a delightfully tense climax. Match report by ANT SIMS.
Chelsea became the first London club to become Champions League winners after beating Bayern Munich 3-4 on penalties in a final which unfurled in a tapestry of drama and a crescendo of suspense. It was eventually decided by a few minutes of one-on-one shooting and shot stopping which brought grown men to tears.
As with most finals, it was characterised by a distinct lack of goals and a game of who can bore and frustrate the other team until they crack and concede. That’s how it started anyway. Chelsea’s objective was clear from the outset: park the same rather giant cruise ship which helped see them edge past Barcelona and make it all the way to the UEFA Champions League final.
And they parked it, moored it, anchored it and threw away screw. But for all their anchoring, their lack of forward push was disappointing. It took the Blues 37 minutes to put Manuel Neuer to work, a half-strike from Salomon Kalou had the German outstretched, but he pounced, quickly and effectively and the red shirts in the crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief. Bayern, contrastingly, kept on, constantly pushing forward as they whizzed past Chelsea, but the hosts just couldn’t finish and as the half-time whistle sounded, they had just two shots out of 16 on target.
Bayern came out in the second half looking more determined, though, but Chelsea stood firm, readying the harpoons. A brief lapse in concentration in the 53rd minute nearly had the Blues foiled. Thomas Mueller trudged down the left, cut back to Arjen Robben who had a shot deflected off Ashley Cole and fired into the back of the net by Franck Ribery. But the game soon fell back into a lull as the back-and-forth frustration continued. ductThe frustration was tangible on the field in Munich and in the living rooms of supporters across the globe.
Most watching the game would have started to nod off, but they were soon plucked out of their sedation as a flurry of excitement ensued. With just six minutes to go, Thomas Muller headed home after Ribery floated in from just outside the box, missing both Ashley Cole and Mario Gomez, finding Muller's head who nudged it over Petr ?ech.
Not a team to ever say die, Chelsea rekindled the drama minutes later. Didier Drogba came to Chelsea’s rescue with a header that looked like it had come off Thor’s hammer, thundered in from eight yards out, in the 88th minute. Two minutes of normal time and four minutes of stoppage time and scores were deadlocked, as the full-time whistle blew.
It didn't take long for Drogba to balance the scales of his heroism, though. Fast forward three minutes into extra time and the Ivorian stumbled into a moment of madness, conceding a penalty by kicking Ribery on the back of the ankle. Enter Robben. With Ribery off the field due to a cramp, it was up to the Dutchman to help restore Bayern's lead, but time lapsed into slow motion for Bayern and their supporters as Cech clutched the ball which fired into the low left corner of the net and denied Robben his chance at glory.
Chelsea weren’t only riding their luck in this tournament now, they had it tamed, galloping and doing show jumps from port to starboard on their anchored ship and the drama of extra time continued as Bayern wasted chances as often as they created them.
With scores deadlocked after extra-time, penalties would decide the match with both hoping to exorcise the demons of Champions League finals past. Bayern, who had lost 2-1 to Manchester United in 1999 after two last minute injury times goals and Chelsea, who lost on penalties against Manchester United in 2008.
Philipp Lahm put Bayern ahead after the first penalty before Neuer saved Mata's kick as the footballing world was brought to the edge of its seats. Mario Gomez scored for Bayern, David Luiz scored for Chelsea and then Bayern's keeper himself stepped up to slot home from the spot and the hosts were ahead 3-1. Frank Lampard scored for the Blues, ?ech saved Ivica Oli?'s kick, Cole scored for the visitors and, as the footballing gods smiled down upon the London Blues, Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post to put Chelsea one kick away from European glory. Fittingly, Drogba stepped up and popped the ball into the left corner.
Chelsea’s boat sounded its departure as Drogba ripped off his shirt and got swept up in the euphoria. In football, you make your own luck and Bayern bottled theirs in crystal clear London glass. DM
Photo: Chelsea players celebrate with the UEFA Champions League trophy after winning their final soccer match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in Munich, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay