Champions league final: It's now or never
On the eve of what could prove the greatest day in Chelsea's 107-year history, Roberto Di Matteo revealed he has prepared "no script" for his final rallying cry but it can also be disclosed that he has been reading Chelsea fanzines.
Di Matteo knows the supporters' passion for the Champions League. He shares their obsession with the trophy. "Can we win it?'' he asked himself. "Yes.''
Almost 25,000 have followed Di Matteo and his team to Munich. They dare to dream, dare to believe that the memories of ghost-goals at Anfield, missed penalties in Moscow and unforgiving Norwegian referees at the Bridge can be banished.
They have faith in men whose Chelsea careers may end this evening, in Didier Drogba and Di Matteo. They admire Di Matteo's ability to set up the team tactically and emotionally to deal with such a substantial threat as posed by Bayern. They heard the whispers that he might consider starting Ryan Bertrand in front of Ashley Cole to deal with the mobile menace that is Arjen Robben.
Whatever the game plan, Chelsea supporters trust Di Matteo. They saw how cleverly he reacted to the contrasting demands of Napoli at home and Barcelona away. The Italian rose to the occasion. The fans have also noted how the players have responded to Di Matteo.
Chelsea's interim head coach has perused the Champions League final edition of the 'cfcuk' fanzine, poring over impassioned pleas from fans to players in assorted editorials. "Let's fight for every ball, win every tackle, and mark and chase players the same as we did in the previous rounds,'' exhorted one writer. "Let's see grit, commitment and determination to win coming from every Chelsea shirt. We may be missing key players but let's not give Bayern Munich too much respect.
"Let's show Europe what we're made of. Thanks again, Robbie.'' The fanzine throbbed with calls to arms. "I have seen it,'' Di Matteo confirmed.
If Chelsea are to live with Bayern in their own backyard, they must be tough mentally, remembering how Liverpool coped with the challenge of playing the 1984 European Cup at the Stadio Olimpico home of Roma.
Moments before Roma players arrived in the tunnel, Sammy Lee burst into the Chris Rea song 'I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It'. As Falcao, Cerezo and Co emerged from their dressing-room, all the Liverpool players had joined Lee and were singing away. Roma could not believe the relaxed nature of their opponents. Liverpool had the psychological edge. They soon had the trophy.
So Chelsea must show no fear. They won't. They have come too far, overcome too many hurdles, to yield lightly. The likes of Petr Cech, Cole, Frank Lampard and Drogba will walk past the Champions League trophy before kick-off and promise themselves that it will be theirs by the end of the night. They know they are unlikely to pass this way again, that Father Time is one foe they will never vanquish.
If Cech, Cole, Lampard and Drogba covet that place in the pantheon of the game, it's now or never.
As with Di Matteo, Chelsea fans believe in Drogba. With both defences drained by suspensions, this should be a night for attackers, for battering rams like Drogba. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Jerome Boateng can expect a relentless, ruthless examination of their physical and mental strengths.
Drogba's determination was unmistakable as he talked before training. He's 34, linked with a move to China, and relishing this last hurrah.
"I'm lucky to be playing Champions League games. When I was young I used to watch the games on TV, when (Zinedine) Zidane scored that volley against Bayer Leverkusen (for Real Madrid in 2002).
"Every Champions League game is special for me. If I'm responsible for something, it's my club, my team-mates and the fans. I play for them.
"I have to perform for them. Nobody really expected us to be here at the beginning of the season, but we did everything to reach the final. Now we'll do everything to win.''
Di Matteo recorded his admiration for the Ivorian. "Didier had brought Premier League trophies and cup competitions to us, scored many goals,'' said the Italian. "So whatever happens (tonight) he will be remembered as a legend at this club." A largely approving assessment of the Ivorian came from the German camp. "We know that Didier Drogba is an absolutely sensational player and will be a physical threat,'' said Bayern's captain, Philipp Lahm.
His manager agreed. "Drogba, for many years, has been one of the top strikers in the Premier League and is definitely dangerous,'' said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes. "He can score at any moment. Sometimes he overdoes it a bit. Sometimes he's an outstanding actor on the pitch."
Bayern subsequently clarified that the word "actor" was in the context of "performer". Drogba shrugged when all this was relayed to him. "No, I don't think so (an actor).'' But it is his stage. It is his time to perform, to roll back the years for one more night. Otherwise the drama on show threatens to be a Gotterdammerung, Chelsea's deities fighting against the twilight of their careers. For Bayern's danger pours from many sources.
There's poacher Mario Gomez. There's Toni Kroos, supplier of silver service deliveries. There's Robben's adroit first touch and change of direction, his powerful left-foot strike often requiring little back-lift.
There's Franck Ribery, who could haunt the English summer. There's Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose will to win was seen after extra-time against Real Madrid in the semis, in the steely look in his eyes and fist-pumping gestures as he rallied the players before penalties. There's Lahm, echoing Cole as the model of the modern full-back, as accomplished in closing down opposing wingers as racing up in support.
If it goes to penalties, everyone will expect Baveria's finest to be home and lederhosed yet they are no superhumans. Two German internationals, Kroos and Lahm, missed in the Bernabeu. But Schweinsteiger's decisive kick was immense. He took his time placing the ball. He took his time addressing it, before running in and drilling it emphatically past Iker Casillas.
Asked why German teams are so good at shoot-outs, Heynckes replied: "We have a positive balance compared to English teams. A shoot-out doesn't have anything to do with talent. It's about the mental power of a player and the will to score." Bayern are favourites, rightly so, but if Drogba is at his barnstorming best, Di Matteo and Chelsea have a chance of making history. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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