Friday 22 September 2017

Destiny was calling and would not be ignored

Chelsea players react with pure delight after Didier Drogba scored the winning penalty in last night's Champions League final
Chelsea players react with pure delight after Didier Drogba scored the winning penalty in last night's Champions League final

DION FANNING

At half-time in Munich last night, after 45 minutes when Chelsea had only the curious but yet characteristic profligacy of Mario Gomez, 41 goals this season, to thank for still being level, it appeared inevitable that Roberto di Matteo's side would win the Champions League.

In extra-time when Arjen Robben stood over the ball at the penalty spot, it was a little harder to believe but not much. Robben's penalty was saved by Petr Cech and Chelsea's victory seemed inevitable again.

In the penalty shootout, Manuel Neuer felt he could break the spell. But even he couldn't do this and it was left to Didier Drogba to take Chelsea's fifth penalty and win their first European Cup.

Their run to the final had been extraordinary. They had overcome all obstacles, primarily beginning the season with a manager they came to despise and being drawn against Barcelona in the semi-final. All handicaps could be turned to their own advantage.

They were facing a Bayern side in their own stadium -- although that advantage was overplayed -- without several key men, among them John Terry, who was the subject of many close-up shots before the game from a sympathetic TV director who wanted to convey to the world the sadness of a player who was missing the final through a moment of self-destructive craziness.

Chelsea, a team run by one of the world's richest men and assembled with no economic restraint, have somehow taken to the role of underdogs. In fact, they had assumed it through a lack of ambition, understandable against Barcelona, and now hardened into a tactic. Di Matteo took no risks last night, selecting the young full back Ryan Bertrand to play in front of their regular left-back Ashley Cole and making their intentions clear.

In the first half, they surrendered possession and watched as Gomez made a mess of the chances and Robben, even more characteristically, snatched at the opportunities that came his way. This feeling of inevitable Chelsea victory grew eight minutes into the second half when Robben's weak shot was saved by Cech and Franck Ribery tapped in the rebound only for the flag to go up. Gomez was onside and he could have taken the chance. Of course, he would have missed.

There were heroic performances, particularly from Cole, who made a series of great challenges. Gary Cahill attempted to emulate the lost leader Terry by trying to head away the ball at one point when it was a few inches off the ground.

As the game went into its final stages, they inched forward. Fernando Torres was an option from the bench but Drogba laboured on. He tracked back and offered defensive options. With Torres, you can never be sure if he'll even track forward.

With eight minutes left, Bayern struck a blow against Chelsea and against believers in fate. Thomas Muller headed in Toni Kroos' cross from six yards and Bayern felt that their work had been rewarded. But they hadn't done enough. Heynckes took Muller off, who applauded the fans who were ready to celebrate, and replaced him with a defender, Daniel van Buyten. He was attempting to close things down for the final minutes but Chelsea finally had to show some ambition.

It was Drogba who demonstrated it when Chelsea got their first corner of the night two minutes from the end and the Ivorian headed in powerfully.

Naturally Drogba then made it difficult by giving away the penalty in extra-time. Cech saved. At that point, it was wholly unnecessary to continue with the game. Bayern should have shook their heads and walked from the field. Instead they put themselves through more torture. Substitute Ivica Olic wasted a chance and Gomez, well, you know what Gomez did.

The penalty shootout was gripping considering the outcome was already written. All that remained was for John Terry to join Frank Lampard in lifting the European Cup. The gods wouldn't be swayed, even by that prospect.

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