Thursday 22 March 2018

Drogba stars on final night to remember as Chelsea win Champions League

Bayern Munich 1 Chelsea 1
(Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties)

Champions: Frank Lampard and John Terry lift the greatest prize in club football. Photo: Getty Images
Champions: Frank Lampard and John Terry lift the greatest prize in club football. Photo: Getty Images
Frank Lampard celebrates with the Champions League trophy. Photo: PA
Chelsea's John Terry and interim manager Roberto Di Matteo (centre) celebrate. Photo: PA

Daniel Taylor at the Allianz Arena

These are the moments Chelsea will never want to forget. They gave everything and finally, when it was all done, they had the European Cup in their possession and the players in blue were celebrating the greatest triumph this club has ever known.

It was a rare form of euphoria on a night when, just like Moscow four years ago, it came down to the gut-wrenching drama of a penalty shootout.

At one stage Bayern were leading 3-1. Juan Mata's effort had been saved by Manuel Neuer and the Chelsea players stood in line, heads bowed, knowing they were on the brink of walking past the European Cup and not being allowed to touch it.

What happened was extraordinary and went against everything we know about German clubs and penalties. Petr Cech started the turnaround by saving from Ivica Olic and then Bastian Schweinsteiger's effort came back off the post.

David Luiz, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole had all beaten Neuer and suddenly it was left to Didier Drogba with possibly the last kick of his last match for the club. What a parting gift the Ivorian gave, considering that it was also his 88th-minute goal that had dragged into extra-time five minutes after Thomas Muller had scored the goal that looked like giving Bayern their fifth victory in this competition.

The trophy was being adorned with red and white ribbons by the time Drogba headed in the equaliser. This may not be the most exhilarating Chelsea team of the Abramovich years but nobody can dispute their resolve because this told only part of the story on a night when Cech also saved Arjen Robben's penalty in the first period of extra-time.

Officially, Uefa will stick to their line that the tickets were divided equally between the two clubs. It was a nonsense, though. At least two thirds of the stadium was bedecked in red. Bayern's supporters were beery and boisterous and before kick-off they unveiled a huge banner of the trophy, covering the entire end behind Neuer's goal. A collage of red and white sheets formed the accompanying words: 'Unser Stadt, Unser Stadion. Unser Pokal. Our City. Our Stadium. Our Cup.'

What should not be overlooked is that Bayern are formidable opponents here, with only two home defeats in the Bundesliga last season, 49 goals scored and six conceded. They began the game with great adventure, attacking from the flanks. On one side, Robben was an elusive opponent. On the other, Franck Ribery was a constant menace for Jose Bosingwa. Chelsea had to endure some intense pressure during those early stages. Not quite as relentless as the two legs of their semi-final against Barcelona but still fairly unremitting.

Once again, they were having to defend with great togetherness and commitment before they could even contemplate causing problems of their own.

This was how Bayern had started the 1999 final against Manchester United except, unlike then, they could not turn their superiority into the hard currency of an early goal. Cech turned away their best effort inside the opening half, lashed in from Robben's left boot. Muller flashed a volley wide from one of Diego Contento's overlapping runs and there were other moments when Chelsea were simply grateful for their opponents' poor finishing. At other times, Cech seemed to fill the entire goal-frame.

Chelsea's first-half attacks were far more sporadic but there were glimpses of real quality from Juan Mata and an encouraging 10-minute spell before half-time. Even then, however, the most inviting chance fell to Mario Gomez only for the striker to continue with the theme of erratic penalty-box finishing.

It was probably inevitable Chelsea would have to live dangerously at times given that their most influential defender was watching from the stands and their centre-backs, Luiz and Gary Cahill, had not played for five weeks and four weeks respectively. This was a patched-up side, not just missing John Terry's influence but the energy and drive of Ramires and the extra solidity Branislav Ivanovic offers instead of Bosingwa. Ryan Bertrand worked diligently but was only on the edges of the game on the night he was brought in for his first ever Champions League appearance.

Bertrand's involvement on the left of midfield, often doubling up with Cole so that Chelsea had two full-backs in close proximity to Robben, confirmed how seriously Roberto Di Matteo regarded the Dutchman's penetrative bursts.

The second half began the same way. It was difficult to keep count with the number of telling blocks or interceptions Luiz made. Cole, reiterating his position as one of the great big-game players, stuck to the task of chasing Robben. Cahill, like Luiz, seemed determined that Terry's absence should not be a key factor. In midfield, Lampard curbed his natural attacking instincts to play a more conservative role alongside Mikel John Obi.

When Ribery did turn the ball past Cech after 53 minutes, only to be denied by a marginal offside decision, it was from a swift counter-attack on the back of a Chelsea breakaway. Mostly, though, they were ploys of containment from the side in blue. Di Matteo had set them up to play very much as the "away" team, meaning Drogba was often isolated in attack.

Their resistance finally crumbled on 83 minutes when Ribery chipped his cross to the far post, Cole found himself outnumbered by players in red and Muller came in from behind them both to direct a stooped header past Cech.

A lesser side would have hoisted the white flag but that this not the way of this Chelsea team. Mata's corner was whipped across the penalty area. Drogba was fast and decisive, flashing his header goalwards. It was the perfect connection, carrying enough power to find the top corner of the net via Neuer's glove.

In probably his final game for Chelsea, It would have been cruel on Drogba if his silly trip on Ribery, three minutes into extra-time, had been the decisive moment. Robben struck his penalty cleanly enough, low and hard to Cech's left. The goalkeeper smothered the shot.


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