FOX Soccer Exclusive
Efficient Chelsea worthy of UCL trophy
Arjen Robben rocked on the balls of his feet, eyes staring straight ahead. Frank Ribery’s head slumped, his eyes barely visible over his track suit. Bastian Schweinsteiger, inconsolable, didn’t even look at his runner’s up medal; he simply took it and stalked off the stage.
Mighty Bayern had been beaten, at their home. Their fans stayed in their seats, unsure of what to do, while directly opposite them, a blue wave roiled up. Chelsea had done the improbable, if not the impossible. They had won the European Cup.
A team that many had thought dead two months ago is now the champion of Europe. Chelsea did it behind keeper Petr Cech and Didier Drogba, they did it with an interim coach, Roberto Di Matteo, and they did it without four suspended players. They did it with two gimpy defenders, and they held strong against an astonishing barrage from the Bavarians.
Munich launched thirty-five shots at them, not counting the penalty kick tiebreakers. They earned twenty corner kicks. Chelsea had one corner, and they scored off of it. That’s the game in a nutshell: wasteful Bayern were edged out by an efficient Chelsea side.
So often, English teams have come to the continent and cracked. Not tonight, and not this year. After a dismal run that saw some of the mightiest Premiership teams fall out — and serious questions being asked over England’s strength in this competition — Chelsea have now rolled over the big guns of Barcelona and Bayern and cannot be dismissed as lucky or blessed. They are simply good.
Chelsea were also underestimated. Despite a series of games that showed Chelsea can play blunt soccer, the kind that wearies and frustrates opponents while softening them up for the counter-strike, Bayern were overconfident coming in to this game. Their fans partied in the sun all day long, predicting an easy win over a makeshift Chelsea side missing so many key players. Bayern earned chances by the barrowful and could finish only one of them. It was nowhere near good enough.
Few will remember this game as a masterpiece of grace and style. It was gritty and calculated, but it was also gripping. It also felt like we had seen this before, and indeed, in many ways this was a replay of Chelsea’s heroic defensive efforts against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. As happened then, Chelsea tonight started out a team at sea, and looked like they would be carved apart. Instead, as the game dragged on, their opponents’ confidence began to ebb and it dawned on all of us at the Allianz that Bayern would not see this game out.
The key moments came from the brilliant Cech and the big game hero, Drogba, who flirted with being the goat at the same time. Robben took a dreadful penalty kick after Drogba felled Ribery in extra time, and Cech got down well to save it. He also would save a penalty in the tiebreaker, and had made a series of critical stops.
Drogba’s header to bring the game level, and give Chelsea the chance they needed to win was majestic, proof that he remains the one man who can change a game in a sport notoriously inhospitable to lone guns. This may well be his last game in a blue uniform, and if it is, his point has been made: he carried this team on his back to this final, and he delivered the trophy by sinking the final penalty kick from the spot.
But attention must be paid to John Obi Mikel and Ashley Cole, both of whom were almost impeccable tonight. Cole was almost unbeatable down the flanks and Obi Mikel’s positioning and defense was superb. Ryan Bertrand, making history as the first player to make his Champions League debut in a final, was surprisingly assured, and the two injured backs – Gary Cahill and David Luiz – got through the long night unblemished.
The inquest in Munich will be as bitter as the Helles they serve up by the gallon here. The Bavarian fans were gracious enough, but the knives will be out and there is a cohort of villains to point fingers at. Mario Gomez, who was too wasteful once again. Robben had yet another penalty kick saved. Schweinsteiger, who put the must-make penalty attempt off the post. Ivica Olic, who when given the chance to score, missed wide. Even Thomas Muller will be slated – and he scored the goal that Bayern thought they could ride to a win.
There will also be an inquest in London. Chelsea is known not to fancy Di Matteo as a permanent coach, eager for another big name. For inexplicable reasons, they blame him for their sixth place finish when in fact he saved the season and delivered them the trophy they most coveted. It is true this team is aging and in need of a rebuild. And yet, the old heads won this one, and if it is their last chance, then they struck a blow for geriatrics everywhere against the men who would throw them on the rubbish heap too soon.
Chelsea walked off the field, Cup in hand. The stands were empty. The Bayern players still sat on their home grass, wondering how they threw it all away.
1,000,000: The number of fans who descended on Munich tonight, hoping to catch a glimpse of the game.
17,500: The number of tickets made available to each team’s supporters.
62,500: The volume of beer, in liters, that organizers estimated would be drunk tonight by fans in Munich.
5,000: The amount, in dollars, a single ticket to tonight’s game was going for on the secondary market.
10: The amount, in dollars, a traditional one liter serving of beer costs at the Seehaus bier garten in Munich.
1: The number of European Cups won by Chelsea.
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