A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
United Outlast Chelsea, Claims Champions League Title
FLORIDA — European championships are simply never easy for Manchester United.
In 1958, their dreams of glory literally came crashing down at a Munich airport, only realized 10 years later thanks to a brilliant manager named Busby and a young star named Best .
In 1999, two injury time goals were needed to shock Bayern Munich.
So if they were to claim the title for a third time in 2008, why would this one be any different? In a match that started on Wednesday and ended Thursday and featured cross bars, uprights, a sending off and ultimately penalty kicks, the result was the same. Manchester United claimed its third European Cup, outlasting fellow English side Chelsea 6-5 on penalty kicks after 120 minutes produced a 1-1 tie.
United was full of confidence, having claimed their second consecutive Premiere League title a week prior.Armed with best player on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo and a stout defense captained by England International Rio Ferdinand, United felt that the title was definitely theirs for the taking.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson made no secret that he felt United should have captured more Champions League titles during his reign and was eager to make up for it.
Chelsea, for their part, came into the final, disappointed at just missing out on retaking the Premiereship title and with coach Avram Grant’s job hanging in the balance.Still, this is high quality side that eyed a chance to complete an improbable turn around after firing their high-profile coach Jose Mourinho in September. The Blues were also seeking their first Champions League title in the home country of their billionaire owner Roman Abromovich.
It was an intense, if nervy start for both sides between who few secrets remained, evidence by the initial touches and slightly wayward passes in the early going.
The free flowing United that had been on display all season was no where to be found. Chelsea’s defense is nothing if not organized and difficult to break down, no matter who’s coaching them.
Speculative efforts by Owen Hargraves in the first ten minutes were either intercepted by Cech or headed away by captain John Terry. Chelsea was equally unable to establish much rhythm with Didier Drogba toiling at the top of the Blues attack waiting for service out of a congested midfield.
The first real chance came in the 16th minute when Cristiano Ronaldo annihilated Michael Essien with a step over move along the left sideline, left him for dead and lifted a cross in towards goalHargraves was unable to get his head on it but it did open up the game somewhat.A foray by Chelsea resulted in Nemanja Vidic heading a Frank Lamard cross dangerously close to his own goal but nothing came of the ensuing corner.
So it was left to United to conjure something out of virtually nothing to open the scoring and that’s exactly what they did in the 26th minute.Off of a throw-in deep in the Chelsea end of the field, Paul Scholes and Wes Brown exchanged a beautiful one-two along the right side line. Scholes released Brown back towards the box who in turn lifted a cross to the far post.Who else but Ronaldo would be there to meet it? United’s winger had scored in every imaginable way over the past season and headers were by no means outside of his repertoire.Unchallenged, Ronaldo neatly headed his 42nd goal of the year just inside the left upright past Peter Cech and United was in business.Ronald is effective on either side of the field but lining up on the left meant he’d be facing Michael Essien at right back which is not normally the Ghanaian’s position.Ronaldo took advantage of Essien’s relative inexperience in that spot (as he was clearly Essien’s responsibility) and put United ahead, 1-0.
After absorbing sustained possession by United, Chelsea started to find their way back into the match in the 33rd minute.Lampard shook off a challenge and lifted another cross towards Drogba to the right of goal near the end line. The Ivorian headed down into the area.Ferdinand tried to hold off an onrushing Michael Ballack but the German was able to head the ball on goal only to see Edwin Van der Sar slap it away.Off the ensuing corner Wayne Rooney regained possession on the right side and launched a 60 yard pass downfield to Ronaldo on the left.Ronald centered the ball into the middle but Carlos Tevez’ header was brilliantly saved by Cech, as was the rebound from an 18 yard shot by Michael Carrick.
Great goal keepers have a way of keeping their sides in the match and Cech demonstrated why is considered among the best in the world with a magnificent double save that would prove crucial later.
United had another chance to increase their lead in the 43rd minute when Rooney got loose down the right hand side and laid in daisy cutting cross that just eluded Tevez. Chelsea fans breathed a sigh of relief then raised their voices as Ferdinand fouled Lampard just on the edge of the United area. Ballack’s free kick came to nothing but Chelsea would have their moment a minute later.
Essien looking to make up for his blown coverage on the Ronaldo goal drove a shot into the box.It was twice deflected and landed right into the path of an oncoming Lampard who had no problems side footing the ball past Van der Sar.Lampard headed towards the corner flag and pointed towards the heavens shouting “For You!” to his recently departed mother.After dodging three bullets, Chelsea was back on even terms at the stroke of halftime, 1-1.
United, it appeared, was rattled having given up the late goal and their hangover continued into the second half as they were unable to regain control of the match.Chelsea frustrated United defensively and started finding their own game. In the 55th minuteEssien was released down the right side of the field by Florent Malouda and shook off the pressure of Ronaldo with a deft flick behind his left foot, only send his resulting shot over the cross bar.
Vidic was forced to make a timely header away from an Ashley Cole cross towards Drogba two minute later.Michael Ballack was inexplicably left alone to maraud down the center of the field but his shot from about 25 yards out was about 3 feet wide right.
It was clear that Chelsea was now in the ascendancy, pressuring United’s midfield into giveaways and the defense into desperate clearances. They dominated possession and as the second half wore on. At the 78th minute mark Drogba who was well contained by Vidic for most of the match, began to appear.He fought off pressure by Hargrves layingpass off to the left to Ashley Cole who tapped it back.Drogba curled a 20+ yard strike the beat Van der Sar to his left but not the upright, rebounding away for a thrown in. Vidic was again called on to cut out a cross intended for Drogba from Malouda on the left, two minutes later.
United’s defense bent but did not break for the remainder of the half and 30 additional rain soaked minutes were going to be needed to decide Europe’s club champion.
United drew the first chance a minute and half in, as interplay between second half substitute Ryan Giggs, Rooney and Tevezalong the edge of the Chelsea box almost put the Argentine through but Terry’s slight intervention was enough for Cech to collect with little worry.
Chelsea should have gone head in the 94th minute. Ashely Cole combined with substitute Salomon Kalou off a throw in deep in United territory.Cole strode into the box and played to Ballack at the top who one timed a pass to Lampard back on the left inside the box.Lampard spun to lose his defender and lifted a shot with his left foot that found the cross bar, saving United again.
On 100 minutes, Patrice Evra collected a loose ball on left side, stormed past two defenders into the area and laid the ball back to a wide open Ryan Giggs. Giggs had the goal at his mercy but another timely intervention by Terry denied Giggs and United what looked to be a sure goal in extra time.Tevez drew a save out of Cech two minutes later after being released down the left side by Ronaldo.
The 111th minute saw substitute Nicholas Anelka draw a foul about 28 yards away but Drogba’s free kick only gave Van der Sar mild concern as it sailed wide. The players began to cramp and nerves were frayed leading to the only significant action of the second half of overtime in the 116th minute.Players from both teams got into a heated discussion that led to pushing and shoving and a slap to the face of Vidic by Drogba.Yellow cards were shown to Ballack and Tevez but Drogba was shown red, a development that would prove potentially cataclysmic for Chelsea. United were unable to turn their man advantage into a goal and following a frightening clash of head in the 120th minute between Cole and United substitute Nani it was over.
120 minutes were unable to decide it and now it was down to penalties.A crap shoot for the Champions League Title.
Tevez and Carrick were matched by Ballack and Juliano Belletti.Ronaldo stepped up but to everyone’s astonsishment, the seemingly unstoppable Portuguese was stoned by Cech.Much was made of Ronaldo’s penalty taking which involved astop and start approach to the ball.Cech wasn’t buying the fake (which is illegal anyway) and of all people to miss their penalty Ronaldo was turned away.
Lambard and Ashley Cole made their kicks (the latter just off the finger tips of Van der Sar) on either side of Owen Hargraves.Nani converted for United but John Terry strode confidently to the spot with the Champions League Title on his right foot.Terry, who recovered from a dislocated elbow to play a heroic match in the back, slipped as he planted to strike and his penalty sailed wide.Terry had said before hand that he wanted to use this match to not only win the title but regain the England captaincy from Ferdinand. However, his moment of glory literally slipped away in an instant.
Anderson converted for United as did Kalou for Chelsea. Giggs put United in front and it was left to Anelka to keep Chelsea alive. Anelka, a winner of the competition with Real Madrid eight years earlier laced his shot but Van der Sar guessed right and batted it away.The Dutchman stood up and raised his arms. The Champions League title belonged to Manchester United.
One of the most lasting images of this final will be ofTerry’s tearful reaction (which apparently overrides his apparent spitting at Carlos Tevez during the fracas that saw Drogba sent off) after it was over. It was his miss that gave United its last second reprieve.But he should not have been in the position.Had Drogba not been sent off he most certainly would have taken that penalty in Terry’s place.But the night belonged to United who used another great escape to claim their third European title in as many finals.Sir Alex Ferguson has captured 22 honors for United while in charge who did not lose a single match throughout this year’s competition.
In a match that started late and ended deep into the Moscow morning (sometime after 1:30am local time) United was able to withstand a determined Chelsea side to etch their name into history.
Somewhere the Busby Babes are smiling knowing that once again, United overcame adversity to win another major title.