Could it have ended any other way?
Chelsea’s dramatic comeback season was capped Saturday with a dramatic comeback win against heavy favorites Bayern Munich, who were playing on their home turf, in the UEFA Champions League Final. Didier Drogba was the hero of the match, scoring the equalizer in the 89th minute to send the match to extra time, and then putting away the fifth and final penalty kick for Chelsea, to win 4-2 in penalties (1-1 FT).
For Munich, it was a story of missed opportunities coming back to haunt them. They out-shot Chelsea 43-9 (FORTY THREE TO NINE?!), including 20 corner kicks, and dominated time of possession 56%-44%. After a back and forth start to the match, Munich began exacting their dominance midway through the first half, pouring pressure on Chelsea in the penalty area. They simply couldn’t do anything with those chances, however.
Credit the Chelsea defense, and in particular Ashley Cole, who seemed to get a leg or a head on nearly everything that had a chance. At times, it almost seemed as if Chelsea had divine intervention on their side. Keeper Petr Cech knocked away a Robben strike with his leg in the 20th minute, only to have it go off the corner of the post and out. Point blank chances in front of goal seemed to freeze Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller, who were unable to put the right touch on anything to get out in front of the visitors.
Just at the end of the first half, Drogba gave Chelsea their first real opportunity of the match, with a hard strike right at the near post but it was just knocked out by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Despite an inability to maintain any kind of possession through the midfield, and not taking advantage of their few chances on Bayern’s end of the field, Chelsea had to feel good about the match being scoreless at the half.
But with the pressure from Bayern building, it was only a matter of time before they put one away. It finally came in the 83rd minute on a cross from Schweinsteiger to Muller, who finally evaded Cole and headed the ball over the goal line and out of Cech’s reach.
Munich and their fans celebrated their presumptive win, with just minutes to play, but Drogba had other ideas. With a minute to go in regulation, Chelsea drew a corner kick – their first of the match – and Drogba delivered a gorgeous header off the cross from Mata, bouncing just off the tip of Neuer’s hands into the top of the net for the equalizer.
And on to extra time we went.
Just minutes into the period, Chelsea’s magic nearly disappeared when Drogba was called for a foul on Ribery in the penalty area. Robben lined up for the kick, threatening to put the home squad ahead by a goal. But Cech guessed correctly on the low strike to the right side, and knocked it away to keep the score equal.
Bayern continued to dominate possession throughout extra time, but their troubles finding anything on target continued, and Chelsea’s back line wouldn’t allow them to break through. And so the drama could end in no other way but with penalty kicks.
Bayern went up 1-0 on the first try from each team, with Juan Mata’s attempt down the middle knocked straight out by Neuer. The next two attempts from each side went in, with strikes by Luis and Lampard for Chelsea into the top of the net giving Neuer no chance, and Munich’s grounders from Gomez and Neuer just out of Cech’s reach. But Bayern’s fourth try from Ivica Olic was slow and predictable to the right, and Cech stopped it with one hand. An Ashley Cole strike into the right corner evened the score up again, and suddenly it was up to Schweinsteiger to keep Munich alive. But a slight hesitancy caused him to take a touch off of the ball, and it went off the right post.
And up stepped Didier Drogba, who completed the comeback by sending Neuer to his left, then the ball the other way, sinking it in for the win.
On March 4, when Chelsea head coach Andre Villas-Boas was fired, the club stated that the team was “showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season”. Insert interim manager Roberto DiMatteo, who orchestrated a comeback that nobody could have seen coming.
Despite finishing sixth in Premier League play - the first Champions League winner to finish so low in league play - the club went on to edge Liverpool in the FA Cup title, and defeat defending champion Barcelona on a 3-2 aggregate at Camp Nou in Champions League play, en route to the final and a storybook ending.
As champions, Chelsea edged Tottenham out for the fourth Premier League spot in next year’s Champions League.