Some things are just meant to go together. Other things appear destined to stay apart. Until tonight. Chelsea capped off their best season in their 107-year history by being crowned champions of Europe.
And how they had to wait. This was the 100th Champions League match for Chelsea since Roman Abramovich assumed ownership of the club in June 2003. This was his Holy Grail, the elusive prize. Nine years of semi-final drama, penalty heartache, wet surfaces, slip-ups, but this was Chelsea’s time.
Fate and destiny are often over-used words in football. But some people believe in it for a reason. Everything psychologically pointed to a Chelsea win. Chelsea was founded in 1905, this was 19/05. This was, supposedly, Didier Drogba’s last game. Frank Lampard, too, perhaps, along with Ashley Cole and the other “old guard”.
But what a way to send off. The desire was there. They probably believed this was their last chance. And boy did they give us a show.
The homework was done. The tactics were similar to that in Camp Nou: stuff, and hope to counter, but with Ramires suspended, it was harder to. Chelsea had fewer possession, one corner to Bayern’s 20, and just nine shots to Munich’s 34.
But football is not a stats game. Ask Barcelona. Nor is it a game played on paper. Ask Barcelona. Chelsea have been written off many times. Valencia, Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. On paper, the opponents had the advantage, be it with a 3-1 first-leg lead or better players.
But Chelsea had something else. Something money cannot buy. Something classy, skilful players cannot buy. Grit, determination, desire, but more importantly, composure.
And how the latter had to be shown, especially by Ryan Bertrand. The 22-year-old became the first player to make his Champions League debut in the final. And he had some nerve, often deployed as more of a left wing-back to track the runs of Robben.
Composure too, had to be shown by Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel, the latter having improved significantly under Di Matteo, the former continuing to show everyone why he is still regarded as one of the best midfield players in the game. They both nullified the Bayern attacks.
But Bayern Munich are a side that play with width. So it was fitting to see Jose Bosingwa cry in sheer jubiliation at overcoming his biggest test, against Ribery. Much maligned and still so, the Portuguese man silenced his critics, atleast for one evening, with a disciplined display.
Bayern, as one could expect, had much of the ball throughout. Cahill stood firm early on, as did Luiz. Half an hour in and Chelsea were still to test Neuer. Gomez was surprisingly quiet, Robben was his usual arrogant, wasteful self, while Chelsea were resolute. Silent determination. They had done this before, almost programmed for this patient way of play.
Still, Bayern had chance after chance, Muller volleyed wide, Gomez skied high. And they thought they had got in front early in the second half, but Ribery was adjudged to have been offside. The decision was correct, in a match the referee often allowed to flow.
Into the last half an hour and the home crowd were getting edgy. This was meant to be their destiny, at their home crowd. Cole stunningly blocked a Kroos shot, but the next chance they had went in.
Ashley Cole, for all his brilliance throughout the entire campaign, followed Gomez instead of Muller, and the German international headed in with a bounce from the ground and the underside of the crossbar.
A delirious frenzy ensued – they thought they had won it. But Chelsea were not giving up without a fight. No, not with Didier Drogba on the pitch. Having scored nine times in nine finals, it came with the ticket that he would score here.
And five minutes later, he crushed Bayern’s initial jubilation. They had celebrated too early. Drogba had other ideas. Chelsea’s one corner was floated in by Mata. Drogba rose highest to thumped it in, a quite sensational header.
Any hope of a 1999-style win was on the cards when Drogba had a free-kick in the dying seconds. Could it be his time here? Instead, he skied it high. Extra-time it was.
And it could not have started worse. Drogba The Hero changed to his alter-ego Drogba The Villain, catching Ribery slightly, but enough for him to go off injured, it seemed, and give Bayern a penalty.
Germans never miss penalties, they said. A German team. Full of Germans. In Germany. But somehow, they get a Dutchman to do the honours, and fail. Arjen Robben powered into Cech’s body, and at the second attempt, the Czech keeper kept it out. Robben also missed one with Chelsea in the semi-final shoot-out defeat against Liverpool in 2007.
The belief re-ignited. For all the luck and fortune, could that hold on? Chelsea seemed ready to take it to penalties. From the outside, no-one would know why an English team would want penalties against Germans. But Di Matteo had other ideas. They had not just practised all week, but “all season”.
And so they came. He had his wish. Mata missed Chelsea’s first, but Luiz, Cole, and Lampard made amends. Cech went the right way for all his penalties, and it was only time he kept one out: Olic’s. Had he scored, it would have been match point. Sudden death it became. Schweinsteiger hit the post, with the helping hand, once again, of Cech.
Chelsea were to be the second side, after Manchester United in 1999, to win the FA Cup and the Champions Cup/Champions League in the same season. It was Drogba’s time. It was Chelsea’s time. It was Roman Abramovich’s time. Surely, Roberto Di Matteo deserves a little more time.