This year’s UEFA Champions League final matchup was not one many would have predicted at the beginning of the season. The entire tournament provided more surprises and upsets then usual – minnows beating powerhouses became the norm.
For FC Bayern Munich, the Champions League final seemed liked destiny. Munich was chosen as the host city, after all, and the talented team was primed to capitalize on the home pitch advantage.
Chelsea FC was the team no one expected to see beyond the first few rounds, let alone in the final. With star player drama, coaching changes, and overall problems with consistency, most believed FC Barcelona would dispatch of the last remaining English club in Europe in the semifinals. But the struggling Catalans could not, and the final stage in Germany was set.
To the disgruntled Spanish, Italian and even several English fans, the beginning of the match – and much of it thereafter – gave a smug sense of superiority. For the whole first half and most of the second, little soccer was actually played by either side. The beautiful game wasn’t so beautiful, and some saw that to be proof that one – or both – of these two teams was unsuitable for the title of “Best in Europe.”
The statistics from the game were overwhelmingly in Bayern’s favor. The Germans took more shots, forced more corners, and in general had the more eager attacking spirit. Chelsea was clearly on the defense and would have settled for the quick counter-attack goal.
The end result of this was a first half full of missed opportunities. Bayern created some magnificent chances but failed to exploit any of them. By sticking to its game plan, Chelsea frustrated the home team and slowly chipped away at the Germans’ confidence while waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
The second half continued in the same fashion as the first, forcing many to believe the game would exceed regulation and extra time still hovering at 0-0.
Luckily for the viewers, that wasn’t the case.
The real action finally began in the 83rd minute when the young and cracking Thomas Müller smashed in a header past Petr Cech, who had been Chelsea’s lifeline for most of the match. With less than 10 minutes to play, Germany’s capital was already pouring the beers in celebration.
The celebrations were too soon, however, as just five minutes later Drogba took the wind out of the host city’s sails. The first corner Bayern had conceded all night resulted in the Ivorian’s thrashing header that equalized the score.
What the game had been foreshadowing came partially true; the match did enter extra time at a tie, but two late goals brought the score to 1-1.
Drogba transformed from hero to villain moments after his saving goal. In the 95th minute, he chopped Franck Ribéry down from behind inside the box. The referee didn’t miss the blatant penalty, and it looked as if Bayern would easily take the lead once again.
Arjen Robben stepped up to the spot, but his kick aimed right at Cech, who was able to deflect the ball and then smother it before a rebound could be worked.
The Munich crowd was stunned and the players lost a lot of their intensity after the devastating miss. Both teams wound down the last minutes and resigned themselves to a Champions League final decided on penalties.
Bayern took the first kick and the captain Philipp Lahm sunk his strike to set the standard for his teammates. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did his part as well by saving Juan Mata’s penalty to give Bayern a one goal advantage.
Both Mario Gomez and David Luiz tallied their penalty kicks to keep the score line the same. For the third penalty, Neuer did double duty by first sneaking one past his English counterpart and then defending his goal against Frank Lampard. The Chelsea captain would not be stopped, however, and Bayern still clung to its one-goal lead.
The momentum quickly shifted into Chelsea’s favor, however, when Cech batted away Ivica Olić’s attempt. Ashley Cole then beat Neuer to solidify the evened up penalties.
Disaster really struck for Bayern when its last penalty taker, the usually dependable Bastian Schweinsteiger, hit the post. The game was now entirely in Chelsea’s hands, for if Drogba made the final penalty, it would win its first Champions League title in club history.
And Drogba did just that.
It was utter elation for the English and complete devastation for the Germans. While many felt Bayern had been the better team most of the match, Chelsea delivered when it counted and thus deservedly won the trophy – even if the lifting ceremony was a slightly less classy affair than expected.
Another European season has wrapped up and a new champion has been crowned. With the intrigue this season produced, it is anybody’s guess just what 2012-13 will bring.
Starting XI: Chelsea – Cech, Cole, Luiz, Lampard, Mata, Drogba, Mikel, Bosingwa, Kalou, Cahill and Bertrand. Bayern Munich – Neuer, Ribéry, Robben, Boateng, Lahm, Müller, Contento, Schweinsteiger, Gomez, Kroos and Tymoshchuk.
Yellow cards: Schweinsteiger (2’), Cole (81’), Luiz (86’), Drogba (93’), Torres (120’)
Substitutions: Bertrand for Malouda (73’), Kalou for Torres (84’), Müller for Buyten (87’), Ribéry for Olić (96’)