I was drinking when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray.
At last, the game of games is here. Forgive the bias but today’s the day the Soviet Cyborgs face off against the Euro-Latino Allstars from the Theatre of Dreams. Yes, it’s Chelsea v Manchester United for the right to be known as the champions of Europe for the next twelve months. It’s as much a clash of footballing philosophy: the best two teams in England – and history – will be made tonight.
At a distance of 1,500 miles the pitch looks okay but the English head groundsman says it is pretty bumpy. With the amount of rain there’s been in Moscow today this two week old turf is going to cut up badly, which favours Chelsea’s power over United’s art.
It’s game on and United get things going, playing 4-4-2 against Chelsea’s 4-5-1. Just for the record: Manchester United line up with Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo; Rooney, Tevez plus Kuszczak, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, O’Shea, Fletcher and Silvestre on the bench. Chelsea start with Cech; Essien, Terry, Carvalho, Ashley Cole; Malouda, Makelele, Ballack, Lampard, Joe Cole; Drogba and have Cudicini, Shevchenko, Mikel, Kalou, Alex, Belletti and Anelka as their substitutes.
Both teams make a fast start and there’s action at both ends right away. They’re both going for it full on tonight, no hedging the bets here. Both teams have scoring chances inside the first 7 minutes and anything could happen tonight scorewise. 0-0 just doesn’t look like an option.
Possibly in an attempt to blind United, Chelsea keeper Peter Cech is wearing a vicious fluorescent dayglow orange strip and looks like he’s been tangoed!
After 17 minutes a little flurry of handbags on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area leads to an even bigger spat between Scholes and Makelele which leaves both players getting a yellow card and, as we learn later, Scholes with a broken nose. The heat is on!
Chelsea may have been the first to draw blood but on 26 minutes United cause some serious damage to Chelsea’s dream of winning their first Champions League crown. A Wes Brown cross from the right flies into the the penalty area and who else but Ronaldo soars majestically above Chelsea’s defence and powers a beautifully judged and unstoppable header into the corner of Chelsea’s goal. 1-0 to the Red Devils!
Seven minutes later Chelsea almost equalise when a Drogba cross into the danger zone is headed goalwards by the normally reliable United captain Rio Ferdinand, but a stunning instinctive save from Van der Sar keeps the ball out.
United immediately break into Chelsea’s penalty area and have two great chances, from Tevez and Carrick, saved by Cech, who is proving beyond all doubt that he is the best goalie in the world right now.
Chelsea respond with repeated attempts to get the equaliser and with just seconds remaining of the first 45 minutes get a lucky break. Essien strikes a hit and hope shot into the United box which rebounds wildly off both Vidic and Ferdinand and lands at the feet of Lampard. His instinctive shot wrong foots Van der Sar who slips and the ball is in United’s net. It’s 1-1 and, going in to the break, the momentum has clearly swung Chelsea’s way.
United have had the best of the first half but that last minute Chelsea goal means they’ve ended up worst off. Sir Alex Ferguson has to restore confidence and get United to play to their own strengths again in the second half. Chelsea manager Avram Grant just has to keep the resurgent Blues doing what they have been doing since the kick off – try to contain United’s attacks and catch them on the break.
Fifteen minutes later Chelsea get the second half started but it’s United that start to play first, pressing Chelsea back and looking for a second goal. They can’t keep it going however and Chelsea gradually start to overwhelm the physically smaller United team.
For most of the next 40 minutes, Chelsea actually lay siege to the United goal and the Reds can barely get out of their own half. Try as they might though, Chelsea can’t get a goal, the closest they come being a 78th minute shot from nowhere by Drogba which beats Van der Sar but slams into the goalpost and away.
With 4 minutes left a new United appearances record was made when the already legendary Ryan Giggs came on for the broken-nosed Paul Scholes. It’s his 759th game for United and the previous record holder, Munich ’58 disaster survivor Sir Bobby Charlton, is the first to lead the applause.
Surprisingly, that was the first substitution of the entire match but was followed rapidly by the second with Chelsea replacing Malouda with Kalou. Then the whistle blows and it’s extra time in the pouring rain in Moscow.
The pace of the game has noticeably slowed as extra time gets started and Chelsea’s territorial dominance has gone, with chances coming at both ends. Chelsea’s best is Lampard hitting the bar with Van der Sar slipping again whilst United have a certain goal from Ryan Giggs blocked by an elastic necked header from John Terry.
After 8 minutes Chelsea make their second change, bringing on Anelka for Joe Cole, followed three minutes later by United replacing Wayne Rooney, who had had a relatively subdued match, with young Portuguese rising star Nani and that was about the last significant action of the first period of extra time.
With six minutes left in the match and penalties looming, a sudden bout of mystery handbags exploded which culminated in the ever temperamental Drogba slapping Vidic and getting sent off, which is pretty much the end of the game. Both managers made last minute substitutions with the penalty shootout in mind; Chelsea bringing on Belletti for Makelele and United swapping Anderson for Brown.
So it’s all over and now there’s the exquisite torture of the penalty shootout. Anything can happen and does!
It’s Tevez and Ballack in the first round and neither makes a mistake, followed by the equally successful Carrick and Belletti. Then comes the first error as Ronaldo tries his usual trick of pausing in the runup, hoping to induce Cech to dive. The world’s best goalie holds his ground and Ronaldo makes a weak shot which Cech easily saves. Is it all over for the Red Devils?
Hargreaves and Ashley Cole both score as does Nani for United and then John Terry strides purposefully forward. If the Chelsea captain scores it’s all over for United and I for one was sure the dream was over. Amazingly, Terry slips and, with Van der Sar going the wrong way, shoots wide onto the post. It’s 4-4 after the obligatory set of 5 penalties and now we’re into sudden death!
The dreadlocked Brazilian Anderson steps forward for United and makes no mistake, as does Kalou for Chelsea. Then it is the turn of the record breaking Ryan Giggs to score and the pressure lands on Chelsea striker Anelka. He strikes the ball well enough but it is at a comfortable height and Van der Sar saves it!
It’s all over and United are champions of Europe again. Awesome stuff as United celebrate wildly and Ronaldo collapses in tears.