After NINE long years of waiting in agony, the European Cup has finally made its way back to Old Trafford. On a chilly and wet night inВ Moscow, Man United went head-to-head with arch rivals Chelsea in the final game of the season. And how fitting it was that these two titans also met in the first match of the season (Charity Shield) and ironically also ended the same way (Penalty Lottery). With the scoreline evened at 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes, the dramatic shootout saw Man United clinching their third European crown with a 6-5 win.
All throughout the season, much has been said of Giggs and Scholes; of how their old legs would not carry them throughout the entire season; of how they may not be able to contribute much.
All critics and critiques were silenced in the final weeks of this fantastic season for the Red Devils when Scholes powered in the winner againstВ BarcelonaВ in the Champions League semi-finals. A week later, Giggs second half goal against Wigan ensured a nervy win atВ WiganВ for Man U to claim its second successive league title.
Clearly there is still place for experience in this squad rich with young talent.
Even before the kickoff, both sides employed some strange tactics.В ChelseaВ chose to go with Essien at rightback over more experienced Belleti or Farreira. Even Shevcenko didnвЂ™t get a shot on his home soil. In the other camp, Fergie chose to omit Park from his list of players, even from the bench! This after the Korean played an instrumental part of their march to the finals. Instead, Hargreaves got the nod on the right.
A Tale of Two Halves
Whilst Man U dominated the early goings of the final, they only managed to score one goal through an unmarked Ronaldo. It was his 42nd goal of the season! Chelsea, who were on the back foot for much of the first half, struck back through some pinball luck when EssienвЂ™s through ball bounced off Vidic and Ferdinand and fell conveniently into the path of Lampard to slot it past Van De Sar.
ChelseaВ started to dictate matters in the second half and seemed to grow in confidence as the night dragged on and rain started to pour. Man UвЂ™s normally offensive minded Scholes, Carrick and Hargreaves was forced to play more defensively as the Blues piled on the pressure. With Van De Sar looking like he was having one of those off-nights, things were not looking good forВ ManВ U.
As the match dragged on into extratime, both managers used their subs to great effect. Kalou and Anelka came on as speed demons to terrorise the tired legs of Brown and Evra. Giggs, Nani and Anderson also came on for United, presumably in anticipation to take the spot kicks.
For me, there were some moments throughout the match (before it went to penalties) that made this final truly memorable and exciting in terms of entertainment value. Many had expected a cagey affair but both teams came out and displayed good ol attacking English football. Plenty of chances were created by both teams that could have swung the match before the final whistle.
A stunning counter attack in the first half saw Rooney punting a 50 yard flea-flicker like pass to Ronaldo who crossed it to a diving Tevez whose shot was saved by Cech. The rebound then fell to Carrick whose shot was superbly pushed away by a one-handed Cech. Very much later in the match, Giggs had a chance to win it when Evra broke free on the left and squared the ball past two defenders and Cech to him. Unfortunately, Terry was there to save it off the line with his face!
ChelseaВ also had their moments when Drogba and Lampard both hit the post and bar that could have changed the game completely.В ChelseaВ also didnвЂ™t help themselves when Drogba paid the price of a stupid slap which earned him a red card before the end of regulation.
Penalty shoot-outs are definitely not good for the heart. Trust me, I think my heart stopped a few times during this lottery session. Both teams rightfully went for typical penalty specialists fromВ ArgentinaВ (Tevez) andGermanyВ (Ballack) as their first two takers.
With the score at 2-2, our regular penalty taker and a shoo-in for 2008 Player of the Year Ronaldo stepped up to take the shot which was brilliantly saved by Cech. I have no idea where my heart had jumped to when nobody in the blue jersey seemed to be able to miss that night. And with the score tied 4-4,В ChelseaВ captain John Terry stepped up to the spot to take the final kick of the regulatory 5 kicks each. Flashes of Terry saving GiggвЂ™s point blank shot, his earlier comments of wanting to wrest back the England captainвЂ™s armband from Ferdinand corrupted my mind as Mr Heart-and-Soul of Chelsea ran up to the ball and slipped as he skied the ball over the bar to the right.
The score dramatically went up to 6-5 after Giggs put Man U in front. Anelka was up next and his shot was pushed away by Van Der Sar to secure the win. What a dramatic end to a dramatic final.
Red Letter Day
Shouts of joy and Tears of relief filled the stadium as Man U celebrated their third European trophy. It was also fitting that this win came on their 50th anniversary of the fatefulВ MunichВ disaster.
It was indeed a win to savour for all Man U fans like myself, and it was extra sweeter with the victory sealing a double ( with the BPL already in the bag) for this fantastic season.
Number of the Day:
3 вЂ“ European Championships for Man United, the Champions of Europe again this year. And with the current youthful core squad, I can only think of better things to come.
(Originally posted on allandog.multiply.com)