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How The Blues Became Champions of Europe Against All Odds
Chelsea have become the first London club to lift the Champions League trophy. Desire pulled them through in a dramatic season.
The Champions League is a story that has usually held heartbreak for the Blues as the men from London were branded the closest to win it with no medal to show for their efforts. The most recent of these were the 2008 Moscow final against Manchester United and the Barcelona semi-final in 2009. It is the trophy that Roman Abramovich has craved most since buying the club in 2003.
The 2008 final took place in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United. After 90 minutes the scores were tied at 1-1 and just before the end of extra time Didier Drogba was red-carded. Penalties were required to decide the winner and this meant that when the fifth penalty taker was needed John Terry stepped up and took the penalty that would have won Chelsea the Champions League. He struck the post and Van Der Sar went on to save an Anelka penalty to deny Chelsea their first Champions League success.
The semi-final second leg where Chelsea faced Barcelona at Stamford Bridge is mostly known for its infamous display of controversial refereeing by Tom Henning. Chelsea held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou in the first leg and a final place in Rome was on the line. Essien gave Chelsea the lead inside 10 minutes and after that Chelsea were the dominant team. Drogba was tripped twice in the penalty box and there was a clear handball from Pique that even the Barcelona supporters from the upper tier could see that Chelsea were undone a penalty. It seemed like Tom Henning (referee) was the only person in the world who "didn't see" it.
As the game approached full time Chelsea were still on their way to a consecutive final when in the third minute of stoppage time Iniesta scored with Barcelona's first attempt on target. Heartbreak at Stamford Bridge but Chelsea didn't give up and Ballack managed to volley the ball goal bound in the final minute of stoppage. The ball struck a Barcelona arm and unbelievably Chelsea were denied by the referee once more, 5 penalties in total that should have been awarded. This meant Barcelona went through on away goals leaving Chelsea pondering on what could have been. One must wonder if the in-form Chelsea would've gone on to win the title.
Chelsea started their campaign convincingly, beating Leverkusen and Genk at home while taking a point from a draw at Valencia. They stumbled a little with a draw at Genk and when they travelled to Leverkusen, Chelsea needed a win to qualify with one game to play. However Leverkusen managed to surprise Chelsea with a stoppage time winner giving them qualification and leaving both Chelsea and Valencia on 8 points to compete for the final spot in the knock-out rounds. The scene was set at Stamford Bridge and Andre Villas-Boas was under pressure with a bad performance in the domestic league and an exit from the Champions League unacceptable to management and fans alike. Drogba then proved to still be Chelsea's main man with a brace to leapfrog Chelsea into top spot in their group, advancing into the round of 16.
Round of 16 - Napoli
Chelsea were up against Napoli who saw off Manchester City in their group stages. Juan Mata gave Chelsea the important away goal but then Napoli pulled off a convincing come back scoring 3 unanswered goals. Chelsea's management had seen enough and Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. Roberto Di Matteo, who was the first team coach, was placed in charge for the rest of the season and his first challenge was to pull off a big win at home. It was the trio of Drogba, Terry and Lampard who provided Chelsea's first 3 goals, but when Napoli were 2-0 down, Inler struck a brilliant goal to give Napoli the advantage once more. Extra time was required when the scores were still at 3-1 and when Ivanovic fired home the fourth, the Chelsea come back was complete.
Quarter Final - Benfica
The first leg was played at Benfica and Chelsea's dominance paid off after 75 minutes when Ramires and Torres showed great skill losing their markers. Torres managed to find Kalou in the middle for the only goal of the match. The second leg was much like the first with Chelsea holding on to all of the possession. Ashley Cole was fouled in the box and Lampard netted the resulting penalty. Chelsea applied all the pressure and just couldn't manage to finish off a second. Benfica were reduced to ten men before the half and it seemed another semi-final was just minutes away. Benfica did however manage to produce a corner 5 minutes from time and Garcia capitalized on the opportunity. The Stamford Bridge crowd were biting their finger nails as another Benfica strike could've sent Chelsea packing. However a counter-attack from the Blues was finished off by Meireles with a fantastic drive into the top right corner. Chelsea through then to the semi-final where they would face up against the cup holders Barcelona.
Semi-Final - Barcelona
The 2009 semi-final left much unfinished business between these 2 sides. Chelsea were given the opportunity to prove themselves first at their home ground. It was a time where everyone felt that history was in the making. Chelsea played much more defensively than the last time these sides met and Barcelona looked attacking throughout the match hitting the post and the crossbar. It was Didier Drogba's winner inspired by a great Ramires run and cross that gave Chelsea the lead on the stroke of half time. The scores remained unchanged and although Chelsea came out as winners, the majority still tipped Barcelona for a spot in the final. It was to be decided at the Nou Camp. Sure enough Busquets made it 1-0 for Barcelona after 35 minutes. Two minutes later the Chelsea captain. John Terry, was red-carded and with their backs against the wall Iniesta scored Barcelona's second to give them the advantage.
Right before the half Lampard delivered a superb through ball which Ramires chipped over the keeper with a sublime touch. Chelsea might have hoped to play the second half defending their advantage without Terry at the back but from the restart Drogba tripped Fabregas and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. There was never any doubt about Messi's ability to convert the penalty but miraculously he struck the crossbar and Chelsea breathed yet another sigh of relief. Chelsea managed to keep the score at 2-1 with heroic defending and in the dying minutes a clearance found Fernando Torres, who was the highest player up the field. With only keeper Victor Valdes in front of him he charged up half the pitch and rounded Valdes in apparent ease to sink Barcelona's hopes and give Chelsea a place in the final at Munich with a 2-2 draw.
Final - Bayern Munich
19 May 2012. The day was here and Chelsea faced the mammoth task of beating Bayern Munich in their own back yard. To make matters worse for the Blues 3 of their key players were banned (Terry, Ramires and Meireles). Bayern were the in-form team, seeing Real Madrid off in the semi-finals and having most of the possession throughout the game. The majority of the opportunities fell Bayern's way and when the match was still goalless with 10 minutes left on the clock, everyone was sure a late goal would clinch the title. It took 83 minutes but Bayern Munich finally managed to find the net with a Muller header and the Chelsea campaign looked to crumble once again. Torres was brought on and managed to win a corner with only 2 minutes until the final whistle. Mata took the corner and up stepped Didier Drogba, who lives for finals, to meet the ball with a thumping header. Once again Chelsea showed that they just would not let go of the Champions League.
The adrenalin was pumping but the time was over and extra time was needed. Drogba then clumsily challenged Ribery in the box and conceded a really soft penalty. Was it not going to be Chelsea's night after all? Arjen Robben, the ex Chelsea man stepped up to take the spot kick but Petr Cech saved brilliantly and the scores were still tied. When the time for penalties came, the ghost of the 2008 final was looming large over the Allianz Arena. Everyone who remembered that night went back in thought as the same run of events were on the cards. Neuer pulled off a great save and when Bayern took their fourth penalty Cech saved to cancel out Neuer's effort. Schweinsteiger was given the task of the fifth and Cech superbly guided it onto the post. Chelsea were one penalty away, but that was the same as they were in Moscow. Only this time Drogba was the fifth penalty taker. He sent Neuer the wrong way and with his last kick for Chelsea won the Champions League.
Never Give Up
There is nothing that could describe that night. Every Chelsea fan knew that it was meant to be. It meant to those veteran players so much to come back from agonising defeats and lift the trophy they so richly deserved. How then did Chelsea manage to win the title? They were almost sent packing in the group stages but they came out to win their last match and go top of the group. The 2 goal deficit against Napoli in the round of 16 made for a dramatic come back in the second leg where extra time was needed. Benfica almost caused an upset when they equalised at Stamford Bridge and needed only one more goal to advance. Luckily for the Blues Meireles sealed it. Then there was the Barcelona match.
Two goals down at the Camp Nou with 10 men would leave almost no one in doubt of who would progress. Yet Chelsea managed to pull it back and the joy could be seen on the Chelsea faces when Torres equalised in the last minute. The last hurdle was Bayern Munich in Munich. Going down 1-0 to Bayern in their own back yard meant that an enormous task was set if Chelsea still wanted to win. It was yet again Didier Drogba who provided the crucial goal to send it into extra time. When Robben had his penalty saved by Cech, one had to think that a Chelsea win was written in the stars. Even at the penalty stage Chelsea were trailing when Mata's attempt was saved by Neuer but they came back to clinch it. If you consider all the come backs and how close Chelsea were at times to exiting the tournament, you have to admit that this was a fairytale season.