Champions League Final - 19 May 2012
The ground may have been temporarily renamed the Munich Stadium by UEFA for sponsorship reasons, but there was no mistaking the fact Chelsea were playing Bayern on their own turf, the Allianz Arena. Before kick-off, home fans unfurled banners proclaiming ‘Unsere stadt, Unser stadion, Unser pokal’ – ‘Our city, Our stadium, Our cup’.
On top of that, this was the all-conquering pride of the Bundesliga, bristling with stellar names of Ribery, Schweinsteiger, Neuer and Robben, the former Blues winger. All things considered it was about as hostile a ‘neutral’ setting as could be for Chelsea’s second Champions League final outing in five years.
For long periods both sides probed without penetration, the hosts understandably showing the most endeavour. The Chelsea side, shuffled to accommodate the loss of several key men to suspension, struggled to trouble Neuer, other than a snap-shot from Kalou.
When Müller headed downwards and past Petr Cech with just seven minutes of normal time remaining, the sense that Roberto Di Matteo’s men had not really given the best account of themselves was palpable. That was to change dramatically.
Fernando Torres replaced Salomon Kalou on 85 minutes and soon won a corner down the right, which Juan Mata took. The placement on Didier Drogba’s head was wonderful, but the Ivorian’s power and accuracy was from a different dimension. Neuer flailed to no avail.
The Londoners were much better in extra time despite the fact Drogba almost ended his Chelsea career with a very different final chapter when he conceded an early penalty. John Mikel Obi unnerved his old teammate Robben before he took it and Cech saved brilliantly. Belief that this might not be their ‘pokal’ after all soared, but the game drained away to a penalty shootout, one that would anoint two heroes.
Neuer saved Chelsea’s first from Mata and thoughts of the faithful in the stands understandably alighted, grimly, on John Terry and Nicolas Anelka in Moscow 2008. All others were converted until the seventh, taken by a nervous Olic.
Cech, who had guessed right on each take, swatted the ball to safety. Ashley Cole quickly dispatched a fine penalty and when the Czech goalie brilliantly tipped Schweinsteiger’s effort on to the post, it suddenly became clear that Drogba’s Chelsea story might have the most extraordinary, fairy-tale finish.
The African sent Neuer the wrong way and Chelsea’s players, staff and supporters exploded with joy. The Champions League had become the ‘holy grail’, the one trophy that remained elusive. Having been invited to contest the inaugural European Cup in 1955, Chelsea had finally become the first London club to win the trophy, 57 years on.