Manchester United – Champions of Europe
It’s a stretch to compare the FA Community Shield to today’s match but it was ten months ago that Manchester United launched their season with a penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea. Manchester United repeated the feat today in the UEFA Champions League final with Edwin van der Sar coming up with the late heroics to save Nicolas Anelka’s penalty. You can currently view the penalty shoot-out here.
I had hoped, as I always do, for an open game but given the best two defences in the Premier League were on the field today, it’s not surprising that large stretches of the game were cage, especially through the second half and extra time.
The tensions between the sides started to run high after an aerial collision between Paul Scholes and Claude Makelele that left both players with a yellow card and the Manchester United veteran with a bloody (possibly broken) nose.
Scholes received some medical attention and then threw himself back into the fire to make an important contribution. Scholes combined with Wes Brown on a give-and-go. Brown, for the first time that I can recall, had a moment of inspiration and used his left foot, rather than his favoured right, to serve a lovely cross to Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo rose above his marker and headed United in front after 26 minutes. It gave them confidence but they should have been ahead by more going into the break.
Carlos Tevez had two clear chances, once he was robbed by Petr Cech and on the second he just failed to make good contact with Rooney’s pass across the face of goal. United were left to regret their missed chances when Chelsea came to life toward the end of the first half. Chelsea pressed forward more and took advantage of some foul-ups in the United backline to equalise on the stroke of half-time. Frank Lampard pounced on a loose ball inside the United area and cooly slotted it home to give Chelsea a major boost going into the second half. First half highlights here.
By comparison to the first, the second half was not as entertaining as the rain continued to pour down and make the pitch conditions difficult. Many players also began to run into cramp problems because of the cool, wet conditions. There was a moment of history three minutes from the end of normal time when Ryan Giggs replaced Scholes to make his 759th appearance for United, beating the previous club record held by United legend Sir Bobby Charlton, who was watching from the stands. Fittingly, Giggs would also later take the decisive penalty in the shootout to complete the script.
Tensions boiled over four minutes from the end of extra time as Didier Drogba was sent off by Slovakian referee Lubos Michel for slapping Nejmana Vidic. A melee had started when Chelsea felt Tevez was unsporting in returning the ball after a break in the action that allowed the players to be treated for cramped-up legs.
It was then on to the nail-baiting matter of the shootout. With Cristiano Ronaldo’s effort denied by Cech, John Terry had had the chance to clinch it for Chelsea but slipped on the rain-soaked turf and sent his spot-kick wide. After Giggs scored, one of Anelka’s few touches of the match (he came on in the 98th minute) was to put his spot-kick in range for Van der Sar to punch it aside and ignite the celebrations. Chelsea will feel a bit unlucky as in addition to their penalty misses, they also hit two posts. The first by Drogba in the second half and the second in extra time after Frank Lampard’s pivot-and-shoot move inside the crowded United penalty area caught Van der Sar flat-footed.
It is somewhat fitting that Manchester win the Champions League this year, in memory of those who died, and those who survived, in the tragedy in Munich in February 1958. It also marks the 40th anniversary of their first European Cup win over Benfica.
United will feel deserving of the win and over the course of the campaign they did what was needed to win, even if they did not always play their flashiest football. Were it not for an unlucky exit to Portsmouth in the FA Cup they could have probably been celebrating another treble tonight but will be satisfied with the massive accomplishment of winning their domestic league as well as the Champions League.
Some links to round things off:
- The Sun has an excellent photo gallery of the match & celebrations
- Manchester United pocket £85m in prize-money for the win
- Player ratings from the Daily Mail and the Guardian
- Ronaldo staying put?
- 10 defining moments of United’s CL season
All video links come courtesy of 101greatgoals.com. Be sure to check them out for more great video footage from today’s match.