On This Day: Didier Drogba Wins Chelsea The Champions League
It was a moment barely anyone in attendance or watching at home could believe they were witnessing. Chelsea, the sixth best team in the Premier League, with Roberto Di Matteo as manager, were one penalty kick away from lifting the 2012 Champions League at the expense of Bayern Munich. In the Bavarians' own back yard, no less.
And with one swing of Didier Drogba's right foot, the Blues' etched their name onto the trophy with the big ears for the first time in their history.
Not a bad way to sign off. Image: PA
The scene in the Allianz Arena on 19th May, 2012 was the polar opposite to the pictures of Drogba seeing red in Moscow and John Terry sobbing onto the turf of the Luzhniki Stadium four years earlier, when Avram Grant's team were denied their first European Cup by Manchester United.
That Chelsea triumphed with a squad that were castigated throughout the competition when they couldn't get the job done during Jose Mourinho's first era of dominance in 2005 and 2006 or with Lampard, Terry, Ashley Cole and Drogba at their collective peaks in 2008 is perhaps one of modern football's great ironies.
Di Matteo had only been in charge at Stamford Bridge for two months by the time his side squared off against Jupp Heynckes' Bayern. The Blues' had endured a miserable domestic campaign under the stewardship of Andre Villas-Boas and looked for all the world as if they were resigned to a similarly tepid European showing when they were comfortably beaten 3-1 by Napoli at the San Paolo in the first leg of their round of 16 tie with the Serie A outfit.
However, with Premier League priorities put to one side, Di Matteo focused on grinding Chelsea through the knockout rounds of the Champions League in an attempt to secure one of the most unlikely continental triumphs in recent years.
A dramatic 4-1 extra time victory over Napoli in the return leg set up a quarter-final showdown with Benfica, who were edged out 3-1 on aggregate.
Branislav Ivanovic celebrates his extra-time winner against Napoli. Image: PA
Then came Barcelona. To this day no one is quite sure how Chelsea survived Messi and co's onslaught, nor can they fathom just what happened to Gary Neville's voice when Fernando Torres broke through at the Camp Nou, rounded Victor Valdes and sent Chelsea on their way to Munich.
If Chelsea advancing past Barcelona was considered an unlikely success, then what transpired at the Allianz Arena a few weeks later was nothing short of a miracle.
The goal that caused Gary Neville to climax all over the Camp Nou commentary booth. Image: PA
Without suspended captain John Terry, Chelsea were already at a distinct disadvantage heading into their final battle with the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But playing a team in possession of so much quality, that had seen Real Madrid off in the semi-finals, in their own back yard? When you're starting Jose Bosingwa at right-back and an unproven Ryan Bertrand in midfield? You could have almost forgiven Chelsea had they strolled into Bavaria waving a white flag.
And so, the final played out in much the same way as both legs against Barcelona unfolded. Bayern attacked, Chelsea survived. Barely.
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Mario Gomez missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the 18 minutes before a combination of Petr Cech's shin and an upright kept Arjen Robben at bay.
The pressure continued, growing more relentless by the minute, with Muller firing a volley wide and Gomez blazing into the crowd with just Cech to beat. Ribery saw a goal ruled out for offisde. Surely Chelsea's resistance couldn't last?
Somehow the score managed to remain goalless until the 83rd minute, when Muller bounced a header past Cech.
That, it seemed, was that. Chelsea's energy reserves had to be empty after desperately attempting to keep the home side at bay for almost 90 minutes.
The Ivorian, in what was to be his final game for the club (until his return two years later) seemed to levitate in suspended animation before thundering a header past a stunned Manuel Neuer.
To Bayern's credit, when extra-time rolled round, they resumed normal service and promptly battered Chelsea some more, but with the same result.
Drogba then almost instantly undid his heroism by felling Franck Ribery in the Chelsea area just three minutes into extra-time. Referee Pedro Proença pointed to the spot but Petr Cech, in a foreshadowing of his later heroics, would save the Dutchman's penalty as Di Matteo's men survived until full time.
The stats would show that Heynckes' team had registered 26 attempts on goal to Chelsea's seven. But despite how resolutely the Blues' had defended and how much they'd also rode their luck, an English team against a German team was only ever going to have one outcome.
Only Cech and Drogba hadn't read the script.
Juan Mata would miss Chelsea's first spot kick, with Phillip Lahm, David Luiz, Mario Gomez, Frank Lampard and even Manuel Neuer successfully converting their's until Cech repelled Ivica Olic.
Ashley Cole drew Chelsea level before Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Bayern's Deutscher Fußballmeister would take the net clean off with his effort.
Instead, Cech somehow tipped the future Germany captain's kick onto the post.
Once again, enter Drogba.
John Terry may have done his best to steal the headlines with his full kit wanker display in the aftermath, but the night belonged to the Ivorian.
Just six months later, Chelsea's defence of their newly won trophy would come to an end in the group stages of the 2012/13 Champions League and Roberto Di Matteo would be out of a job. Still, we doubt any of their fans remotely care about what happened after their glorious night in Munich.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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