Where were you on May 19th, 2012? Most people would look at you like you’re crazy if you asked them that but ask a Chelsea FC supporter, and you might not hear the end of it. It was two years ago on May 19th that Chelsea Football Club walked in to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich in their own stadium for the Champions League Final, and left with the big eared trophy at the end of the night. We were missing Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires, Raul Meireles and our captain and leader John Terry through suspension or yellow card accumulation and still won. We gave Ryan Bertrand his Champions League debut in the final and we still won. We gave up a penalty in extra time but somehow, someway, we still won.
It was far and away the greatest day of my life as a sports fan. I was sitting in a pub in downtown San Jose, California with a handful of Chelsea fans in a sea of Bayern Munich red. My lucky Chelsea shirt from the 2009/10 double-winning season was on, 3-0 in cup finals by the way, and I was full of nervous belief. Every missed Bayern shot and Petr Cech save filled us with belief and the few shots we had, and missed, were bemoaned like we lost the match. Around the 80th minute, we seemed content with the match heading to extra time but we should have known there were a few surprises in store for us.
Franck Ribery found Toni Kroos on the edge of the box and he lofted a cross to the backpost and Ashley Cole, who was phenomenal all game long, seemed to switch off on Thomas Müller who headed in to the ground and over Cech’s head. Bayern celebrated like they had just won the final and it truly felt that way. All that defensive work rendered null and void by one simple marking mistake by one of our best players. Fans in red at the pub clapped and hugged and celebrated like it was over, but again fate still had its part to play.
Just five minutes later, substitute Fernando Torres made his most important contribution of the day to win Chelsea’s one and only corner of the match and oh was it a special one. Juan Mata stepped up to take the corner and who else does he find but our big game hero Didier Drogba who fired past Manuel Neuer with an absolute bullet of a header. Shouts of “DROGBAAAAAAA!!!” filled the pub, Chelsea had the momentum, and the match was going to extra time. The emotional roller coaster was just getting in to gear.
Three minutes in to extra time, Drogba went from hero to possible scapegoat as he fouled Ribery in the box when he had no reason to and Bayern thought the match was for the taking once again. I turned to a friend and he said, without any shadow of a doubt, that Robben “is going to miss it, don’t worry”. Whether that was delirium talking or actual confidence I will never know but thankfully he was right. Arjen Robben stepped up and Petr Cech, the hero throughout the match, made the biggest save of his life as he suffocated the penalty and gave Chelsea another lifeline. Bayern had another few chances with Ivica Olic missing a golden chance as extra time wound down and we were off to penalties.
Going in to penalties, Chelsea clearly had the momentum as an exasperated Bayern side seemed like they were out of ideas. Then again, Germans don’t lose penalty shootouts and the English…well the English should do well to not let matches get to that point. Phillip Lahm stepped up to take the first penalty, Cech guessed right but the shot was well placed and Bayern had the lead. Juan Mata took Chelsea’s first penalty and his shot down the middle was saved easily by Neuer. Mario Gomez took the next for Bayern and Cech guessed right again, but the shot was low and out of his reach. David Luiz was up next for Chelsea and he took a long run up from the top of the box and smashed it past Neuer.
What happened next was what gave me hope for the penalties and for the first time since before Muller’s goal, I thought Chelsea would truly win it. With players like Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben waiting in the wings, Bayern sent their keeper to take the third penalty. Were they scared of the moment? Was the pressure getting to them? Whatever it was, it gave me hope even after Neuer squeezed his shot past Cech who again guessed right.
Frank Lampard stepped up and powered his shot past Neuer in to the roof of the net. Veteran Ivica Olic stepped up next and finally Cech guessed right and made the save with his trailing hand. Ashley Cole was up next and opted for power as well to tie up the shootout and heap the pressure on whoever was up next for Bayern. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern’s talisman and heart of their midfield, beat Cech to his right but saw his shot bounce helplessly off the post and out. Chelsea had one chance to win it and put the demons of 2008 to rest.
Speaking of the demons of 2008, who else but Didier Drogba would step up to take Chelsea’s final penalty. After being sent off in the 2008 final for slapping Nemanja Vidic, Drogba has lived with the shame of knowing he was not there for his teammates when they needed him most. This was his chance to rewrite his legacy and leave Chelsea in a blaze of glory. With one swing of his right leg, his last ever act for Chelsea for on the pitch, the big man for the big occasion, the African star that became king of Stamford Bridge, sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way and won the trophy he and Chelsea had chased for so long.
It was by far the greatest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club and it was richly deserved. After the nightmares of the 2008 final, the ghost goal against Liverpool, the robbery against Barcelona, the big-eared trophy was finally coming to Stamford Bridge. It was magical night, or morning if you were in California, where the Champions League dream came true. Fate was on Chelsea’s side and it acted through two Chelsea legends in Petr Cech and “King” Didier Drogba. The sea of Bayern red was awash with tears in Munich and in San Jose, and everywhere you looked, the blue flag of Chelsea Football Club was flying high.
To relive every minute of that magical night, check out the YouTube video below:
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