Saturday May 19th, 2012

Three thoughts after Chelsea won the Champions League title on Saturday over Bayern Munich in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 tie:

Talk about a storybook ending for Chelsea. Bayern couldn't have dominated this game much more than it did, with advantages of 55 percent to 45 percent possession, 24 to 6 in shots and 20 to 1 in corner kicks (per the UEFA website). But that one corner kick turned everything around, with Didier Drogba tying the game on a ruthless 88th-minute header when it seemed as though Bayern was heading to victory. Chelsea appeared dead again in extra time when Drogba tripped Franck Ribéry in the box, but goalkeeper Petr Cech saved Arjen Robben's penalty to rescue the Blues. And even in the shootout Chelsea had to come from behind again to beat the German side -- Germans are never supposed to lose on penalties! -- with Drogba clinching the trophy. Chelsea's first European Cup comes after one of the most remarkable Champions League runs in history, in which Chelsea seemed doomed to failure in the Round of 16 against Napoli and in the semifinals against Barcelona. Not bad for a team that finished sixth in the English Premier League.

This was Didier Drogba's finest hour. One of the great all-time strikers, Drogba now has a Champions League trophy to his name, and you can't deny that he deserves it. The 34-year-old Ivorian has had to battle back so many times over the years, not least when Chelsea brought in Andriy Shevchenko and, more recently, Fernando Torres to take precedence over him. But Drogba has earned back the starting spot every time and, in what may have been his final game with Chelsea, he produced two everlasting highlights: His thunderous header that beat Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (credit to Torres for earning the corner, by the way), and then his cool-as-James-Dean penalty with the trophy on the line. (Yes, Drogba gave away a bad penalty, but Cech and Robben let him off the hook.) Chelsea had a chance to win the 2008 Champions League crown on just such a penalty, and John Terry failed. Drogba did not. His exultant celebration afterward will be shown for decades.

Chelsea won by playing reactive soccer. Two years after Inter parked the bus to beat Barcelona in the semis and won the Champions League final over Bayern Munich with a defend-and-counter strategy, Chelsea did exactly the same thing. On the one hand, it's a bummer for neutrals who like to see attacking soccer whenever a defensive-minded team wins. On the other hand, Chelsea had no other choice if it was going to beat Barcelona, and Ramires's short-handed goal at the Camp Nou to sink the Catalans was a thing of beauty. The situation was much the same against Bayern, which had the advantage of playing the final in its own stadium. Chelsea may have been an underdog, but it's impossible to call the Blues a Cinderella when their owner, Roman Abramovich, is one of the world's richest oligarchs. What you can call them now, with no reservations, is the champion of Europe. Chelsea finally has some history.

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