Shamik Das

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Roman in ruins as flying Dutchman rescues Ronaldo

Van der Tsar: The moment United won the European Cup, as Edwin van der Sar flies to his right to save Nicolas Anelka's penalty

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, European Cup Final:
Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (After extra time)
Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties

FIFTY years since the Munich disaster, 40 years on from their first European win and nine years after the treble triumph Manchester United won another thrilling Champions League final.

Deadlocked at half-time, full-time and at the end of extra-time, it took penalties to seperate the two best teams in Europe, United's sudden-death success condemning Chelsea to their first trophy-less season in four years.

After the first four penalties were scored Cristiano Ronaldo, the man no one expected to miss, saw his weak kick saved by Petr Cech following a stuttering run-up.

The next four all went in and so it was left to Mr Chelsea, John Terry, captain, cockney and the only member of their squad to have risen through the ranks.

He stepped up, shaped to go left - sending Edwin van der Sar the wrong way - and then, just as he was about to roll the ball into the net, he slipped, and watched, helpless, as his shot struck the outside of the post, writhing on the ground in agony.

Four-all: Sudden death. Anderson, Salomon Kalou and Ryan Giggs all score. Attention turns to Nicolas Anelka, a Champions League winner with Real Madrid eight years ago, needing to score to keep Chelsea in the final.

He shoots, Van der Sar dives full-stretch to his right and saves.

Double delight: Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs hold aloft the Champions League trophy

Victory for United. Joy unconfined. The best team in England and now the best in Europe.

"The first penalty shoot-out I've ever won in a big game," said United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. "I think there was a bit of fate about it.

"We were fantastic in the first half and could have been three up but then they scored a lucky goal. They were better in the second half.

"I'm delighted for everyone. It's an amazing achievement.

"We deserve it."

Hours earlier, Ronaldo had put United ahead midway through the first-half, out-jumping Michael Essien and heading in Wes Brown's teasing cross following good work by Paul Scholes.

1-0: Cristiano Ronaldo powers the league champions ahead    1-1: Frank Lampard equalises for the Londoners

Then, after United missed chance after chance, Frank Lampard took advantage of a series of slips and deflections to draw Chelsea level on the stroke of half-time with a trademark scrappy goal, the England midfielder once again in the right place at the right time.

Lampard and Didier Drogba hit post and bar late on, with Drogba sent off in the 118th minute for slapping the imperious Nemanja Vidic, having run the length of the field to needlessly get involved in a 19-man brawl.

Giggs also had a chance to win it in extra-time, poking the ball goalwards and enabling Terry to clear off the line when, with the goal gaping and Cech out of the picture, he should have driven Patrice Evra's excellent pull-back into the net.

Chelsea manager Avram Grant was left dumbfounded by the night's events. "What can I say? In the beginning we dominated the game," he said.

"We hit the post twice and then lost on penalties. JT is the main reason we're here. We had difficult times. I'm very proud of the team. It's not the last time for Chelsea in the final."

And so, at gone two o'clock local time, the United players picked up their medals and parited on the Luzhniki pitch, while their opposite numbers cried long into the night.

As they say in Russia: ФУТБОЛ, Без перевода!

Star Man: Van der Sar (United); Entertainment: *****
Attendance: 69,552


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