Chelsea vanquish Moscow ghosts

May 21, 2012

Some things are meant to be, others are not.

Frank Lampard said he never doubted Chelsea would win the penalty shootout against Bayern Munich in Saturday’s enthralling 2012 Champions League final, although they trailed in the spot kicks after Juan Mata’s early miss, while the hero of their astonishing victory Didier Drogba firmly believes it was Chelsea’s destiny to cover themselves in glory.

And rightly so one might add, having suffered an exact reverse four years ago on a rainy night in Moscow, which ended in agony for Chelsea after they were ahead in the penalty shootout against Manchester United only to see the elusive trophy snatched away by their Premier League rivals after John Terry’s barely believable miss.

Chelsea dominated long spells of the Moscow final which also ended in a strength-sapping 1-1 draw after extra time while they were on the back foot for most of their encounter with Bayern, who had the distinct advantage of playing in their own Allianz Arena.

Along with Terry, who watched the drama in Munich unfold from the sidelines as he was suspended, Drogba was the villain of Chelsea’s downfall in Moscow after being sent off in the dying minutes of extra time.

The robust Ivorian could not have vindicated himself more emphatically against Bayern, having headed in an 88th-minute equaliser before he coolly slotted the final penalty to send his team and an army of Chelsea fans into raptures. He conceded a penalty in extra time but Arjen Roben missed it.

Is it a simple case of Lady Luck smiling on Chelsea on Saturday after turning her back in 2008?

I don’t think so.

Four years ago I watched from the vast terraces of Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium and saw a more talented Chelsea side, with Drogba, Lampard and Terry in their prime, throw away a chance to win London’s first Champions League trophy because they lacked the self-belief, composure and experience they showed against Bayern.

Instead of the inspirational Roberto Di Matteo, whose accomplishments with the club after he stepped in for Andre Villas Boas in March have been nothing short of admirable, Chelsea’s 2008 outfit had the indistinguishable figure of Avram Grant in the dugout after he replaced Villas-Boas’s more esteemed Portuguese compatriot Jose Mourinho.

The outcome of the club’s two Champions League finals could not be more contrasting and likewise, the fortunes of fan favourite Di Matteo and the unloved Grant seem to be heading in completely opposite directions.

While the former appears set for a glittering managerial career whether Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich keeps him or not, the latter is back in the wilderness after an acrimonious five-month stint in the obscurity of Serbia’s first division with Partizan Belgrade.

Grant shepherded Partizan to their fifth successive league title, having maintained the 10-point lead at the top he inherited from his predecessor Aleksandar Stanojevic at the winter break, but stepped down after an avalanche of criticism from the fans and many of the board members for tepid and cowardly performances in three successive derby defeats to city rivals Red Star.

In contrast, Di Matteo’s history with Chelsea as a player was instrumental in his ability to lift the team and get them through the red ribbon in the FA Cup and then the Champions League.

At the end of the day, it was his combative character and faith in defying the odds that made all the difference in drawing the seemingly thin line between success and failure.

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