The Reuters global sports blog
Celebrations down London´s King’s Road would have been matched for fervour and passion by those in Abidjan on Saturday night as Didier Drogba delivered for Chelsea.
The pride of an African striking the decisive blow on one of world football’s biggest stages has been reflected across the continent in the post UEFA Champions League final coverage.
It is typical of the forgiving nature of Africa that Drogba’s horrid penalty miss for his country in February’s African Nations Cup final against Zambia has been quickly forgotten amid all the euphoria.
His super hero status will have been completely restored by the role he played in the match in Munich; the late equaliser with that thumping header and then the calmness of converting the all-important kick in the shootout (especially having given away a missed penalty in extra time).
Despite all the bling, the big watches and fast cars, the brand management and media training, there is still one thing that, without fail, can expose the true nature of soccer players.
As Didier Drogba stroked home the winning penalty against Bayern Munich in Saturday’s Champions league final and the blue-clad parts of the stadium exploded, the studied cool of the young Chelsea millionaires went out the window.
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.
Roberto Di Matteo can now claim the title of “Mr Chelsea” with as much justification as any of the club’s great players of the past or indeed some of the players who on Saturday helped Chelsea become European champions for the first time.
The 41-year-old interim manager has transformed their season which ended with the most glorious success in their 107-year history as Chelsea became the first London club ever to lift the European Cup following their 4-3 penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich.
We will bring you all the latest buildup, goals, news and photos from Saturday’s showpiece European soccer match. Just click on the link below to join in.
On two nights when every football cliché went out the window, one remained true – in the end the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.
On Tuesday It didn’t matter that Barcelona owned the ball, or that they completed hundreds of passes over the two legs. When Chelsea got hold of it, they used it effectively – if we are to look at one stat other than the score, Chelsea’s four shots on goal and three goals in the tie tell their own story.
So Chelsea pulled off an amazing coup to dethrone Barcelona and reach the final. Real Madrid meet Bayern Munich on Wednesday for the right to meet Jose Mourinho’s former club on May 19.
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A mouth-watering clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona in this season’s Champions League final in Munich appeared to be on the cards when the two Spanish giants were kept apart in the draw, but the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi watching the showpiece on television instead of taking centre stage on May 19 now looks just as likely.
While Barcelona missed a hatful of chances in their 1-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a pulsating first leg of their semi, Real were maybe fortunate to escape with only a 2-1 defeat at Bayern after they were undone by a stoppage-time winner from Mario Gomez.
Anyone who might have assumed the deteriorating form of English clubs in Europe since Manchester United won the 2008 Champions League resulted from a convergence of misfortunate circumstances such as tough draws or mounting injuries to key players has been emphatically refuted.
Come Thursday, the Premier League might be left without a single club to represent it in either the Champions League or the less fancied Europa League, where Manchester rivals City and United were not just beaten but also played off the park last week by rivals many of their fans will have considered second-class opposition.
If the coaching merry-go-round puts Jose Mourinho back in the Chelsea hotseat after the 49-year old Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in 2007, it will be a testament to the old saying that nothing is impossible in football.
There seemed to be no way back for the self-acclaimed “Special One” after his acrimonious split with Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich, but their contrasting fortunes since have seemingly opened the door to what would be a spectacular return to English football for Mourinho.