The 2008 Champions League final is one of the most nerve wracking football matches I have watched since I became a Manchester United fan. Of course, the last time United won Europe’s most prized title in 1999 was thanks to a brilliant comeback as we left it until the final two minutes to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. I was not a footie fan then, but even watching Youtube videos of that amazing night gives me the goosebumps. The 2008 final was not as tense but being an all English final gave it some much needed spice and it turned out into an amazing football game besting the previous all-Spanish and all-Italian finals.
United dominated the entire first half and turned in a wonderful attacking display which gave us the lead through Ronaldo on 26 minutes. A brilliant counterattack ended with a Tevez header being saved by Cech and the Carrick follow-up also tipped over by the Czech Republic stopper. It really hurt because it was a wonderful move with Rooney picking up the ball near the United penalty area and producing a majestic cross-field pass to Ronaldo who crossed to Tevez before Cech produced those stunning saves. Eventually, a couple of missed chances by Tevez meant that Chelsea still had a chance to level things which they took and went into half time 1-1 thanks to a (lucky!) Lampard goal.
Second half domination by Chelsea ensued as Drogba struck the post and Essien and Ballack wasted good opportunities to seal Chelsea their first Champions League title. United yet again produced a gritty defensive display to keep the Blues at bay. Extra time followed, in which the game again see-sawed between both teams. Lampard struck the post again with a wonderful strike and Mr. Chelsea, Terry cleared a Giggs stub off the line to keep the match at 1-1. Extra time ended up with a display of insanity by Chelsea striker Drogba as he slapped Vidic right under the referee’s nose to get himself sent off in his most important (and possibly final!) appearance for Chelsea.
The teams finished even after 120 minutes – though some would say Chelsea deserved to win in normal time given their two post hits (I obviously disagree!). The penalty shootout that followed gave me quite a few scares. The first two penalties were converted by both teams. Ronaldo’s brilliant season was to be underlined by another penalty miss as Chelsea took hold of the title 3-2. With the teams tied 4-4, Mr. Chelsea stepped up with the Champions League title only a kick away. However, his slip meant that the ball struck the post again and the teams remained tied at 4-4. Another round of penalties were converted to make it 5-5. Giggs marking his 759th appearance for United converted his penalty to make it 6-5 and Van Der Sar saved Anelka’s penalty giving United their 3rd European triumph on the 50th anniversary year of that dreaded Munich air disaster.
And now, personally, I am telling you there is no better feeling than watching Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs lifting the Champions League trophy high in the air. In hindsight, it was destiny that led to United winning the European title. It was really heart-wrenching to see Terry in tears after the match because he is a player I really admire. However, Chelsea struck the post 3 times – so, in reality, maybe fate did play its part and maybe the spirits of those legendary players who passed away in Munich were watching over this similarly young side in their quest for European glory.
It is going to be hard matching up to such a successful season in 2008-09 (only a treble could be better than an European double). But this young side has a wonderful collection of talent which could go a long way yet. Add to that, we have experience in the form of Giggs, Scholes and Neville as well as strong shoulders in Ferdinand, Hargreaves and Rooney – it really does look like anything is possible. And if Sir Alex does add a few players in some positions to the squad, then God bless the Premier League.
Again, thanks Sir Alex for another memorable season!