Today was not your typical Saturday. Over in Munich, Germany there was a soccer match for all the marbles, as Chelsea FC squared off with Bayern Munich with the UEFA Champions League Title on the line. Playing at Bayern Munich’s home stadium, the Allianz Arena, the German club was not able to hold on to a 1-0 lead late in the game and squandered the title to Chelsea on penalty kicks. Didier Drogba, a 34 year old striker from the Ivory Coast, played a key role in the match as he scored the equalizer in the 88th minute for Chelsea and then capitalized on his penalty kick to finish the match and provide Chelsea with their first ever Champions League title.
This was a match that Bayern Munich should have won. Playing in front of their home crowd, in their own stadium, and against a Chelsea squad that was missing its captain due to suspension and who had an interim manager who has been on the job for barely two months now were all reasons that Bayern should have taken control and come away with the title this afternoon. None of that meant anything to Chelsea. Even when this game was rather one sided, as it was for the first 82 minutes scoreless and even more-so after Thomas Mueller scored on a header off the crossbar that got behind Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Cech, Chelsea never gave up. Chelsea kept with their rather defensive style, playing with 10 men behind the ball for most of the game, and when they finally got a chance in the final minutes of regulation Didier Drogba took full advantage and drove a header into the net to tie the game at 1. His goal gave Chelsea hope and that’s all they needed on this Saturday.
After the 90 minute regulation had passed the game went into extra-time, and Didier Drogba almost went from hero-to-zero early in the first extra session. After tripping Bayern’s Frank Ribery, a French midfielder who has played for Bayern since 2007, in the 18 yard box the home team was awarded a penalty kick that surely looked like it would decide the title. As it turned out it ended being just another golden opportunity wasted by the German side, as former Chelsea star Arjen Robben’s kick from the spot was saved by Peter Cech, keeping the match all square. I’ll be honest, I was rooting for Bayern this afternoon, but I hate seeing games decided by referees or by athletes exaggerating on the field, and when Cech made that save I applauded the action as I don’t think that Drogba did enough to warrant a penalty kick in that situation. Yes it was a foul, and yes it was in the box, but if that decided the game I would have felt that it cheapened the action of the afternoon. Thankfully, the game went on and nobody was able to score in the extra 30 minutes so the game needed to be settled by a round of penalty kicks.
As a former goalkeeper I really, really hate penalty kicks and I do believe that it is a very silly way to end a game. I love that in playoff hockey in lieu of the shoot-outs that they have during the regular season they play sudden death until someone scores. To me, ending a match on penalty kicks is the equivalent of a baseball game going to a home run derby after 9 innings or a basketball game finishing with a 3 point contest after 48 minutes. I understand why soccer matches end in penalty kicks but I really do not like it. Unfortunately I can’t think of a better alternative, though the best extra time resolution I’ve heard of was a tournament my buddy played in where they would remove a player from the pitch after every 5 scoreless minutes. Would that work for matches of as much importance as the Champions League, I’m not sure, but it’s just a thought.
I won’t bore you with the play by play of the extra kicks, as all you really need to know is that when Didier Drogba buried his final kick of the match into the back of the net he won the match and the title for Chelsea. That may have been the final touch in the 8 year stint for Drogba at the southwest London squad, and if it is then it was a wonderful parting gift. This was Chelsea FC’s first ever Champions League title (they lost on penalty kicks in 2008 to Manchester United in the final) and Drogba’s man of the match performance was really something special to witness.
This afternoon Chelsea proved once again how playing hard until the final whistle can win you games. Many people counted them out, especially with how Bayern dominated play for most of the afternoon, but the 11 guys wearing the blue uniforms never gave up. In this game is a lesson to all you kids out there. Tonight Chelsea fans all over the world are celebrating their championship, and Bayern Munich fans are sobbing into their “biers”, heartbroken over the one that slipped away. Congratulations to Chelsea FC, today you are kings of the club soccer world. Now the attention turns from club to country, and you will certainly hear more from me about the Euro 2012 tournament beginning next month and the intense stretch of games that the USA Mens’ National team is about to embark on.