The phrase ‘rise like a phoenix from the ashes’ is mythical in origin, and comes from the legend of a bird which burns in order to rise to new life from the ash. Today the idiom is used to express an improbable reincarnation when all hope appeared to have gone.
Sound familiar? There could hardly be a more fitting description for Chelsea’s tale of triumph, which led to their victory in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday 19 May.
Drogba wins ‘man of the match’
In a dramatic finale the Blues eventually overcame Bayern Munich, the first team in the competition’s history since it was rebranded as the Champions League to play a final in their own stadium, 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out. Not even the Bavarians’ superb home form in this season’s tournament, with six wins in as many matches and 19 goals with only four in reply, was enough to prevent Chelsea celebrating at the end.
The match itself was a reflection of the English club’s season. Thomas Muller had given Bayern the lead in the 83rd minute, only for Didier Drogba to equalise with just two minutes remaining. The balance of play was clearly in Bayern’s favour: the Reds had 55 per cent possession, 39 shots on goal to Chelsea’s nine and a corner kick quota of 20:1. Furthermore, the German side missed a penalty in extra time. Bayern had never before lost a shoot-out, winning all four of their previous attempts.
Drogba, who was named man of the match at the final whistle, converted the decisive spot-kick past Manuel Neuer to crown a topsy-turvy Chelsea season with the most coveted trophy in European club football, a first in the their history.
A season of highs and lows
Just a few months ago such a triumph barely seemed possible. A 3-1 defeat away to Napoli in the last 16 first leg tie was followed up by Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal as coach at the beginning of March. It would have taken a brave person to bet on the Londoners succeeding at such a low ebb.
But succeed they did as interim coach Roberto Di Matteo forged a winning team from the collection of superstars. They managed to overturn the deficit against Napoli to win 4-1 after extra time in the return leg, before beating Benfica (1-0 then 2-1) in the quarter-finals, Barcelona (1-0 then 2-2) in the semi-finals and now Bayern Munich in their own back yard.
“It’s fantastic. Football is simply crazy. To win the title is unbelievable, especially after such a poor year in the league,” said Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who not only saved Arjen Robben’s penalty in extra time, but also held his nerve in the shoot-out, keeping out strikes from Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger. “The later a penalty is taken, the more common it is for a player to choose power over precision,” Cech added.
Chelsea draw Club World Cup ticket
“We were just luckier that Bayern,” Di Matteo admitted after guiding Chelsea to a first Champions League title for a London club. “Bayern played very well and had a lot more chances than we did. It’s a lottery when it comes down to a penalty shoot-out.”
Chelsea are all too aware of that, having experienced disappointment first hand in 2008 when they lost to Premier League rivals Manchester United 6-5 on penalties. With the tables now turned, Chelsea can celebrate and will represent European football at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012 from 6-16 December.