Reliving Our Famous UCL Run in 2012- The Final Showdown

As the Chelsea players walked out of the tunnel, led by our current manager Frank Lampard, they had just one thought in their mind, and that was to go back to London as the only club from the city to have won this famous big-eared trophy. Walking out, looking around the Allianz Arena, they knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy task by any means. The odds were stacked stone-cold against the Blues, but the side had now grown accustomed to the underdog tag. The odds were stacked against the side when Lavezzi scored Napoli’s third in the first leg in the round of 16. The odds were stacked against the side when Iniesta put Barcelona 2-0 up before half-time. The odds were stacked against the side when Lionel Messi placed the ball on the penalty spot. However, overcoming all this, they walked out to the vociferous home support in Munich, and their fans, all donning red, were ready to witness their side conquer Europe on their home soil.

The players walked out into the hostile atmosphere unfazed. They knew that in the game of football, every single match can go either way. The concentration was evident on Lampard’s face who led the team in the absence of Terry, as he shook hands with Phillip Lahm and the Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca. Chelsea were desperately short staffed for this fixture, with a host of first team regulars including Terry, Ramires, Meireles and Ivanovic suspended- which saw youngster Ryan Bertrand handed a rare start. Bayern Munich arrived at the ground they knew ever so well on the back of a thrilling penalty shootout win in Spain, against giants Real Madrid. They dreamed of lifting the coveted trophy in front of their faithful ever since the venue was announced, and now an unlikely side who otherwise had a torrid season was all that stood between them and this dream. Jupp Heynckes and Roberto Di Matteo shook their hands, which saw the unification of two very contrasting ideologies, and the game was finally ready to begin.

The hugely anticipated contest finally got underway when Mata rolled the match ball onto Drogba’s feet, following the whistle. Their plan was the same as it had been for the entirety of the knockout phase- let the opposition have the ball and hit on the counter. Chelsea had showcased their gritty and resolute defence in the semi-final by keeping Barcelona at bay while being one man down and no recognised centre back on the pitch, and this game demanded a repeat of the same. Bayern Munich took their time with the ball, and patiently tried to pick out little holes in the backline, while the electric duo of Ribery and Robben continued to brighten up the game with flashes of brilliance.

Petr Cech had to be at his best in this encounter, and he was as brilliant as ever. After denying Andy Carrol a definite goal in the FA Cup final at Wembley a fortnight prior, Cech was on song once again, on another big occasion. A few minutes into the game, his services were called upon as Arjen Robben glided past two defenders as he’s known for and unleashed a shot with his left foot, only for the Czech giant in goal to get the slightest of touches on it to deflect onto the post. The Dutch international was in disbelief, as he expected the ball to end up in the back of the net for certain. He had another few chances, but none too concrete, until he set up Muller- who volleyed wide. Soon, he combined with the German to set up Mario Gomez- who had 20 goals in his last 17 UCL appearances- only for him to shoot over the crossbar.

Chelsea were not completely out of the contest, however. Despite not having too much of the ball or involving themselves in intricate moves, they managed to get a couple of shots away, however none which threatened Neuer too much. As the referee blew his whistle for half-time, both the teams were locked in a stalemate. Frenchman Franck Ribery thought he broke the deadlock soon after the restart, but was flagged offside as he pounced on the loose ball from an Ashley Cole block. One of the most experienced players in the defence, the English left-back was on top form in this game, and put his body on the line on more than one occasion. Chelsea, who were high on confidence after their determined display at Camp Nou restricted Bayern to very few clear-cut chances. Sure, there were occasional long shots from their midfield duo of Kroos and Schweinsteiger, but that was about it. They held on for 82 long, hard minutes. But then, all they built collapsed.

Toni Kroos put in a good cross from the left side into the box, and Muller dropped back from his marker and was presented with a free header. Cech was well positioned to make the save, but was deceived by the German’s immaculate technique as he headed the ball into the ground, and it bounced into the roof of the net. With just seven minutes of play left, Lampard admitted in an interview with UEFA that he thought that was it. While his mind told him that the game was done, his heart possessed that small spark of hope which had seen Chelsea reach the final. And that small hope turned into joy just five minutes later. Juan Mata stepped up to take the only corner of the game for Chelsea, determined to make it count. And count it did- as Drogba rose highest to head the ball into the back of the net past Neuer. 1-1 with just two minutes of play left. The blue side of the stadium, which was nearly in tears just a few minutes prior, was now jumping with joy, and the supporters hardly able to believe what they were witnessing. The ninety minutes concluded, and thirty more minutes awaited the players.

Extra time began with another heart-in-mouth moment for the blue half of the Allianz Arena as Drogba fouled Ribery in the box, giving away a penalty for the second time in as many games- he even brought Fabregas down in the game against Barcelona in the second leg.  However, the same outcome awaited another left footer in Robben, as the fiercely shot ball was not accurately placed into the corner, and Cech got a strong hand to it by guessing the right way. Still no lead for the Reds, and they were now growing impatient. Being by far the superior team over the 105 minutes of football, they feel they deserved the trophy. They did manage to carve out a couple of chances in the second half of extra time, but it was for nought as the game ended 1-1 after extra time, and penalties awaited the teams. Chelsea had pretty bad memories about a penalty shootout against a side donning the red kit from four years prior; as Terry infamously slipped in the penalty shootout which Manchester United went on to win.

The toss was lost by Lampard, and the penalties were to be taken on the red side of the stadium- in front of the home side’s fans. Captain and legend Lahm stepped up capably to take the first penalty, and slotted it past Cech despite the goalkeeper guessing the correct side. The Czech even seemed to get a slight touch on the ball, but could not prevent it from hitting the back of the net. Mata stepped up to take the first penalty for the Blues- which was saved by Neuer. The Spanish midfielder looked distraught, as he was someone who was reliable from set-pieces, and probably expected better from himself. Advantage Bayern. Mario Gomez stepped up next, and calmly picked his spot in the corner. Petr Cech guessed the direction right once again, but could not stop the goal. 2-0 to Bayern.

In desperate need of a goal, David Luiz stepped up and blasted his penalty into the top corner of the net past Neuer, classic Luiz-style. The German goalkeeper then went from penalty saver to penalty taker, and he too, managed to get the ball past Cech. 3-1 to Bayern, and they were on the cusp of glory. Our captain for the night, Frank Lampard, stepped up with absolutely no margin for error. He went for power over accuracy and blasted the ball straight into the middle. Neuer did not move, and raised his arms up to prevent the ball from crossing the line, but the power behind the ball was too much as it blasted into the roof of the net. Every single Chelsea player and fan had his hands joined together, praying to whichever God they believed in, and up stepped Ivica Olic, who was playing his last game for Bayern. Finally, after guessing the right direction in all the four penalties he faced that night, Cech managed to save the penalty. Belief was once again restored in the hearts of Chelsea supporters across the globe. Up stepped Ashely Cole, who was excellent throughout the one hundred and twenty minutes of football that night, and capped it off in fantastic style as he placed the ball into the corner of the net. The score stood at three each. Up stepped Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had been at the club since 1998, confidently gazing into the eyes of Petr Cech. However, the battle was won by the Czech as he saved the midfielder’s effort. Poetically, up stepped Didier Drogba. In what was his last kick for Chelsea Football Club (before returning in 2014-15), he knew he could make history. Drogba was the reason for some very nervy moments, taking into consideration the two penalties he gave away, but was also the only reason the game went into extra-time. Instead of a prolonged build-up, he decided to take a one step penalty. As confidently as ever, he sent Neuer the wrong way, and the ball found the back of the net. Elation gripped the players donning blue. For the next 30 seconds, everything was a blur.

 Some players went to pile up on the winning penalty taker, some players just collapsed onto the ground not believing the degree of the feat, and Lampard rushed to the other side of the stadium where the Chelsea fans had gone absolutely berserk. The Bayern Munich fans, meanwhile, could not believe it. They had been privileged enough to witness a European final in their hometown, with their team featuring, and had been presented with glorious opportunities to win the game. To top it off, they led the penalty shootout 3-1 at one point of time.

This actually accurately described Chelsea’s Champions League campaign as a whole. The never say die attitude, along with a few strokes of luck bestowed by the footballing Gods, had seen the letters ‘C-H-E-L-S-E-A’ engraved onto the trophy  for the first time in our history after getting ever so close four years before. The emotions which took over me as I watched it live on television at 4am on a school night cannot be put into words, and has been etched into the deepest part of my heart, to remain there permanently. The celebration continued long into the night, and I could hardly sleep with the adrenaline coursing through my sleep. I also profoundly remember Roberto Di Matteo hugging Roman Abramovic, who was seated in the stadium, and exclaiming “I did it! I’ve finally won it”. Remarkably, the ex-legend had turned a disaster of a season into one of the best in the new era, winning the FA Cup along with the Champions League.

Soon after the trophy was presented, the celebrations officially commenced as each player rightfully got a photo with the coveted piece of metal. To this day, eight years hence, we remain the only London side to have won the Champions League. This story will be told for years to come even if we do win a second title, because of the sheer manner in which it was won. The grit, the determination, and an incredible never-say-die attitude made us achieve the bare impossible. Like the famous quote goes- the stars were aligned for Chelsea to win the Champions League. If it also happened in the other parallel universes, we shall not know. All we know is that we won the Champions League in 2012 in the most unlikeliest of fashion, and no one can take that away from us.

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