United are kings of Europe
Reds beat Chelsea on penalties in a Moscow thriller
By Chris Burton. Last Updated: 22/05/08 8:37am
United celebrate in Moscow
Manchester United have won the UEFA Champions League after a penalty shoot-out victory against Chelsea.
The game itself finished 1-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing his 42nd goal of a remarkable season on 26 minutes to give United the lead, only to see Frank Lampard haul the Blues level on the stroke of half-time.
Despite the best efforts of both teams neither could force a further breakthrough and the biggest game in European football went to penalties, with Didier Drogba's red card the only blemish in an engrossing encounter.
Edwin van der Sar proved to be the hero for the Red Devils as he pushed away Nicolas Anelka's sudden-death effort to ensure that the trophy is heading back to Old Trafford for the first time in nine years.
Considering the prize at stake it was inevitable that the opening exchanges would resemble two European heavyweights indulging in a bout of ineffective sparring.
It would be the Red Devils who settled the quickest though, while their opponents desperately searched for an opening from which to gain a foothold in the contest.
The occasion appeared to be getting the better of the men in blue and Avram Grant's side looked a shadow of the team which disposed so effectively of European specialists Liverpool in the last four.
They could ill afford to be so sluggish as Ronaldo, beginning the game on the left, took little time to get his dancing feet in motion, making a mug of Michael Essien on the first occasion he was able to get one-on-one with the makeshift full-back.
Despite enjoying the lion's share of possession, United were finding clear cut chances hard to come by and were handed an early scare when Paul Scholes' nasty clash of heads with Claude Makelele left the midfielder with a painful reminder of his night in Moscow.
Then on 26 minutes the man who some had claimed was unable to perform when handed the biggest stage on which to display his talents, silenced those critics with the opening goal.
Smart interplay between Scholes and Wes Brown on the right-hand side resulted in the full-back floating a pin point cross to the back post for the irrepressible Ronaldo to nod a towering header past a motionless Cech.
With the shackles now well and truly off, the game sprung to life as Chelsea almost hit back immediately.
However, German efficiency momentarily deserted Michael Ballack as he proceeded to sky the Blues' best opportunity high into the stands.
Both sides were now beginning to put on the kind of show befitting of a Champions League final, and Van der Sar was forced into a smart reaction stop to palm away a misguided header from Rio Ferdinand.
Refusing to be upstaged, Cech then responded at the opposite end with a remarkable double save to keep out Carlos Tevez's diving header and Michael Carrick's quick-fire follow up.
Then, with the first-half coming to a close, Lampard delivered the sucker punch which ensured Sir Alex Ferguson's team talk would be more hairdryer than handshakes.
Essien's 25-yard drive took wicked deflections off two United defenders, and as Van der Sar slipped on his way to gather the loose ball, Chelsea's inspirational midfield maestro was on hand to calmly loft an effort over the sprawling Dutchman.
With parity restored the second-half was expected to resort back to the cagey exchanges which had dominated the start of the first.
That proved not to be the case and Essien wasted a great opportunity to hand Chelsea the advantage inside eight-minutes.
Having cut inside Ferdinand and Patrice Evra with ease, the Ghanaian then lifted a curling attempt over the top with Van der Sar once again left helpless on the floor, after seeing his studs give way on the much maligned surface.
United suddenly found themselves under the cosh and were forced to retreat into their shell in order to repel the rejuvenated Blues.
Possession was squandered with alarming regularity by the Red Devils, allowing the likes of Florent Malouda, Lampard and John Terry to pepper their target with dangerous, but ultimately wayward, blows.
With their back four beginning to creak the last thing United needed was to see their skipper, Ferdinand, writhing in agony with just over 20 minutes remaining.
The England international returned to the action after some hurried treatment on the sidelines, but he looked far from comfortable after being restored to the fold.
With Chelsea beginning to sense victory could be within their grasp, Ferdinand was then left a mere bystander as Drogba fired a 25-yard thunderbolt against an upright with 13 minutes left on the clock.
Tevez then did his level best to restore United's lead moments later, but the tireless Argentinean blazed high, wide and handsome from a difficult angle.
With time ticking away Ryan Giggs surpassed Bobby Charlton's all-time appearance record for United as he stepped off the bench, but the chances had long since dried up and the game meandered aimlessly towards extra-time.
Lampard rattled the frame of Van der Sar's goal once again within minutes of play resuming, but his spinning left-footed effort cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar to leave Chelsea cursing their luck.
With the action now flowing from end-to-end, Giggs saw his moment of glory snatched from his grasp by a desperate, but remarkable, goal-line clearance from John Terry.
The final 15 minutes produced little in terms of goalmouth action as the mentality of both sides reverted to ensuring that they avoided a last-gasp knockout punch.
There was enough time, however, for Drogba to get himself sent off for a petulant slap on Nemanja Vidic.
With tempers threatening to boil over, and cramp beginning to sap the energy out of the most energetic of legs, spot-kicks became inevitable.
It is at times like this that heroes and villains are created, and in the torrential rain of the Luzhniki Stadium tonight would be no different.
As fate would have it Ronaldo saw his penalty saved by Cech, only to be rescued when Terry struck with the post with his.
Van der Sar then ensured that it would be United who lifted the trophy when he pushed away Anelka's sudden-death effort to hand the Red Devils a 6-5 victory.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Chelsea|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|5||Shots on Target||1|
|5||Shots off Target||18|
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||6||7|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|2||Paris St Germain||6||13|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H
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