Read SEA’s seven part Champions League preview here.
By Lee Savery.
21st May 2008. The 2007-2008 season saw the Champions League final staged at the Luzhniki Stadium in Russia which was the first time the European Cup final had been staged in the country and hence the most easternmost final in the tournament’s history. The final would be contested by the top two teams of English football; Manchester United and Chelsea. It would be the first ever all English European Cup final and only the third time two teams from the same country had contested the final; the others being 2000 (Real Madrid & Valencia) and 2003 (Juventus & AC Milan).
It seemed destined that United would reach the Champions League final in what was an emotional season for the club. In February 2008, the club commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. 2008 also marked the 100th anniversary of the club’s first league campaign and the 40th anniversary of the club’s first ever European Cup win in 1968. The season had already been a success as, on the final day of the league season, Man United secured their 17th League title and their 10th Premier League title after a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic.
To reach the final, United had to defeat some tough opposition. After finishing top of a group (with 16 points, more than any other group winner) containing AS Roma, Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kyiv, United beat Olympique Lyonnais, AS Roma again and FC Barcelona in the knock-out stages. A sublime Scholes strike in the early minutes of the second leg booked the team’s place in Moscow. That 1-0 victory was the team’s twelfth successive home victory in Europe which was a new record (surpassing Juventus’ of ten successive home wins). The record for the season standing at nine wins and three draws from the twelve games which dwarfed their record en-route to the final in 1999 (four wins and six draws in ten games). The team scored nineteen goals with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring seven of them (more than any other player in the tournament).
Chelsea were also group winners on their way to Moscow, in a group containing Schalke 04, Rosenborg and Valencia. In the knock-out stages, they defeated Olympiacos, Fenerbahçe and Liverpool to reach the final. Their record for the season was six wins, five draws and one defeat. Chelsea also scored 19 goals en route to the final (one scored in extra time). Didier Drogba was their top scorer with six goals.
The 2008 final saw the usual off the field matters take the news in the weeks leading up to the final. The state of the pitch at the stadium was the biggest talking point. The Luzhniki Stadium usually had an artificial pitch but the organisers were told by UEFA to have the pitch changed to grass for the final. The Daily Mail reported, a day before the final, that the pitch “[was]dangerous and not fit to stage the Champions League final”.[i]David Gill however focused on his disappointment that the club had only been allocated 21,000 tickets. “We could sell well over 100,000 tickets for this final, so there will be a lot of disappointed people.” [ii]
Money was another top topic. It was estimated that United and Chelsea fans would take up to £40 million spending to Moscow with each individual fan having £624 to cover costs of hotels, transport, food, drink etc. The match itself was expected to generate £200 million with the two clubs sharing £115 million.
On the day of the final itself, 224 Chelsea fans suffered the heartache of knowing they would not get to Moscow at all after a flight scheduled for 5.55am, leaving from Gatwick Airport, was delayed and then cancelled. The worst thing that could have possibly happened to any football fan wanting to support their team abroad in a final.
Team speculation was rife. Sir Alex Ferguson had already guaranteed Paul Scholes a starting place after he had missed the 1999 final through suspension. Sir Alex also decided to go 4-4-2 for the final with his only real headache being whether to select Ji-Sung Park or Owen Hargreaves. Ultimately it was Hargreaves that was selected while Park was left out of the squad altogether.
Chelsea’s team was very predictable. The successful spine in the team of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all started. Michael Essien started at right-back ahead of both Juliano Belletti and Paulo Ferreira.
With the teams named. It was up to them to bring the European Cup back to England in front of 67,310 people. As we know now it was a successful night for our boys in red as they secured their third European triumph on penalties after a 1-1 draw after Extra Time. Ronaldo had headed United in front before Lampard equalised just before half time. The rest of the game was a cagey affair before sparking back into life when Drogba jabbed Nemanja Vidic in the face with his finger. A silly action leading to his deserved red card. Edwin van der Sar made the crucial save in the shoot out to deny Nicolas Anelka. 6-5 to United on penalties. A superb European double was complete.
The boys would be back in the final in 2009, this time in Rome, to face Barcelona. Sadly it was the Catalan club that came out on top to inflict United’s first ever European Cup final defeat. 2011 now gives the club the chance to get some revenge for this defeat at Wembley on Saturday. Hopefully the team will be lifting the trophy there just the boys in 1968 did and replicated the glory from 2008 to win the club’s fourth European Cup and their second European double.
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[i]Daily Mail Quotes about the pitch – Chelsea and United players warned Moscow pitch isn’t safe for Champions League Final
[ii]David Gill Quotes – Gill: 100,000 fans wanted to go