By Rob Britton.
One night in Moscow. Just writing the title brings a warm glow inside, a feeling that brings a smile to my face and many Manchester United fans. The heartache we endure as football fans is well worth the pain if we can celebrate special nights like those on the 21st May 2008, that one night in Moscow.
United went into the final against a Chelsea team determined to win. Roman Abramovich had injected hundreds of millions of pounds into the club and he was only one game away from his dream, but having secured their 17th league title 10 days earlier United were eager to spoil the party for the Blues. British football was at its peak, an all English final is something very rare, but both clubs deservedly made their way to the final, and it was expected to be a true clash of the titans.
United boasted a team that included the likes of Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Carlos Tevez, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, while Chelsea countered with leading players such as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry.
The Luzhniki Stadium was a sea of blue and red, although the pitch was drowned throughout the match with continuous rainfall. Referee Ľuboš Micheľ blew his whistle for kick off and the game was under-way.
United settled quicker of the two teams, controlling possession and looking solid. The first real talking point of the game came when Scholes and Claude Makelele collided in the air, leaving both players with yellow cards and the United man a bloody nose.
Michael Essien had been given the undesirable task of man marking Ronaldo, but the Ghanaian was unable to prevent the Portuguese star from opening the scoring on 26 minutes. Scholes and Wes Brown exchanged passes to create space for the latter to deliver a fine cross into Chelsea’s penalty area. Ronaldo, as we had seen on several occasions previously, soared into the air placing his header into the corner of Petr Cech’s goal. The goal brought Ronaldo’s tally for the season to an astonishing 42, and more importantly put United 1-0 up. The red side of the Luzhniki went crazy! Watching with friends we exploded in celebration.
United had gained the advantage and we continued to press in search of a second goal to justify our dominance. Fortunately for Chelsea, Cech was in fine form as he denied several chances from a United team that was finding gaps in his defence. However, the tie was to change moments before half time when a speculative effort from Essien deflected off both Vidic and Ferdinand to fall at the feet of Frank Lampard, who slotted in a neat finish to bring the game back to all square. How was the scoreline 1-1 and were we going to pay for missed chances was the main topic of conversation of the half time.
The second half was a constant battle for both teams, as weather conditions began to take its toll on the veterans of both teams, with Ferdinand and Lampard suffering from cramp. Chelsea enjoyed the better of proceedings and Drogba’s late effort from 25 yards nearly secured an historic victory for the London club, but his effort crashed into the post and the contest remained deadlocked after 90 minutes. Ryan Giggs put his name into the history books (again) when on 87 minutes he replaced Scholes to make his 759th appearance for United, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s record in the process, who was watching the game from the stands. What a footballer!
Whilst United enjoyed the better of the first half, Chelsea the second, extra time was an even affair, with both teams having opportunities to snatch victory. Lampard nearly had us in tears when he hit the crossbar and Giggs had an effort cleared off the line by Terry, when he perhaps should have scored. Oh, but Terry wouldn’t be the hero for long…
But the real talking point of extra time was to come. As the 30 minutes drew to an end, and the scores still level, Drogba was sent off for slapping Vidic during a melee between several players after Tevez failed to return the ball to Chelsea following an injury break. Oh, but for a moment of madness how Drogba, Terry and Chelsea wished he was available to take a penalty…
Moments later Micheľ blew for full time. Penalties, oh great, I hate penalty shootouts, they are a torturous event. I could feel the tension of our fans coming through my television… adrenaline was certainly flowing. My friends and I stood together; the beers were left to the side as we couldn’t/wouldn’t dare do anything but watch the outcome.
Tevez and Michael Carrick converted their penalties, whilst Ballack and Juliano Belletti followed suit. Ronaldo was the third penalty taker for United, but unfortunately his famous stopped run was well read by Cech and he saved it with ease. After such an incredible season was Ronaldo going to fall at the final hurdle..?
Lampard scored straight after, giving Chelsea the upper hand, Owen Hargreaves gave United fans a bit of a breather, but only for a little while as Ashley Cole converted his penalty, then Nani made the score 4-4, with only one penalty remaining…
One penalty to define a season. One kick of the ball after nine long months. How have we come down to this? This one single moment. Terry emerges from the huddle of Chelsea players… “Terry’s taking the penalty”, we shouted at the television. Not him, please not him… Here we go then, but with the rain and the pitch coming into play, he slipped as he was about to strike the ball and skewed his shot horribly at the post. We erupted again, but this time our cheers were ten times louder. Breathe; I whispered to myself, we could still lose. Who’s taking our next penalty?
Anderson and Kalou successfully scored their penalties afterwards, and then Giggs made the score 6-5 after he crucially screwed his penalty into the bottom corner. Next up, Nicholas Anelka.
Anelka stepped up knowing the importance of the spot kick – we all know about Chelsea’s history and Abramovich’s dream to win the biggest trophy in club football. He scores and the extreme nerve-jangling episode continues, he misses and we are once again the Champions of Europe! As his shot went towards the goal, every United fan watching stopped breathing for two or three seconds, until Edwin van der Sar palmed away the Frenchman’s penalty, and brought the Champions League trophy back to Old Trafford alongside the other two European Championship titles.
I was in tears, I celebrated as if I had won the lottery, as did all my friends, songs were coming out left right and centre, and with Queen’s infamous song “We Are The Champions” being played when United lifted the trophy from the stands, and gave us an unforgettable match which had all the ingredients required for a remarkable final.
The win in Moscow will never leave me, 1999 was something special as well, but this seemed to be the icing on the cake for what had been an astounding season for the Red Devils. On that day it would have been Sir Matt Busby’s birthday, and with it being 50 years since the Munich tragedy, the trophy was not just another for the cabinet, but a reminder as to how far our club has come since then, and how huge Manchester United has become. Hopefully it will happen again soon, and when it does, we will bask in the glory of it, and show the world why we are the best.
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