Chelsea refuse to buckle and now rule all Europe
00:08 GMT, 20 May 2012
Bayern 1 Chelsea 1 (AET; 1-1 after 90 mins; Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties)
The banners waved, the chants resounded and a stunning victory was celebrated on this astonishing Bavarian evening. The banners were royal blue, the chants were born in London Town, and the victory belonged to Chelsea.
For 120 minutes, during which they were frequently outplayed, often outclassed and almost overwhelmed, Chelsea clung to their belief in miracles.
Silver service: Didier Drogba celebrates with the trophy after their victory
Even when they seemed lost beyond recall – with two minutes of normal time remaining, when losing by 3-1 in a penalty shootout – there was a slim strand of belief which ran through the team in blue and insisted against all the odds and all the evidence: This is our year.
They clung to that shred, as if fearful of letting go. And when Didier Drogba rolled the winning penalty into a corner of the Bayern net, their conviction found outrageous reward. The side which had defended for their lives and ridden their luck against Barcelona, delivered a performance of equal fortune and equal merit in Bayern's fortress.
Time and again they seemed buried beyond recall, and time and again they kicked off the lid of the coffin. And having survived so much and believed so fiercely, they were then required to beat a German team on penalties, a feat which has evaded generations of English teams. But they passed their final test, just as they had passed all the others.
In focus: Drogba holds aloft the trophy
Few would suggest that the new champions are the best football team in Europe. But few could deny that Chelsea are the team who most avidly desired that crown.
Their fans seemed almost bemused as they launched their celebrations. Major titles are not won in such a fashion; without possession, territory or more than a smattering of genuine chances. But on they ploughed in the Micawberish hope that something would turn up. And shortly before midnight in Munich, that something arrived.
The fans had prepared themselves for the worst. All day they had been drifting across the city throughout the day; drinking, speculating, arguing, singing, then drinking some more. There remained a mild sense of surprise that these teams had scrambled through to the final while the world and his brother had preparing for a monumental collision between Madrid and Barcelona.
High point: Chelsea's Fernando Torres, left, and David Luiz sit on the crossbar
But form seemed ready to assert itself in the early stages. Bayern's bright opening, marred only by a senseless yellow card for handball by Bastian Schweinsteiger, played on the doubts which still floated through the Chelsea ranks. For all their recent revival, this remains a team which lost more than a quarter of its Premier League matches last season, finished 25 points behind the champions and failed to qualify for Europe through League position. Confidence is inevitably fragile.
Chelsea's instincts are primarily defensive, and as Bayern's passing became more progressive, so the English side retreated; throwing up barriers of bodies, cutting down space, looking only for sneak retaliation of the sort that served them well against Barcelona. And, like Barcelona, they were assisted in their schemes by Bayern finishing.
Their chances began to blossom from the 21st minute, when Petr Cech was asked to make an efficient save from Arjen Robben. They then came in alarming profusion; Thomas Muller volleying wide, Mario Gomez snatching at a cross from short range and, in 42 minutes, the worst miss of all, as Gomez hoicked Robben's pass hopelessly high with the goal on offer.
So Chelsea survived to half-time, and a vague suspicion seemed to harden among their numbers. When a side which has been emphatically superior squanders chance upon chance, it is reasonable to wonder if this might be your night, your moment, your trophy. We awaited a second half which was pregnant with possibilities.
The Chelsea successes had virtually announced themselves. Ashley Cole and central defenders Gary Cahill and David Luiz had worked hard at containment, while John Obi Mikel in the holding role was the pick of the bunch; neat, discerning and endlessly influential. Yet they had to be something better. They had to start posing problems instead of ceaselessly seeking to solve them.
The need was for nerve and flair and an intelligent sense of adventure, the kind of assets which the best teams regard as standard equipment. And their nerves were not eased when Franck Ribery found the net, albeit from an offside position early in the half. The Chelsea fans fell strangely silent for moments on end, aware of their team's predicament, willing them to survive. At the other end of the vast arena, the roars of Bayern took on a tinge of anxiety: what if all this control should count for nothing It was precisely the kind of atmosphere in which a European final ought to be contested.
Leading man: John Terry joins in the celebrations
Yet, implausibly, Bayern's pressure increased. Chance followed half-chance followed general alarm. Robben took more corners than Lewis Hamilton. The red-shirted patrons of those soaring tiers behind the Bayern goal seemed to be trying to suck the ball into the Chelsea net, the way Liverpool's Kop used to do for Bill Shankly's teams.
And then, in the 83rd minute, the dam broke. A fine goal, too. Toni Kroos unfolded yet another cross to the far post where the leaping Muller met it with a firm downward header. Having held or parried every other attempt throughout the evening, Cech could only wave this one through.
The stadium detonated in a fury of sound. The stadium announcer orchestrated the bedlam. Bayern placed a hand upon the trophy.
Then Juan Mata took a corner on the right, Drogba met it with fierce precision and equality was achieved. Slowly, with weird inevitability, astonishing events began to unfold. Robben missed a critical penalty, the match turned several improbable somersaults. And the world started to turn blue. Chelsea blue.
Pure delight: Frank Lampard kisses the trophy
… and the party begins on the Kings Road in Chelsea