Do you believe in miracles and comebacks?
Chelsea certainly does as its miracle run in the UEFA Champions League climaxed Saturday with a rather improbable win in the final over host Bayern Munich.
Facing certain loss with time running out, the Blues managed to pull off what had to be considered a lost cause in enemy territory at Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany.
The Blues won their very first Champions League crown via a penalty-kick shootout, 4-3, after playing Bayern to a 1-1 deadlock after 120 minutes.
Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba turned out to be the man of two hours, connecting for the equalizer goal in the 88th minute and scoring the winning goal in the shootout to give Chelsea owner and oil baron and billionaire Roman Abramovich the European championship he had so desperately sought for nearly the past decade.
The victory also highlighted a Chelsea comeback from March, when manager Andre Villas-Boas was fired. Italian Roberto di Matteo was brought in as a caretaker coach and he guided the Blues to the English F.A. Cup game two weeks ago, and now European glory.
During the shootout, Bayern grabbed a 3-2 lead as Phillip Lamm, Mario Gómez and goalkeeper Martin Neuer made their shots. But after Neuer had stopped Spaniard Juan Mata's first attempt, David Luiz, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole converted their tries to tie the shootout at 3-3.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech managed to knock away Ivica Olic's attempt and forced a tired Bastian Schweinsteiger to his the right post.
Up stepped Drogba, who calmly buried his attempt, most likely his final kick for Chelsea, into the lower left corner.
The game had plenty of twists and turns as heroes were replaced and heroes turned potential goats before his own goalkeeper saved him early in extra time.
The best and most dramatic moments in regulation came within a five-minute span late in the match and then early in extratime.
First, Thomas Muller, who had endured a night of frustration, scored off a spectacular header in the 83rd minute. A cross came from the left side and Muller, while Ashley Cole was concerned with Mario Gómez on the right side, Muller slipped in and headed an emphatic shot, one bounce over Cech at the near post for his second Champions League goal in 12 matches.
The stadium erupted, especially with only seven minutes of regulation and another three minutes of stoppage time, as it turned out, between Bayern and its fifth European title.
But it was to be a long, long time.
First, Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes decided to pull Muller for a defensive replacement Daniel Van Buyten in the 86th minute.
It backfired, as late in the 88th minute Drogba found some room on the right side of the penalty area and headed Chelsea's first corner kick of the game past Neuer for a 1-1 tie, a goal that stifled an celebrations the home crowd had prepared.
Drogba had an opportunity to boost Chelsea to the title as his 28-yard free kick at the death of stoppage time (three minutes) sailed into the stands.
Drogba, however, almost went from hero to zero only three minutes into extratime when he clipped Frank Ribery from behind in the penalty area for a yellow card and a penalty kick. Arjen Robben was called on to take the spot kick, but Cech guessed correctly, diving to his left to deny the Dutchman.
He blocked the shot and scrambled to gather in the loose ball before Robben or any of his teammates could swoop in and convert the rebound.
Bayern's inept finishing and Chelsea's defending made for one frustrating encounter that is supposed to showcase the best in European soccer, if not the world.
Mario Gómez, Robben and Muller each had opportunities regulation, but could not cash in.
At time, the one-sided regulation was a joke, certainly not one befitting a final against the supposed two best sides on the continent. Supposed is used because the hosts dominated action for minutes at time, but could not find the net, whether it was too many Chelsea bodies in the way or some errant shooting. Supposed because Chelsea was content to play defensive and wait and pray for a rare counterattack.
Chelsea, quite frankly, looked like a pale version of itself, having three key players sidelined, including four by suspensions -- captain John Terry, Branislav Ivnaovic and Raul Meireles. But Bayern was missing three players due to yellow cards picked up in the semifinal win over Real Madrid -- but the hosts made the most of it.
The game was one of a corner kick clinic. The hosts attempted 16 in regulation as dominated the match. Every time a Bayern attempt sailed into the penalty area, a Chelsea defender was there to clear it out of danger or Cech grabbed the cross.
Chelsea? The English side was content to defend and look for a counterattack from which to surprise Bayern. The Blues did not get many.
The English Premier League team had a "surge" over a four-minute span late in the first half as Spaniard Juan Mata fired a free kick from the right side on the crossbar in the 34th minute, Three minutes later, Drogba had the ball for a split second on the left side of the penalty area, but Lahm cleared it away. And Salomon Kalou sent his attempt from the side just to the right of the net, where Neuer dived to stop from going out of bounds in the 38th minute.
As it turned out, the best was yet to come.
Michael Lewis has covered USA soccer for four decades. He is the editor of BigAppleSoccer.com and can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via twitter at @soccerwriter.
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