Ahead of last night’s Champions League final, I wasn’t half as nervous as I expected I’d be. Of course, there were some nerves, and the hour leading up to kick off felt like the longest of my life, but I was far more excited than I was scared. It was written in the stars, the Busby Babes would be honoured.
Here is my take on the European Cup final 2008…
The way we played in the first half only went on to settle my already measured nerves further. We came out playing just as I hoped we would. Whilst our away days in Rome and Barcelona showed a regimented and composed United, I wanted to see a frightening and attacking performance in Moscow. We have brilliant players who are capable of ripping any defence apart, and I felt it was so important that we showcased this. I was worried Ferguson might deploy the more defensive tactics in the final and was totally made up that he’d clearly told our lads to go out and win playing the United way.
Ronaldo has often been criticised for going AWOL in the big games, which I’d addressed last week, and I was fully anticipating him being marked out of the game last night. However, the ease at which he skipped past Michael Essien, who we all know is a great player, impressed me immensely. Essien just couldn’t deal with him at all. Aside from the goal, he gave us a great attacking edge and the Chelsea defence was unsettled because of it.
Carvalho, who has easily been Chelsea’s best defender this season, had arguably one of his worst games in a Chelsea shirt. His second half tackle on Ronaldo could have seen him given his marching orders. It’s fortunate the conditions left the pitch so slippy, because if Ronaldo’s studs had been planted in the turf, we could have easily seen a broken bone there.
As the first half was almost up, I hoped we weren’t going to live to regret the painful opportunities we let pass us by. With 15 minutes played, Ronaldo skinned Essien and played a ball in to the box just inches over Hargreaves head.
Just short of the half an hour mark, beautiful exchanges between Scholes and Brown, outwitting Lampard and Ashley Cole, gave Wesley room to put a ball in to the box. On his left foot, no less, Brown crossed deep in to the Chelsea area, the ball finding Ronaldo’s head. Essien was rooted the spot as Ronnie leapt and put away the header with ease. Brilliant.
Ten minutes before half time, Ronaldo was on the ball again, this time looking to get an assist. The ball fell perfectly for Tevez as he dived in, but Cech got a hand to the header. The rebound fell to Carrick, with Cech leaping to his feet and making a second great save. The second goal looked imminent. We were on top, Chelsea had run out of ideas, and if not for great goalkeeping, we’d be looking to have the game wrapped up.
Five minutes later, Wayne Rooney put in a great cross, again in the direction of Tevez. He slid in and was painfully close to getting a touch and converting. We should be 3-0 up. These were no half chances, but moves that have seen goals flying in on other days.
Then disaster struck and with it, came the nerves. Chelsea should have been well and truly beaten, but Lampard evened the score. The ball took two deflections off United players, before falling to FatBoy. Van der Sar was already committed to save and slipped on the wet grass, and the net bulged.
The clubs’ respective seasons could be summed up in this first 45 minutes of football. United were creative, committed to attacking, looking moments away from scoring, whilst Chelsea clung on, pumping the ball up the pitch, looking for their lucky break. It was so painful to go in 1-1 at half time, in full expectation of a Chelsea resurgence, our players’ heads hanging low, knowing they should have already put the game to bed.
The second half saw a different Chelsea performance. Following the battering they received in the first half, they were the better side in the second, and hit the woodwork twice, once in normal time, and again in extra time.
Ashley Cole was more effective at keeping Hargreaves away from the wing, and Ronaldo was less effective. Rooney, who’d had a pretty ineffective first half, continued to struggle in the second. He was furious when not long after the restart Evra decided to play a high cross in the direction of Hargreaves, instead of playing it low, closer to the near post where Rooney was positioned.
Our defence limited Chelsea’s access to our box, them instead resorting to long range shots, but they were certainly seeing more of the ball. Vidic was a warrior though, heading clear and making great challenges on several occasions. This was needed with Rio, who still had a good game, looking more shaky than his usual composed self.
Rooney and Tevez saw little of the ball, despite doing their best blue arsed fly impressions. They ran from player to player, but when they did eventually receive possession of the ball, it was quickly surrendered.
With just over 10 minutes to go, Didier Drogba, who’d contributed little to nothing so far, hit the post. Van der Sar was well and truly beaten and we were just a few inches short of being a goal behind.
United now looked to be the team short of ideas and Tevez resorted to shooting from range. Following his wonder goal against West Ham a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t blame him for having a go, but he was never going to beat Cech from there.
Our only excitement from this point on was Ryan Giggs coming on for Paul Scholes, whose nose was still bloody from his clash with Makelele in the first half. He now has played more games for Manchester United than any other player. Could he do the business like he did against Wigan?
The whistle signalling normal time had run out was blown just after a Ronaldo cross failed to find Rooney, who couldn’t get free from his man. Chelsea were on the up and we needed something new.
3 minutes after the restart, Lampard looked as though he’d score a second, his shot hitting the woodwork. Joe Cole made way for Nicolas Anelka not long after, who’s already scored against United this season. The man who’d played for Liverpool, Arsenal, City and now Chelsea, would surely be up for getting another goal against United.
Just before the first half of extra time finished, Giggs looked to seal his appearance record with a goal, directing an Evra cross goalwards. However, John Terry got in the way and headered clear off the line.
Penalties are on the cards and there doesn’t appear to be a repeat ending of 1999 that we all hoped for. Anderson and Belletti are brought on with the shoot out in mind.
United are to go first, which is something I always prefer. Tevez steps up and sends Petr Cech, who’s never saved a penalty for Chelsea before, the wrong way. There was no doubt that Michael Ballack would make it 1-1. Carrick makes is 2-1, before Belletti sends Edwin the wrong way. The pressure is too much for Ronaldo and his dreadful penalty is saved by Cech. I still was pretty confident that Van der Sar would make a save, following his display against Chelsea in last summer’s Community Shield, but this is getting painful now.
Van der Sar gets a hand to Lampard’s penalty and the pub leaps up, only to see the ball hit the back of the net. 3-2 down with 2 more penalties to go. Hargreaves puts away a lovely penalty, which Cech got admirably close to. How I’d loved to have seen Ashley Cole screw it all up for Chelsea, but again despite getting a hand to it, the spot kick beats VDS. The pressure is on Nani, he has to score, and he does. A massive moment for our young, new signing. Then this is it, John Terry walks towards the spot, and gloom fills the pub. Surely there’s no way that Terry, Mr Chelsea, is going to miss such a vital kick. But he did, slipping in the run up, and seeing his penalty come back off the post. FUCKING GET IN!
Sudden death and Anderson is the first to take it. Having not yet scored a goal for United, this is again a massive moment. After the game, Anderson talked about when he was chosen as a penalty taker. “Ferguson looked at me and I told him he could trust me,” he said. “I knew I could have the opportunity to score a penalty, and spent those minutes thinking about it, until it came my turn. In the decisive moments, the coach likes to have players with great will and personality, which I do not lack.” Anderson hit the ball bloody hard and the net bulged. Advantage United…until Kalou makes the score level again.
Now it’s on Giggsy’s shoulders, following months of criticism from his fans. He does us proud though, making it 6-5. It was all set up perfectly now for Van der Sar’s moment of glory. He palmed away a weak Anelka attempt and that’s that. We’re Champions of Europe.
Feelings of intense joy, complete contentment, happiness unmeasurable, are few and far between, but we were living it now. No amount of jumping up and down and shouting comes close to allowing the release needed for these overwhelming moments. These occasions can’t be replicated by anything else. Even weddings and births don’t provide us with fulfilment a moment like this does, such intense happiness and pride.
Out rushed the landlady, moving the tables away from the floor as quickly as possible, giving us more room to go mental, as champagne drenched us. This is it. This is really it. We’ve really done it. We’ve really fucking done it.
The minutes that followed Van der Sar’s penalty save are a complete blur, induced by alcohol consumption as much as the feelings of pure ecstasy. Hugs and kisses with friends and family and strangers ensued, all bonded by this shared emotion. It’s magic and heaven and awe all rolled in to one. Champions of Europe, Manchester United.
All season we’ve sung about going to Moscow, and reminiscent of last season’s song about taking our trophy back from Mourinho, it came true. We got there and we won it. The past 9 years have been anticipation for this moment. We’ve been hungry and we’ve waited. We’ve suffered for this moment. It was only 3 years ago our side were humiliated in not making it past the group stages. It was only 1 year ago our team were played off the park in Milan. But here we are, Champions of Europe, unbeaten, and winning 10 of the 13 games.
Enjoy the next 12 months you lot, ban the name “United” from your vocabulary, and instead refer to us as “The Champions of England and Europe”. This is our moment and we will bloody well enjoy it!