Drogba fires Chelsea to Champions League glory
MUNICH (Reuters) - Chelsea stunned Bayern Munich to win the Champions League for the first time as Didier Drogba struck the decisive penalty in a shootout at the Allianz Arena following a tension-soaked final which ended 1-1 after extra time on Saturday.
Veteran Ivorian Drogba, who had equalised for Chelsea two minutes from the end of normal time, rolled the winning kick past Manuel Neuer as the visitors edged the shootout 4-3 after Bastian Schweinsteiger's last kick for Bayern had hit the post.
Russian owner Roman Abramovic, whose eyes have been fixed on Europe's biggest prize since buying the club, could barely contain his joy as Frank Lampard, skipper on the night in place of the suspended John Terry, held the trophy aloft on a memorable night in Bavaria.
It had looked an unlikely climax when Bayern, playing in their home stadium, were finally rewarded for their dominance when Tomas Mueller made the breakthrough they craved with an 83rd minute header past Petr Cech.
Within touching distance of lifting the famous trophy for the first time since 2001, all Bayern's hard graft was undone with two minutes remaining when Drogba met Juan Mata's corner with a thumping header past Neuer.
Bayern, four-times winners, were deflated and extra time could not separate the sides despite Bayern earning a penalty which Arjen Robben had saved by Cech.
Chelsea lost to Manchester United in the 2008 final on penalties but erased that painful memory by holding their nerve to become London's first European champions and guarantee a place in next season's competition despite only finishing sixth in the Premier League.
"I believe a lot in destiny. It was written a long time ago. This team is amazing and I dedicate this cup to all the managers and players we had before," Drogba said.
"(My equalizer) changed the game. Life is fantastic."
Stand-in manager Roberto Di Matteo, who still does not know whether he will be retained next season, praised the heart of his players who have continually defied the odds.
"We have a group of players with a big heart...that was the only way we could achieve this trophy," the Italian told ITV.
"Drogba has been incredible for this club. It's just been an incredible three months, intense and demanding for everybody."
Bayern were left to rue a third near miss this season after finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga and the German Cup but this was the harshest of blows and one that brought back bitter memories if their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the Nou Camp in 1999.
"That's football," Bayern's goalscorer Mueller said.
"We have seen it before in the past - that it is not necessarily the better side that has the cup in its hands after a match."
For much of a compelling, if not eye-catching final, there was little doubt that Bayern were the better side as they poured forward, only to be denied by a solid wall of blue or their own wastefulness in front of goal.
Both Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez snatched at clear chances as Chelsea rode their luck and manned the barricades as they did in the Nou Camp during their epic semi-final against Barcelona.
Mueller lashed one volley wide from Ribery's cross while the disappointing Gomez showed a surprising lack of composure on several occasions.
Bayern continued to press after the break and did have the ball in the net after 53 minutes only for the celebrations to be cut short as Ribery was adjudged to be offside after Robben's scuffed shot arrived at his feet.
Chelsea soaked up almost constant Bayern possession but in Drogba they still had some menace in attack, the Ivorian failing to connect with one presentable chance after 73 minutes as the tension reached unbearable levels in the stadium.
Chelsea's dogged resistance was snapped in the 83rd minute when Mueller arrived at the back post to bounce a header into the net from Toni Kroos's deep cross.
Muller was buried under a pile of his joyous team mates as Bayern appeared to have clinched the trophy but there was to be a sting in the tail.
With two minutes left on the clock, Chelsea earned their first corner of the night and when the ball was swung in Drogba climbed high to crash a header past Neuer.
It was a bitter blow for Bayern and Chelsea sensed their moment, pushing for an unlikely winner in the closing moments as the momentum swung in their favor.
Five minutes into extra time Drogba gave Bayern the perfect chance to go back in front when he clipped the heels of Ribery to concede a penalty but Petr Cech came to his side's rescue with a superb stop to keep out Robben's penalty.
Fate was beckoning Roberto Di Matteo's team though and they were given another let-off when substitute Olic prodded a volley agonizingly wide with Cech helpless.
The night still seemed to be heading Bayern's way when they moved 3-1 ahead in the penalty shootout after Mata missed Chelsea's first spot kick but Olic failed with Bayern's fourth effort and when Schweinsteiger struck the post the stage was left for Drogba to write his name into Chelsea folklore.
(Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)
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