Hero Van der Sar tastes Champions glory again 13 years on

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Edwin van der Sar, the man who solved one of Alex Ferguson’s biggest problems at Manchester United, tasted Champions League glory again after a 13-year wait when he made the decisive penalty save against Chelsea on Wednesday.

It took manager Ferguson years to find a worthy successor in goal to Peter Schmeichel, who played his final game for United in the 1999 Champions League final.

In Van der Sar, who won the European Cup in 1995 with Ajax Amsterdam, he finally has his man.

In Moscow on Wednesday, the 37-year-old Dutchman dived to his right to save from Nicolas Anelka, the 14th and final penalty of a nerve-shredding shoot-out.

He seemed to know a fraction of second in advance that he was about to save it, as his mouth broke into a smile.

Van der Sar was 24 when he played in his first Champions League final, helping Ajax to beat Juventus 1-0 in Vienna. He played in the final the following year, too, but finished on the losing side as Juventus avenged their defeat.

The Dutchman later joined Juventus but after a loss of form he made a move to decidedly unfashionable Fulham and even he thought his career at the highest level of club football was over.

The move to England did him the power of good, however. Ferguson recognised the qualities of concentration, dedication and consistency he retained and took him to United in 2005 to resurrect his career.

“The experience he’s got is immense,” Ferguson said on the eve of this final. “If you recognise one big change in Manchester United in the last few years it’s in the goalkeeping.

“We found it hard to replace Schmeichel but his calmness, composure, his presence is phenomenal. He’s a vital, vital player.”

So it proved on Wednesday when Van der Sar made a stunning one-handed save in the first half to keep out what looked certain to be an own goal as Rio Ferdinand, under pressure from Michael Ballack, headed towards his own net.

There was nothing the keeper could do about the Chelsea equaliser, as two deflections sent the ball into the path of Frank Lampard.

After Ronaldo had missed in the penalty shoot-out to give Chelsea the advantage, Van der Sar and the rest of the United team were given a reprieve when John Terry, needing only to score to give his side victory, slipped and put his shot wide.

It set the scene for Van der Sar to pull off his memorable save from Anelka.

Editing by Clare Fallon