By Wayne Veysey at Allianz Arena
It was written in the stars. It had to be.
After Chelsea and Bayern Munich had traded nine penalties, the defining spot-kick was left to Didier Drogba, whose iron will and unequalled big-match aptitude had kept his team in the final. Indeed, the whole competition.
Half the Bayern team turned away as Drogba marked out his run, like a terrifying fast bowler tearing in from the Pavilion End.
The eruption of joy from the blue end, and the screams of despair from the red human wall behind Manuel Neuer’s goal, realised the worst fears of the players too scared to look.
|DROGBA DELIGHT AS CHELSEA WIN
|The out-of-contract Ivorian took the game to extra time with an 88th minute header
In truth, Drogba scuffed his shot. But it didn’t matter as Neuer had dived the wrong way in any case.
But there was seemingly never any doubt that the decisive moment of the match would fall to Drogba and that he would succeed in his mission. Some higher provenance seemed to have ordained it.
The striker had scored the equaliser with two minutes of added time left just when Bayern appeared to have made their almost total dominance of the game count.
Stealing a march on his marker Jerome Boateng, who foolishly gave the powerhouse striker extra momentum by pushing him in the back, Drogba arched his neck muscles and sent his header powerfully above Neuer’s head. The connection was perfect and the accuracy unerring.
|MR BIG TIME
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
Didier Drogba rescued Chelsea at the death in normal time! He nearly cost them the game in giving away an extra-time penalty! And now he has converted the coolest penalty you could want to seal the greatest night in his club's history!
| PLAYER RATING
|7||The Ivorian has always been the man for the big occasion and he headed the equaliser with a thumping header in the 88th minute. Made a stupid mistake in extra-time as he conceded the penalty for a clumsy challenge on Ribery but was let off by the miss and ended up as the hero as he showed nerves of steel to slot the crucial spot-kick.|
It was a simple yet quite brilliant piece of forward play and completely in keeping with the Ivorian’s sensational finish to the season.
Little more than half-an-hour later, the completion of Roman Abramovich’s quest to conquer Europe was left to Drogba with possibly the lack kick of his last match for the club.
As the ball nestled in the net, Drogba threw himself to the ground in exultation, where he was soon lost, buried under the joyous bodies of team-mates and squad members who threw themselves on top of him.
If the first European Cup triumph in Chelsea’s history is to be Drogba’s final farewell, what a way to say goodbye.
Even had the last two months been a damp squib, the 34-year-old would have been remembered as the most formidable centre-forward in the club’s history.
By scoring in the final two knockout rounds of both the Champions League and FA Cup – against Bayern, Barcelona, Liverpool and Tottenham - he has not so much secured his legend, but embellished it.
There was little of the usual cynical theatrics in the Allianz Arena – effectively an away match for his team – so what could be the final sighting of Drogba in Chelsea blue will be remembered for his many peerless attributes.
The power, the aggression, the ability to keep an entire defence on its toes through sheer bloody-minded brilliance.
In Chelsea’s biggest match in four years, Drogba was barely involved for 88 minutes as his team-mates struggled to get the ball to him in dangerous positions.
The gap between the Ivorian and his attacking midfielders was, at times, big enough to park half a dozen buses.
Roberto Di Matteo, reckoning the only way stop Bayern was to defend deep and hound them, swamped the midfield with energy and power.
On this occasion, it wasn’t so much Drogba’s physical attributes that impressed but his mental ones.
On a night when Bayern hoarded all the best opportunities (poor Arjen Robben, combining brilliance with a chronic lack of ruthlesslness, had about half a dozen to himself), Drogba got only two. The first he scuffed after Neuer had mishandled a cross into his path. He didn’t make the same mistake twice.
For the marquee matches, Di Matteo has put his trust in the same old stagers that Chelsea know they will eventually have to live without. How that trust has been repaid.
The question is, how long can the likes of Drogba go on? Richard Attenborough, a Chelsea life-president, might admire the way in which the striker so often slips into character and full simulation mode.
But tomfoolery aside, he remains too irresistible to be dispensed with by a wave of Roman Abramovich’s hand and the owner’s best wishes.
A one-year contract has been on the table for months. Drogba wants two more years at a club he has decorated for seven years. Further negotiations are due to begin next week.
Is there room for manoeuvre? Should there be? On an evening such as this, Drogba looked like he could go on performing brilliantly well into his mid-30s.
The striker has scored a relatively meagre 13 goals this season, less than a fifth of the number than Lionel Messi has plundered for Barcelona.
That puts into perspective those who claim that Abramovich and his executives should cave in and just give Drogba the 24 months he wants and feels he deserves.
The way Drogba larked around afterwards, merrily posing for photographers and giving them a thousand memorable snaps, hinted that this was the long goodbye.
Long after all his team-mates had headed back to the dressing room to continue celebrations that will go on long into the night, Drogba stayed out on the pitch with an Ivory Coast flag draped around his broad shoulders.
He was milking the occasion and the achievement for all it was worth. And why not? Chelsea’s greatest star had shown what a truly maginificent player he is. We will all miss him when he’s gone.
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