Chelsea Football Club and Bayern Munich secure their places in the final of the UEFA Champions League against the expectation of many
It proved the pundits, bookmakers and many football analysts wrong. The just concluded semi-final round of the UEFA Champions League matches had an outcome that many football experts did not foresee. The two Spanish heavy weights, Real Madrid and Barcelona, heavily tipped to make the final of the mondial, were both eliminated in their respective two-legged contest hence, the final of the Champions League would see Bayern Munich, the German team, which is currently second on the Bundesliga, face Chelsea, the English team, which is sixth on the English Premier League.
Interestingly, this was a final many did not foresee when the quarter- and semi-final draws showed the possibility of Madrid squaring it with Bayern and Barcelona slugging it out with Chelsea earlier this year. This is because both Spanish sides have been exceptional this season, while they also boast a team that parades the best players in the world.
Barcelona, the reigning UEFA champions, parade players like Lionel Messi who has been the best player in the world in the last three years. They also have Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, the duo regarded as the best midfielders in the world that can carve open any opponent’s defence. Then again, Barcelona had not lost any match since February, unlike its English opponent which had lost severally and sometimes embarrassingly. And so many had predicted that Barcelona would defeat its less glittering English opponent, which lacked the attacking firepower of the reigning Spanish champion.
But football is not mathematics, and one plus one in football is not necessarily two. This was the case in the first leg of the semi-final match which was played at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home, on April 18. Expectedly, Barcelona dominated the game having 72 per cent of the ball possession in contrast to Chelsea’s paltry 28 per cent. The Spanish team also displayed their mesmerising brand of attacking football drawing triangles and finding spaces in Chelsea’s half of the pitch. But against the odds, Chelsea won the game with a lone goal scored by its Ivorian striker Didier Drogba in the extra time of the first half. But the game’s statistics had favoured Barcelona. Their attempts at goal were 10 compared to Chelsea’s 4. Barcelona also played eight corners in contrast to one played by Chelsea.
Perhaps that was why many regarded the English side’s victory as a fluke, believing that the Spanish side would demolish Chelsea in the return leg, which would be played at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home. But the return leg, played last week, turned out to be a Cinderella story for Chelsea who had not been given any chance, even by some of its own fans.
When the match started, the odds against Chelsea kept increasing as the game wore on. Less than seven minutes into the game Chelsea, lost its central defender Gary Cahill to hamstring injury. Barcelona, some minutes after losing Gerard Pique, its own central defender to injury, however scored a goal by Sergio Busquets, a holding midfielder. Chelsea’s night further turned bad when its captain and central defender John Terry was sent out for a foul against an opponent. Five minutes later, the English side conceded another goal scored by Iniesta.
Chelsea, at that juncture, was as good as being out of the tournament. They were a man down, two goals down and had no central defender against the best team in the world. But Chelsea’s turnaround started when its Brazilian midfielder Ramires, against the run of play, scored a crucial goal in the extra time of the first half. Though the score line was 2-1 in favour of Barcelona after the first half, on aggregate it was two goals apiece, a situation that favoured Chelsea as it would have qualified on the away goal rule. However, Chelsea stunned the reigning FIFA World Club champions when its Spanish striker Fernando Torres scored another goal in the extra time of the second half, effectively sealing its victory. This sent them into the final of the Champions League on aggregate win of 3-2 goals.
If Bayern Munich needed a motivation to beat Madrid, it had it in the fact that the Champions League’s final would be played on their home turf, the Allianz Arena. Regardless of this, Madrid was still heavily considered the favourite. The Spanish giant had the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, a former FIFA world player who is supremely skilful, and a host of other world-class players. The nine times’ Champions League winner also have a coach who is considered to be one of the best in the business in the person of José Mourinho nicknamed ‘The Special One’. Though Bayern cannot be said to be lacking in world-class players, their league form this season has not been as endearing as their Spanish opponent.
While Bayern seem to be out of the race for its domestic league title, its Spanish opponent is in pole position to clinch the Laliga trophy. But all that amounted to nothing in the first leg of the semi-final, which was played at Bayern’s home pitch April 17. The German side took the lead in the first half through their French midfielder Franck Ribery who slammed in a goal in the 17th minute. Madrid however restored parity in the second half through a wonderful interplay that saw its German midfielder Mesut Ozil slot in a pass from Ronaldo into the goal post. But Bayern would once again stun Madrid as its German striker, Mario Gomez, scored a goal in the dying minute when he converted a cross from Philipp Lahm, a defender. Even with the deficit, many still tipped Madrid to get to the final claiming that they had a crucial away goal.
In the return leg at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid’s home pitch, things started brightly for the Spanish team when Ronaldo converted a spot kick early in the match, which was his 55th goal of the season. Madrid seemed to be on course for the final as Ronaldo scored another goal setting off fireworks of celebrations from the home fans. But their celebration soon became premature, when Arjen Robben, a former Madrid winger, scored a penalty for his team. That turned out to be the last goal of the match as the game went into extra time before it petered out into a penalty shoot out. It was there that the Madrid players lost their composure and lost three penalties, which sent the German team into the final, which would be played on their home turf. Indeed the semi-final round of this year’s Champions League will go down as a memorable one to many fans and analysts of the round leather game.