May 19, 2012: Chelsea defy odds to claim their first and only Champions League title

The 2012 Champions League will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Chelsea fans.

Chelsea celebrate winning the Champions League in 2012. (Image: Twitter)

The 2012 Champions League will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Chelsea fans. For it was that night, in Munich, when the side finally won the UEFA Champions League. The circumstances surrounding the final were dramatic to say the least. Chelsea were underdogs coming into the encounter. After all, very few teams can beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard. Yet, through sheer force of will and some key moments going their way, the Blues managed to defeat their more fancied opponents. For fans, this undid a lot of hurt from previous years when they felt their side were unlucky.

With 9 years having passed from that day, let us look back at the dramatic final.

The background

Chelsea were underdogs coming into the final because many were shocked they even made it this far. A 3-1 loss to Napoli in the first leg round of 16 encounter saw the team sack coach Andre Villas-Boas. For many, Chelsea were out of the tournament at that time itself.

Yet a spirited comeback at Stamford Bridge saw them win 4-1 and progress to the quarterfinals. There they overcame Benfica with relative ease, winning 3-1 on aggregate over two legs. However, the biggest test lay ahead.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were on a roll that year, and Lionel Messi was at his goalscoring best. For a Chelsea side full of veterans and younger players still coming up to speed, this was to be a stern test.

Yet a combination of luck and dogged defending saw Chelsea knock Barcelona out 3-2 on aggregate. This included a memorable 2-2 draw that featured a dramatic last-minute goal from Fernando Torres.

For Bayern, the route was relatively more straightforward. They thumped FC Basel and Olympique Marseille before beating Real Madrid in the semis on penalties.

The Final match

The tone for the game was set when the teamsheets were announced. Interim Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo started young left-back Ryan Bertrand on the left wing, with veteran Ashley Cole at left-back.

The gameplan was simple: defend for your lives and look to break when the opportunity arises.

Chelsea executed their plan well enough, although they were helped by Bayern striker Mario Gomez being wasteful in front of goal. But the Bavarians were not to be denied forever.

They got the goal through a Thomas Muller header in the 81st minute. That seemed to be the end of the match, for Chelsea would now have to change strategies entirely.

Yet Di Matteo didn’t panic. He threw on Fernando Torres on the right wing, hoping to use his pace against a tiring Bayern defence.

Torres, whose Chelsea career had not taken off at that point, was lively but relatively ineffective. And when he won a corner in the 89th minute, no one seemed worried.

Chelsea fight back

There are two interesting stories relating to that corner. The first is a conversation between Didier Drogba and Juan Mata.

“The hosts took the lead with eight minutes to go and on my way to kick the ball for the last eight minutes I was so discouraged,” Drogba told talkSPORT.

“The young man (Mata) said to me, ‘Believe Didi, you have to believe’. Almost in tears I answered after looking at the time, ‘Believe in what? It’s almost over, I’m gonna cry like a few months ago when I lost the (AFCON) final with Ivory Coast.’

“Last minute, last corner, I mean first corner for us against 18 for Bayern Munich. Guess who took that corner kick? Juan Mata. And the rest is history. The lesson is always believe.”

The second one relates to a conversation between Blues defender David Luiz and Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. Speaking in his Amazon documentary, the German said, “David Luiz came into the box and said to me: ‘And now: goal!'”

Indeed, that is exactly what happened. Mata floated in an inch-perfect cross and Drogba powered it past Manuel Neuer. 1-1 with just injury time left. Extra-time beckoned.

Drogba: from potential villain to Chelsea hero

The first half of extra-time was uneventful except for the fact that Drogba, in a moment of madness, gave away a penalty.

Up stepped former Blue Arjen Robben. Amazingly, his penalty was saved by Petr Cech, who correctly surmised that the Dutch winger would go for power over precision and waited till the last minute to make a move.

The match, predictably, went to penalties. The nerves of fans everywhere were frayed. But Bayern fans were calmed when skipper Phillip Lahm scored the first spot kick.

Mata took then stepped up but, much to Chelsea’s dismay, his shot was saved. Gomez duly converted his penalty. 2-0 Bayern.

Surprisingly Luiz took Chelsea’s second, despite later revealing he was in pain. His long run-up added to the nerves but he scored. And goaded Bayern’s fans behind the goal for good measure.

Bayern ‘keeper Neuer took Bayern’s third and comfortably converted. Chelsea’s captain on the night Frank Lampard then stepped up and hit his shot hard down the middle. 3-2, but the Blues were still in it.

Bayern’s Ivicia Olic was next. However, his penalty was saved by Cech – who, till that point, had guessed right for which side to dive on every penalty. Ashley Cole then scored. 3-3 Chelsea with one penalty each left.

Scweinsteiger stepped up for Bayern but amazingly, Cech saved his shot too. Now it was up to Drogba. Interestingly, when Chelsea reached the final in 2008, Drogba was meant to be the fifth penalty taker on that night.

However, he was sent off and skipper John Terry stepped up in his place – and missed the decisive penalty. Now, Terry was unavailable for the 2012 final and Drogba held Chelsea’s destiny in his hand.

He scored and the Blues bench ran hard in celebration. The unthinkable had happened.

Shayne Dias

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