United strike gold in shoot-outThursday 22 May 2008
Almost ten months after launching their season with a shoot-out victory over Chelsea FC, Manchester United FC repeated the feat in the UEFA Champions League final with Edwin van der Sar saving from Nicolas Anelka to take the trophy to Old Trafford for a third time.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team had prevailed 3-0 on penalties in the FA Community Shield on 5 August after a 1-1 draw but the prospect of a repeat looked distant when Cristiano Ronaldo headed them into a deserved 26th-minute lead. Chelsea equalised 19 minutes later through Frank Lampard, however, and they appeared more likely winners thereafter, Didier Drogba and Lampard both striking the woodwork.
Despite Drogba's dismissal for slapping Nemanja Vidić deep into extra time, the ten men had the ultimate prize within reach after Petr Čech's save from Ronaldo's penalty but John Terry fired wide at 4-4 when his kick would have clinched victory. Three conversions later, Van der Sar outwitted Anelka and United were in dreamland.
Given this final featured the best two defences in the Premier League it was perhaps little surprise both sides began cautiously. Owen Hargreaves, making a lively start down United's right, gave an early test to Ashley Cole - fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in training on Tuesday - by delivering two dangerous balls into the area and almost getting on the end of Ronaldo's left-wing centre. From the Portuguese international's second significant contribution, United were ahead. Wes Brown played a one-two with Paul Scholes on the right touchline and cut inside to deliver a deep cross to the far post, where Ronaldo peeled away from Michael Essien to nod his first goal against Chelsea, netting just inside Čech's right-hand post.
Michael Ballack drove over from the edge of the box as Chelsea sought an instant response, but at the half-hour Avram Grant's men had managed just 38 per cent of possession. For all that, United's lead might have disappeared but for the reflexes of the 37-year-old Van der Sar, the Dutchman making an instinctive save at point-blank range to keep out Rio Ferdinand's inadvertent header under pressure from Ballack. The tempo was rising and within seconds, Chelsea could have fallen two behind at the other end. Wayne Rooney's fabulous long pass launched a counterattack from which Čech made stops to deny first Carlos Tévez's header then Michael Carrick's follow-up shot.
Tévez next passed up another presentable opening from Rooney's low right-wing centre and Chelsea took advantage of this profligacy on the stroke of half-time. Lampard reacted quickest to slip the ball beyond Van der Sar after Essien's speculative long-range effort had struck both Vidić and Ferdinand. Having got back into the game, Chelsea were eager to build on their equaliser and might have been in front within ten minutes of the restart. Florent Malouda sent Essien away down the right and the Ghanaian turned away from two defenders on the edge of the area, only to direct a left-foot attempt too high. Ballack then sliced wide as the United defence parted invitingly.
Before kick-off, the United end of the ground had displayed a series of cards spelling out one simple message: Believe. With Ballack and midfield partner Lampard growing in influence, however, that conviction now seemed exclusively Chelsea's and they came closer than ever to a second goal with 12 minutes left when Drogba, out of nothing, curled a shot from 25 metres beyond Van der Sar but off the goalkeeper's left-hand upright. Ryan Giggs came on after 87 minutes to make a record-breaking 759th United appearance, yet with tension setting in neither side were willing to risk defeat and commit men forward.
Still, Chelsea continued to look more enterprising and early in extra time they rattled the woodwork again as Ashley Cole and Ballack set up Lampard for an improvised shot that came back off the bar with Van der Sar beaten. Terry then blocked Giggs's goalbound strike after Patrice Evra's low centre had taken Čech out of the game. The ebb and flow of attacks continued, with the only advantage gained being United's after Drogba was dismissed for raising a hand to Vidić. That seemed not to matter when Ronaldo missed United's third kick of the shoot-out, but Chelsea's moment passed with Terry's slip and Van der Sar's subsequent glory-grabbing save.
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