Sir Alex thanks his lucky tsars as penalty shoot-out gives United European Cup No 3


(aet:1-1 at 90mins: Manchester United win 6-5 on pens)

Against a scene of delirium and delight in that centre circle last night was one of utter despair and dejection. Despair for John Terry, in particular, and a Chelsea side who no more deserved to lose against a jubilant Manchester United than they deserved to win. What an extraordinary game.

What an extraordinary climax. The sight of Terry sobbing into Avram Grant's rainsoaked shoulder. The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo sobbing on the ground, the Portuguese winger overwhelmed by a torturous final few minutes when he must have feared his penalty miss had cost Sir Alex Ferguson a second European Cup.

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Early riser: Ronaldo leaps to head home United's opener on 26 minutes

The sight of Roman Abramovich slumped back in his chair, almost unable to watch. The chance to win the Champions League fell first to Terry. His four colleagues had already scored, and all that now stood between Chelsea and their greatest moment was the penalty kick their captain was about to take.

A penalty that would have cemented Terry's position as the captain of Chelsea captains. But this is when football can be its cruellest. When it can take a great gladiator like Terry and tear out his heart As he pulled back his right boot to unleash his shot, his left foot slipped and the ball flew wide.

There was, of course, more drama to follow. Converted penalties for Anderson and Salomon Kalou and then one for Ryan Giggs, the Welshman marking that 759th appearance with what proved the decisive strike. Once, that is, Nicolas Anelka had seen his attempt saved by a diving Edwin van der Sar. And why was it Anelka and not Didier Drogba? Why Terry and not Drogba?

Because the petulant Chelsea striker had been sent off in disgrace, dismissed four minutes before the end of extra-time for slapping Nemanja Vidic in the face. A final foolish act, quite possibly, for a player who may not now be missed if he does choose to go to AC Milan. Where it leaves Grant only Abramovich can decide.


Down but not out: Van der Sar and Ferdinand (above) are beaten by Lampard's 45th-minute equaliser

But it is a hard man who reflects on what Grant has done for Chelsea and decides his time is up. Not least because of the nature of this defeat. That, however, was the difference between success and failure here at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Immortality for one manager and probable unemployment for the other. This was the night when Ferguson joined what he considers the elite of European football. That pantheon of managers who have lifted the ultimate prize more than once. He should now be considered the greatest of his generation. Those 10 Premier League titles.

Didier Drogba red

Seeing red: Didier Drogba is sent off for slapping Vidic in the face

The two European Cups. The countless other domestic and European trophies, both at United and at Aberdeen. Then there are the teams he has nurtured and created, this being his finest team in 22 largely glorious years at Old Trafford. A team that hoped to employ their style and skill to conquer Chelsea's strength but in the end relied on the strength of their character. It was enthralling stuff.

Slow to start, the match was ignited by Ronaldo's 26th-minute goal. A 42nd of the season that it seemed had taken him to a new level. Level 42, you might say. In Frank Lampard, however, Chelsea appeared to have a saviour.

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United celebrate

Golden generation: Cristiano onaldo grabs the trophy as skipper Rio Ferdinand looks on

Good fortune played a part, Michael Essien's shot taking a deflection off two United defenders before falling to the England man. But the player who captured the hearts of a nation with that penalty against Liverpool struck again before staring to the heavens in acknowledgment of his late mother.

The second half was memorable for moving from Wednesday to Thursday here in Moscow but we could have waited until Friday and a further goal never would have come. The match was so tight, so tense. Both sides had other chances.

United could have been three goals up before Lampard equalised moments before half-time, with first Michael Carrick squandering a wonderful opportunity before Carlos Tevez followed suit. After the break it was Drogba who went closest, driving a shot against Van der Sar's post.

Manchester United players celebrate

Mob rule: Manchester United players celebrate

And in the first half of extra-time, Lampard sent a close-range shot against the bar. In Giggs, United almost had their matchwinner before the penalties arrived. His effort was a good one but from somewhere Terry arrived to divert the ball to safety with his head. Intent underlined Ferguson's selection.

The modern day holy trinity of Ronaldo, Tevez and Wayne Rooney were deployed, as was Owen Hargreaves in a three-man midfield designed to offer some resistance to Michael Ballack and Lampard. A prudent move from Ferguson, who in the end could not even find a place for Ji-sung Park on the bench.

The tension was almost tangible. The sheer terror at the prospect of losing. The merest thought at what, last night, was at stake. But when a goal from seemingly nothing arrived in the 26th minute, the real drama began. It was the simplest of moves. A delightful one-two between Paul Scholes and Wes Brown and then what amounted to the best ball of Brown's career.

A ball that allowed Ronaldo to drop off the shoulder of Essien and and beat Petr Cech with a wonderful header. Now we had a game. Now we had a situation where Chelsea had to cast off their defensive shackles and chase this Champions League Final.

Edwin van der Sar

Decider: United's Edwin van der Sar makes the winning save from Nicolas Anelka

Now we would discover what this Chelsea and Grant were really made of. The answer almost came six minutes later. A ball from deep on the left from Lampard that was met by Drogba forced Rio Ferdinand to make a desperate lunge that so nearly ended in an own goal. Much to the United captain's relief, Van der Sar made a terrific save.

It was followed, at the other end, by a quite stunning double save from Cech. First he somehow stopped a header from Tevez, after fine work from Rooney and Ronaldo, then a well-struck effort from Carrick, who really should have scored. Tevez then squandered another brilliant opportunity to put this game beyond Chelsea's reach.

The cross from Rooney was perfect, the finish from Tevez not so good. It proved all the more costly for the fact that Lampard then equalised. After that, a war of attrition and an inevitable conclusion. A conclusion from which Terry may never recover. That cost Chelsea the chance to win the Champions League and may yet cost Grant his job.

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