#Throwback Football; That Night in Moscow
By Preye Campbell
On the 21st May, 2008, in a cold and wet Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, history was at the mercy of an all-important clash from two teams. That it was the first English final in the UEFA Champions League was enough to make the headlines, that the stakes were even higher were all the more appealing.
On one corner, there was the seemingly unstoppable Manchester United team, passionately marshalled by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. The Red Devils had already conquered England that season, after lifting the Premier League and the FA Cup- plus the Community Shield against Chelsea in the season opener-, and were on course to make Europe their stomping ground since that dramatic win in Barcelona against Bayern Munich in 1999. Hope for a second European crown under their legendary Scott manager was on a high after that famous Paul Scholes thunder-strike against Barcelona in the semi-final. Who could possibly stop them then?
On the other corner, there was The Blues. Certainly the underdog but not a team to mess with. They were league champions the previous year and duly knocked out United in the FA Cup final that same year. Avram Grant’s men had a more complicated route to the final and it was a Blue fan’s belief that if they could make it to the final, surely victory could be theirs. No? Confidence was high on both sides and we had ourselves a final!
As expected, it was a frantic finale as the fans’ voices rose high to cheer their teams. But it was Cristiano Ronaldo – on a mission to claim his first ever Ballon D’or – who rose highest in the 26th minute from a Wes Brown cross to give United the lead.
It gave United that much needed confidence and on any other night, they could have walked home as champions after 90 minutes. They had Chelsea by the corner but even they didn’t know how Chelsea wriggled free in the closing stages of half-time as Frank Lampard scored from a huge deflection.
It looked like all the London kings needed for a rejuvenation as they pushed United to the core in the second-half and somehow, Didier Drogba’s long-range effort came crashing off the post. End of normal time, 1- 1.
Extra time arrived and Chelsea continued their mission for a comeback win, Lampard again seeking to be the architect but his effort clipped the crossbar. It was also an agonizing moment for United, as no one could explain how captain John Terry headed Ryan Giggs’ goal-bound strike over the bar. We weren’t let off the entertainment yet and with penalties looming, Drogba did the unthinkable in the 118th minute, slapping Nemanja Vidic to earn himself a red card.
Having no time to reflect on a strange situation, both teams headed for the penalties. United, in front of their own fans, had Carlos Tevez slotting home from the spot before Michael Ballack replied for Chelsea.
Michael Carrick and Juliano Belleti both netted for either side before Ronaldo stepped up. Should be easy, you’d say, but Petr Cech guessed right and gave Chelsea the upper-hand. Another strange moment had Ronaldo in a worried state as he could possibly be the one to prevent United from lifting the crown in what would have been an ironic situation.
Lampard, Owen Hargreaves, Ashley Cole and Nani all scored. Captain John Terry was the next and his strike would have ended the game once and for all. But in a twist of fate, Chelsea’s most loved player slipped and fired wide. The tide turned once more, now in United’s favour. Anderson scored for the Red Devils, Salomon Kalou scored for the Blues. Giggs netted for United and Nicolas Anelka weas the next man in line. But Edwin Van der Sar proved why he was man of the match that night and not just saved Anelka’s shot, but United’s third European trophy.
United had done it in yet another dramatic circumstance.