Champions League Final 2008

The 2008 Champions League final is one of the most nerve wracking football matches I have watched since I became a Manchester United fan. Of course, the last time United won Europe's most prized title in 1999 was thanks to a brilliant comeback as we left it until the final two minutes to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. I was not a footie fan then, but even watching Youtube videos of that amazing night gives me the goosebumps. The 2008 final was not as tense but being an all English final gave it some much needed spice and it turned out into an amazing football game besting the previous all-Spanish and all-Italian finals.

United dominated the entire first half and turned in a wonderful attacking display which gave us the lead through Ronaldo on 26 minutes. A brilliant counterattack ended with a Tevez header being saved by Cech and the Carrick follow-up also tipped over by the Czech Republic stopper. It really hurt because it was a wonderful move with Rooney picking up the ball near the United penalty area and producing a majestic cross-field pass to Ronaldo who crossed to Tevez before Cech produced those stunning saves. Eventually, a couple of missed chances by Tevez meant that Chelsea still had a chance to level things which they took and went into half time 1-1 thanks to a (lucky!) Lampard goal.

Second half domination by Chelsea ensued as Drogba struck the post and Essien and Ballack wasted good opportunities to seal Chelsea their first Champions League title. United yet again produced a gritty defensive display to keep the Blues at bay. Extra time followed, in which the game again see-sawed between both teams. Lampard struck the post again with a wonderful strike and Mr. Chelsea, Terry cleared a Giggs stub off the line to keep the match at 1-1. Extra time ended up with a display of insanity by Chelsea striker Drogba as he slapped Vidic right under the referee’s nose to get himself sent off in his most important (and possibly final!) appearance for Chelsea.

The teams finished even after 120 minutes – though some would say Chelsea deserved to win in normal time given their two post hits (I obviously disagree!). The penalty shootout that followed gave me quite a few scares. The first two penalties were converted by both teams. Ronaldo’s brilliant season was to be underlined by another penalty miss as Chelsea took hold of the title 3-2. With the teams tied 4-4, Mr. Chelsea stepped up with the Champions League title only a kick away. However, his slip meant that the ball struck the post again and the teams remained tied at 4-4. Another round of penalties were converted to make it 5-5. Giggs marking his 759th appearance for United converted his penalty to make it 6-5 and Van Der Sar saved Anelka’s penalty giving United their 3rd European triumph on the 50th anniversary year of that dreaded Munich air disaster.

And now, personally, I am telling you there is no better feeling than watching Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs lifting the Champions League trophy high in the air. In hindsight, it was destiny that led to United winning the European title. It was really heart-wrenching to see Terry in tears after the match because he is a player I really admire. However, Chelsea struck the post 3 times – so, in reality, maybe fate did play its part and maybe the spirits of those legendary players who passed away in Munich were watching over this similarly young side in their quest for European glory.

It is going to be hard matching up to such a successful season in 2008-09 (only a treble could be better than an European double). But this young side has a wonderful collection of talent which could go a long way yet. Add to that, we have experience in the form of Giggs, Scholes and Neville as well as strong shoulders in Ferdinand, Hargreaves and Rooney – it really does look like anything is possible. And if Sir Alex does add a few players in some positions to the squad, then God bless the Premier League.

Again, thanks Sir Alex for another memorable season!

Manchester United - Season in Review 07-08

After a two month layoff due to exams and other stuff, I am finally going to start posting again regularly, hopefully.

I wanted to write on and on (like I did last year) about how Manchester United remained the best team in England by retaining their Barclay’s Premier League title and how they proved that they are almost the best team in the whole of Europe by winning the Champions League title. However, I realized that there are already many articles in the net covering another magnificent season for us and so, decided to only point out some key moments in the season that ultimately led to United’s double delight.

Vs Tottenham at Old Trafford – 26 Aug, 2007
After struggling in the first 3 games, Nani’s wonderful goal saved the game for United handing us our first win of the new season.

Vs Chelsea at Old Trafford – 23 Sep, 2007
Chelsea’s newly appointed manager, Avram Grant could not do enough to spark the Blues and United ended up winning the match 2-0 with considerable ease providing moral higher ground against title rivals.

Vs Liverpool at Anfield – 16 Dec, 2007
A match in which United were expected to slip-up turned out into a brilliant defensive display as we won the match 1-0 thanks to a solitary Tevez goal on 43 minutes.

Vs Newcastle at Old Trafford – 12 Jan, 2008
Cristiano Ronaldo’s first hat-trick (after having 11 double-goal performances) for the Red Devils added spice to a wonderful performance by the whole team that saw Newcastle United (who were notably very poor) being humiliated 6-0 in front of a packed Old Trafford crowd. Not a wholly significant game in terms of our chase for the title but still one that added a huge deal to our superior goal difference.

Vs Arsenal at Old Trafford (FA Cup) – 16 Feb, 2008
After two poor performances in the 1-1 draw at Spurs and a painful derby defeat to Man City at home on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, United were faced with a difficult 5th round tie against Arsenal. But United’s powerhouse performance not only led to a 4-0 defeat for the Gunners but also proved crucial in wrecking their pole position in the league ultimately paving way for our 17th league title.

Vs Liverpool at Old Trafford – 23 Mar, 2008
After Mascherano's determination to get himself sent off ended up with the exact same thing happening, United cruised to a 3-0 victory in what, before half time, looked like a very close game with a good performance by the scousers. The same day Arsenal lost at Chelsea 2-1, which meant Chelsea became United’s primary challengers for the title.

Vs Roma (Champions League quarterfinals) – 1 and 9 April, 2008
A clinical performance at the Stadio Olimpico with goals from Rooney and Ronaldo meant that United had a considerably easy progression to the semifinals provided no surprises occurred at home. As it turned out, a penalty miss by De Rossi for Roma (minus star man Totti) and a Tevez header on 70 minutes helped United to a 3-0 aggregate win setting up a semifinal clash with Barcelona.

Vs Arsenal at Old Trafford – 13 April, 2008
Arsenal – like much of their performance towards the end of the season – took the lead through Adebayor on 48 minutes but gave up a penalty less than 6 minutes later which Ronaldo duly converted to put United level. A wonderful Hargreaves free-kick on 72 minutes sealed the victory and also meant that United had a great chance of retaining their title.

Vs Barcelona (Champions League semifinals) – 23 and 29 April, 2008
When Ronaldo missed the penalty in the 3rd minute which would have destroyed Barca’s morale, I feared the worst and memories of AC Milan a year ago began to creep in. But a wonderful defensive display even without Vidic led to a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp – the lack of an away goal was still a bugging factor. Ultimately, a wonderful Scholes goal on 14 minutes in the home tie combined with another gritty defensive performance (keeping Messi, Deco and company at bay) led to an 1-0 aggregate win over the Catalans setting up the first all English Champions League final against Chelsea on 21st May at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Vs Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – 26 April, 2008
Sandwiched in between those two ties was a fixture where United could have sealed the BPL title (albeit not mathematically). However, two Ballack goals with the second one coming on 84 minutes led to a 2-1 victory for the Blues landing them right on par with United on the points table. However, United’s attacking spirit led to them having a much superior goal difference which meant the destiny of the title was still in our hands.

Vs West Ham and Wigan – 3 and 11 May, 2008
United came good in the home game against West Ham winning 4-1 even though only 10 men finished the game. The final day of the season was wonderful since the title was not yet decided. But a Ronaldo penalty and a Giggs goal – on the day he equaled Sir Bobby’s record of 758 appearences – led to United sealing their 17th League title. With Chelsea ending with a 1-1 draw, United also won the title with a gap of 2 points and not on goal difference as had been anticipated.

Another wonderful BPL performance by the Red Devils. But they added to wonderful season by winning the Champions League title also, the final of which I look at in my next post.