MOSCOW, May 22 – Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was Manchester United’s hero as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side claimed the club’s third European Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over Chelsea on a night of almost unbearable drama in Moscow.
As many had predicted, the competition’s first all-English final ended in penalties and ultimately it was van der Sar’s full-length save from Nicolas Anelka that ensured United won the shoot-out 6-5 after the match had ended 1-1 after extra-time.
The triumph ensured a season that has seen United mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster ended with both the Premier League and Champions League trophies back at Old Trafford.
Ferguson too believed that fate had played a role in the win.
"There is a certain sense of fate about this (50 years after the Munich air disaster and winning it in 1968)," said Ferguson.
"It is the first penalty shootout in a big game I’ve won!"
England midfielder Frank Lampard claimed that the wrong side had won the trophy.
"A small small detail that loses you the game," said Lampard, who has had a tough time of late with his mother dying.
No-one could deny that after 3Oth minutes we dominated the game. But we have to take it on the chin."
Chelsea had their chance to claim the trophy for the first time after Cristiano Ronaldo had had his effort saved by Petr Cech. But captain John Terry pushed his spot-kick – Chelsea’s fifth – wide of the target.
It was hard on the London club, who could justifiably claim to have come closest to winning the match in the two hours that preceded the dramatic finale.
It was also debatable whether Terry would have taken a penalty had Didier Drogba not been sent off shortly before the end of extra-time for tapping Nemanja Vidic on the face as several players on either side squared up to each other.
United’s early domination had yielded a deserved opener in the form of Ronaldo’s 26th-minute header, the Portuguese winger’s 42nd goal of an extraordinary season.
But after failing to take the chances that followed, Ferguson’s men were pegged back by Lampard’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Chelsea went on to dominate after the break and almost claimed a winner when Drogba’s 25-yard shot came back off the post with van der Sar beaten.
Chelsea struck the woodwork again in the opening period of extra-time, Lampard’s cute shot on the turn bouncing off the bar with United’s goalkeeper once more struggling.
Substitute Ryan Giggs then had a glorious chance to mark his record-breaking 759th appearance for United in style but the veteran winger never really connected with Patrice Evra’s cutback and Terry was able to head the ball to safety.
With the exception of Park Ji-Sung’s exclusion from United’s match-day squad, there were no suprises in the personnel on display, although Ferguson did tweak United’s usual shape.
Owen Hargreaves was deployed on the right side of midfield with Ronaldo in the left-sided role that Park had been tipped to fill.
With Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez alongside each other in attack, Ferguson also departed from the lone-striker policy that has served United well in getting to the final, notably in the semi-final win over Barcelona.
Michael Essien’s relative inexperience at right-back may have influenced United’s thinking and it was the Ghanaian’s poor positioning that enabled United to take the lead.
From his own throw-in on the right, Wes Brown combined with Scholes to escape from Lampard and the rightback was allowed to drift infield before curling a cross to the back post. Ronaldo had peeled off Essien and, with the luxury of an unchallenged header, directed the ball just inside the post.
The goal every neutral and television director had hoped for had the desired effect of bringing the match to life.
Michael Ballack fired a chance to equalise over the bar and United enjoyed a greater let-off minutes later when only an instinctive reflex save from van der Sar prevented Rio Ferdinand from heading into his own net as Ballack strained to reach Drogba’s knockdown.
United hit back with Rooney sending Ronaldo clear on the left. The winger’s cross was met by Tevez with a diving header that Cech blocked at close range but could not hold.
Terry scuffed the loose ball into the path of Michael Carrick but by the time the midfielder had driven it goalwards, Cech was on his feet and able to palm a poorly directed drive to safety.
United went close again three minutes from the break. Rooney’s low cross from the right was cleverly directed into the space between Cech and his centrebacks and Tevez got a boot to it at full stretch but the ball spun wide of the target.
As the half drew to a close it was Chelsea who were in the ascendant but they still required a generous slice of luck to claim their equaliser as a result of a long-range shot from Essien that looked unlikely to trouble van der Sar.
After deflecting off the boot of Vidic, the ball rebounded off Ferdinand’s back to leave Lampard with the simple task of tapping in from six yards.
Chelsea continued to dominate after the break, forcing Ferguson to pull Hargreaves into the middle of midfield with Rooney dropping deep on the right.
Still Chelsea pressed and Drogba, largely anonymous until then, almost conjured up a winner with 12 minutes left, his 25-yard drive curling beyond van der Sar’s dive and onto the post.
Five minutes later, United finally produced a second-half shot. Tevez’s effort was close but not close enough to prevent the match slipping towards the conclusion many had regarded as inevitable.