My hitherto cast-iron conviction that Germany will win Euro 2012 took a hell of a beating in Munich on Saturday night.
Not because a red-hot favourite German team lost a Champions League final in their own fortress. And not because a German team fluffed their lines in a penalty shoot-out. And not even because we were treated to another late, late show and last-kick drama entirely in keeping with a season in which nothing was predictable except unpredictability itself.
No, the seeds of doubt were sown in the moments after a nerveless Didier Drogba steered home the decisive penalty for Chelsea and, in between shots of the hero and his colleagues performing cartwheels all over the pitch, the camera kept returning to linger on the broken, haunted figure of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the German midfielder who saw his penalty effort steered onto a post by Petr Cech.
Giovanni Trapattoni has spoken about the urgent need to lift the morale of the relegated Wolves players in his squad between now and the Euros but, on Saturday night, Schweinsteiger’s ordeal seemed to be of another magnitude altogether, as if the trauma he’d just endured on a football pitch had plunged him into an almost catatonic state.
Considering too that the pain was shared by the player’s fellow internationals Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Manuel Neuer, one suspects that Germany coach Joachim Loew will be investing more in psychotherapy than physiotherapy between now and the big kick-off in Poland and Ukraine.
Meantime, the celebrations on the King’s Road and environs will be as prolonged and as lively as they will be fully deserved. Which is not, of course, to say that the Champions League of 2012 was won by the best club side in Europe in 2012. Rather, it was won by the side which repeatedly confounded superior opposition and exploited a strength in adversity to sometimes astonishing and ultimately triumphant effect.
Having overturned the odds against Napoli and performed a miracle in Barcelona, Saturday night saw a patched-up Chelsea top it all off with an escape to victory in arguably the most impregnable stronghold of German football.
Bayern might have been the dominant side on the night but, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben failing to make the most of ample possession on the flanks and Mario Gomez firing blanks when the target was in sight, the hosts had precious little to show for all their possession. By contrast, Chelsea maximised their minimal foothold in the game, demonstrating that even in the absence of much, if anything, in the way of creative or constructive football, qualities like heart, desire and resilience can go a long way. For example, I never thought I’d find myself writing these words but Ashley Cole was a true warrior on the night, yet still only one of many in a Chelsea side which simply refused to give in.
The two great stories of personal redemption belonged to Petr Cech and Didier Drogba. Cech had looked more like a man having difficulty putting up an umbrella than a world-class keeper when he couldn’t prevent Thomas Muller’s header from giving Bayern what seemed to be the winning goal with only seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Drogba’s bullet response — from what was Chelsea’s first corner of the game with only two minutes to go — had the double effect of sensationally bailing out the Blues and crushing Munich morale.
But then Cech had, in turn, to bail out Drogba, after the striker revealed his defensive deficiencies with a badly judged tackle in his own box. The keeper’s save from Robben’s tame penalty might have been routine enough but his performance in the shoot-out was heroic while Drogba was the coolest man in the house when it came to converting the decisive spot-kick with assurance. What it all means for Chelsea, beyond the realisation of a dream, is moot. The miracle of this success won’t extend to reversing the ageing process so the team will still need to undergo radical reconstruction. All logic says Roberto Di Matteo should have the job, possibly for life, but doing the right thing has never been a signature quality of Roman Abramovich and, with the owner’s weakness for marquee names and, one presumes, an oligarach’s ransom still to burn, he may yet be inclined to see Di Matteo more as a running repair man than a project manager.
Meanwhile, as attention turns fully to the Euros, you can be sure a certain Giovanni Trapattoni will add Chelsea’s unlikely but stirring Champions League success to the ever-thickening book of evidence to back his belief that, in football, anything is possible.
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