How Chelsea and Bayern Munich squashed pre-match predictions.
The dictionary description of Perseverance reads thus-
“A steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period of time or in especially difficult circumstances and/or setbacks.“
If one word could ever encompass the 2011/12 Champions League Semi-Finals, it would be that. How else could ten-man Chelsea have held off the reigning European Champions? How else could Bayern Munich have held on in their tie at the fearsome Bernabeu stadium for two hours?
Both clubs have defied the script, which clearly stated that Barcelona vs Real Madrid was to be the final act of this particular masterpiece.
It’s staggering really when you look at the two respective performances. Chelsea were hanging on for dear life, while Bayern were forced to grind out a 3-3 aggregate draw and maintain some supreme testicular fortitude to see out a gripping penalty shootout.
Going into the Second leg at Camp Nou, the Catalans were still tipped as favorites despite going into the game 1-0 down thanks to Didier Drogba’s goal at Stamford Bridge the week prior. Ditto Real Madrid after they’d experienced a disappointing night in Munich’s Allianz arena.
One would struggle to remember a previous instance where many pundits predicted that the teams trailing going into a second leg would BOTH overcome their deficits to duke it out for the trophy.
Lets first look at Tuesday’s game. We knew Chelsea would be in for a tough night, but after Barcelona managed to turn the aggregate score on its head and John Terry received a thoroughly deserved and incredibly stupid red card, you’d be forgiven for all but writing off any hopes they had of progressing.
Perhaps Terry’s sending off was actually a strange blessing in disguise. After seeing their captain head for the dressing room, it could well have established somewhat of a backs to the wall approach from them. It made them that much more determined to persevere and to prove people wrong. You could almost say they had nothing to lose now, having already lost their lead and their captain.
Not only did they battle for the cause, throwing their bodies in the way of anything Lionel Messi and co could conjure up, but a sublime piece of skill from Ramires gave them the ultimately crucial away goal to keep them going.
But scoring was one thing. They’d now have to defend like dogs for an entire half while an enraged Pep Guardiola would command his troops to throw everything at them, including the kitchen sink.
When talking about perseverance, you have to look at Fernando Torres and the goal that Chelsea supporters will never forget in their lifetime. He’d never given up, even during the most troubled spell of his entire career, and the goal will surely serve as the end of a frustrating, yet ultimately triumphant equilibrium for him. It was a fantastic moment to end an inspiring night, and while it wasn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing style to many, Chelsea deserve to be in the final for their sheer guts and determination they displayed.
The following night in the Spanish capital, Bayern found themselves in a similar scenario. Despite their 2-1 advantage, a quick-fire first half double from Cristiano Ronaldo, who else, looked to have set the soon to be crowned La Liga Champions on their way to a potential double smattering of trophies.
However, after Robben coolly converted from the spot to tie the aggregate score, they were then faced with the daunting task of stifling Madrid’s creativity. Again, through sheer perseverance, they managed to drag the game out for as long as possible. At the end of the initial 90 minutes, you could see the evident frustration and exhaustion on the faces of Ronaldo and his companions, while the likes of Robben huffed and puffed their way over to the touchline for more instructions in a regimented and disciplined fashion.
After an admittedly dull extra time period, then came the penalties. Even with two good saves from Manuel Neuer, Bayern still struggled to race away thanks to two good saves from Neuer’s opposite number, the equally talented Iker Casillas. Sergio Ramos then presented them with the golden chance to take the game.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is no coward, but even he admitted afterwards that he was questioning his manhood in the seconds, which must’ve felt like hours, leading up to his decisive spot kick. But luckily he still had it, thanks to persevering and not panicking, and won the day for a gallant and determined side who also deserved to progress thanks to their work ethic.
So the final is set. Ironically it will be hosted in Bayern’s own stadium, which you think would automatically place Chelsea at a slight disadvantage. Of course it is effectively supposed to be neutral territory, so there will be plenty from West London and beyond who will surely make the trip over to Germany and effectively neutralize the crowd.
But Chelsea will also have to contend with FOUR suspensions, including skipper Terry and goal-scorer Ramires, and question marks over the injury problems of David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Whilst they showed incredible bottle against Barelona, Bayern will be just as disciplined and in my opinion much tougher to break down overall. The counter attacking game won’t bring them much luck, and parking the bus in front of their goal will only get them so far.
It’s a mighty tough ask for them. But who knows what might happen with a little perseverance?