The final of the 2008 UCL Final in Moscow is dearly remembered by United supporters. Here's an article on that iconic final with a wonderful anal
Manchester United and Chelsea - the two best English teams at the time faced each other in the final of the most precious club tournament. The Manchester side was lead by virtuoso Cristiano Ronaldo. On the other hand, the London based club was carried by the terrifying Didier Drogba.
Meanwhile, nervous Avram Grant was given authority over Chelsea on that commemorated May 21st, which would be the Jew's last game as the Blues' coach in a arguable decision. Sir Alex calmly stood on the home team's bench in the 70-year old's 22nd season as United's manager.
Ferguson sent his team into the pitch with a peculiar formation. Although the back four and the two forwards remained the same, the boss prefered unreliable Hargreaves over 21-year Nani on the right wing, probably because he assumed the Portuguese wasn't experienced enought to take on a game of such level as the UCL Final. Despite that, Nani would come in extra-time to substitute exhausted Wayne Rooney.
On the contrary, Grant put his faith on Chelsea's regular XI. The formations were as follows:
The game presented a great battle between two veteran goalkeepers, as well - Van der Sar stood among the three bars protecting United's net while Petr Cech defended Chelsea's first Champions League.
We expected an exciting finale, and we got one.
Both teams entered the spectacular pitch in clear anxiety as they walked by the treasured trophy, while holding hands with a group of fortunate kids. The players tried to avoid eye-contact with the priced and distinguished cup, but they unavoidably couldn't.
Rio Ferdinand captained the red column as he lead the team into the field while United's supporters held aluminum papers that, when seen from a long distance, read 'BELIEVE'. Meanwhile, Chelsea supporters waved their characterized patterned blue and white flags.
The pre-game entertainers had to clear the pitch after a fantastic show that hosted dancers in costumes and quite a good amount of balloons. Afterwards, the Chelsea players lined up first, and the Devils followed. Cameras were instantly on United's no. 7, Cristiano Ronaldo. Footballers from both sides hugged and knocked foreheads with their teammates in an attempt to get each other pumped for the biggest game of their life.
Cristiano's amazing capability was shown in every step-over the Madeira-born footballer made, which often left both sides of the crowd in complete awe and disbelief of the talent this one-of-a-kind player carried in his quick feet.
It was an agitated game but the teams had yet to create a real chance, until in the 26th minute inspired Ronaldo put United in the lead after a massive leap resulting in a perfectly-executed header that ended in the bottom-left corner of Petr's goal - absolutely unreachable for the Czech keeper. Bobby Carlton applauded on his bench while Fergie and his crew hopped out of their seats in uncontrollable happiness.
However, the celebration was short as Lampard tied the match just before the break in a very emotional goal for the English midfielder, whose mother had just passed away a few weeks before (may she rest in peace). The grass was very wet which caused Van der Sar to slip during his attempt to block Frank's shot, who was being chased by a determined Rio Ferinand who couldn't quite deflect the ball in an extremely unfortunate play for the Devils. Avram Grant clapped in celebration, while Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich lay back in his chair as he chuckled in complete relief and comfort, also applauding, after a painful and frustrating first half. Lampard rose both of his arms while pointing towards the sky, obviously dedicating the goal to his dead mother.
Eventually, Carrick and Drogba had good chances, the latter even hitting the post, but no luck for either one. Three minutes before full-time, Sir Alex made his first change of the game by bringing in Giggs for a tired Scholes, that made for a very symbolic image.
Giggs comes in for Scholes
The referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the 90 minutes, and the teams were still tied to one. The fatigued but driven and unwavering players prepared themselves for another half hour of drama.
Chelsea's no. 8 had a chance to put a second goal to his name, but the horizontal bar thwarted Lampard's intentions as a huge relieving 'ahh' was heard around United supporters. Manchester United had a chance of their own when Cech was caught out of position. Tevez received a pass from the border of the goal-line that gave the Argentinean the opportunity to send the Blues back home. However, a heroic header by John Terry prevented the ball to hit the keeperless goal, in a demonstration of extraordinary reflexes and bravery. Chelsea's captain strongly slapped Cole's hand in celebration. Ironically, Drogba slapped Vidic's face, just a few minutes later, in anger. Didier was sent off - a decision that greatly cost his team.
With 120 minutes long gone, we reached the breathtaking and thrilling penalties, a stage in football that always brings up the arguement 'Is it a 50-50 gamble, or is there preparation and skills behind it?'. It is a question mainly asked by rookies of the sport, and it always brings up discussion. When I didn't know much about football, I couldn't quite decide which side I was on. I argued that there was luck behind the kick, but I also realized that an experienced player has a better chance of scoring than someone who's never played the game. Of course, as I matured into an analyst of the sport, my decision was made clear. If you have the same trouble, you're in for a treat. Likewise, if you want to learn more about football and are looking for an interesting read, today's your lucky day, specially if you were an spectator during the UCL Final of 2008 in Moscow.
Many don't realize the amount of preparation that goes behind the scenes in a game as big as the Champions League final. Not only physically and mentally, but also mathematically. Before the 2008 UCL final of Moscow, Chelsea hired an economist, Ignacio Palacios, to study United's penalties in order to give the Blues an advantage in case both teams were still tied after 120 minutes. Ignacio presented his study sheet to Avram Grant, with all the keys to a possible penalty stage. The analysis read that Van der Sar inclines to dive to the taker's prefered side. In other words, when facing a right-footed player, United's goalkeeper tends to go to his right. Correspondingly, a left-footed kicker has a better chance of scoring if he chooses to shoot to Van der Sar's right. Ignacio added that most of the stopped shots by the Dutch are those kicked at mid-height and urged Chelsea players to avoid that zone of the goal, and told them to focus on shooting either very low or very high. Ignacio's third tip was for Cech, regarding Cristiano Ronaldo. He warned Cech that whenever Ronaldo stops during his run, there's a 85% chance that he'll place the ball to the right of the keeper. The economist added that the Portuguese had the special capability to change his mind right before kicking the ball. This meant that whenever Cristiano spotted the rival goalie taking a step too early, he could quickly adjust his foot and shoot towards the opposite direction. Finally, Ignacio's last point stressed that if Chelsea won the toss, they should always choose to take first. 60% of the teams that take the first penalty kick win. Also, the team that takes their penalty afterwards has a lot more pressure on them, as they're always being forced to score in order to continue.
Ignacio's advise was indeed taken by Avram Grant and his boys. Manchester United won the toss through Rio Ferdinand. You might recall seeing Terry talking to Rio during the coin toss, as he was trying to influence United's captain into kicking second. However, John's plans did not succeed and Ferdinand chose to kick first. Statistically, United already had a 60% chance of winning this game.
Tevez took the first shot of the night and he made it. Michael Ballack was up next. He placed the ball to Van der Sar's left and succeeded. Juliano Belletti, also a right-footed player, shot to the keeper's left, too, as Ignacio had advised. He also scored.
Both teams had scored their respected penalties so far. The scored was tied at two, and Ronaldo was up next representing Old Trafford. Petr Cech recalled Ignacio's words that told him to stay motionless until right before CR7 touched the ball. He also remembered that he was to dive to his right if Cristiano stopped during his run. The Portuguese did, in fact, stop mid-way, but Petr was ready. As Ignacio had suggested, Cech dived to his right after standing still, and he stopped the prodigy's shot.
After United's ace missed his shot, Chelsea's next four takers - Lampard, Cole, Terry and Kalou - all struck the ball to Van der Sar's left, just like Ballack and Belletti, meaning that all of Chelsea's takers had shot the ball to the same exact side. Although Ashley Cole, who is a lefty, ignored Ignacio's advised of shooting to your own unnatural side against VdS, the English International did take the economist's advise of shooting low, almost on the ground. You might remember that Van der Sar dived to his left (As Ignacio had foretold), yet he was unable to completely deflect the ball away from goal. The Dutch goalkeeper guessed correctly, but he couldn't handle the ball.
Ignacio's advise would have given the Champions League to Avram Grant's team if John Terry had not slipped. Although John followed the instructions given to him by Ignacio, that wet grass that once annoyed United earlier on in the game, prevented London's first Champions League cup. One or two inches to the left and Chelsea would have celebrated their second, and not their first, European success just two months ago.
Nevertheless, Chelsea had taken Ignacio's recomendations and it had been working quite well for them. In fact, if Anelka would have listened, May 21st of 2008 wouldn't be remembered as such a glorious day for United supporters.
Van Der Sar as he pointed to his left
Here's where it gets more interesting: Anelka was Van der Sar's next rival. As mentioned before, all of the previous penalty takers from Stamford Bridge had chosen the keeper's left side. Van der Sar started noticing this pattern. Funny thing is, he didn't realize that the strategy was to shoot to the unnatural side of the penalty taker. Instead, he thought that the Chelsea players were told to kick to his left (I urge you watch the video of the shootout on Youtube, as it is crucial that you do so to get the best feel of this story). When Anelka stood in front of the goal, Van der Sar pointed to his left side, as if saying: "You're all kicking to this side, aren't you?". The Frenchman felt an immense pressure, that forced his shot to the right of the goalkeeper. Van der Sar 'accidentally' stopped the shot. He thought he had figured out the strategy of Chelsea, yet he had it all wrong. Regardless, he played a mind-trick on Anelka and Chelsea's 39 fell for it. Nikolas didn't listen to Ignacio's advise at all. Not only did he choose the wrong side, but he also shot the ball mid-height, where Van der Sar likes them. Manchester United were crowned Champions of Europe, just because of Anelka's failure to follow the instructions..