May 22nd. A pulsating night of football in Moscow as the masses in Malaysia gulped their brew of expressos and kopi kau, just to stay up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the UEFA Champions League Final between the Red Devils and the London Blues. I missed the final in 1999, where Manchester United played Bayern at the Nou Camp. We were at troop camp which to begin with, wasnt even ours. All we had was the radio and the word of mouth. THIS TIME however, i was sure i wasnt going to miss it. My mates thought the same. 5 days before the meet of destiny, I applied for leave. My boss asked me for the reason, to which i replied in Cantonese " the preferable reason for the leave was i needed the rest, but then Boss, you know the truth and it is football". Being the understanding boss, he duly allowed me my leave. YES!!! And so there i was in the wee hours in the morning at DI KAYU NASI KANDAR in Chow Yang. I pity the folks who live there. Gone are the tranquil moments of peaceful sleep each time a big match is in play.
The guilty parties of this 3 hour past midnite rendezvous were Khee Fatt, Eugene, Alvin, Wil Liam, Daren and myself. After our maggi gorengs and roti kosongs with dhall, the match was about to begin. I was wearing my Champions League jersey, in which Alvin had suggested. Yup, the right time for the right occasion. The match started with a frantic pace, and United were the better team in the first half. They controlled most of the possession, but it was the wonderful exchange of the ball between Hargreaves and Brown that got the gameplay for United rolling. After a neat trick of one-two passes, Brown made a decent cross which Ronaldo connected with a header in the top left corner of the post, to put United ahead. Securing that vital goal, they pressed on and were nearly 2-0 up if not for the double heroics of Peter Cech. Indeed, he is not touted as the best goalkeeper in the world for nothing. 2 saves from the Chech Republican made sure that Chesea were still in the game. And then Lady luck favoured Chelsea, when a shot from Drogba caught the back of Ferdinand and rebounded only for Lampard to latched on to it putting things back to square one and bringing United back to Earth. Lucky? Perhaps. The half time whistle blew not long after.
As the second half resumed, we could see that the Chelsea playing is now a more confident Chelsea. Who knows what mumbo jumbo cooked up in the Chelsea dressing room. But now even more determined with Lampard's lifeline, they decided to unleash hell for the United defence. Possession was now Chelsea's. They came with shot after shot. However, United were equally lucky. Ballacks shot, which could have resulted in another goal, hit the post. In the 75th minute or so, it was Drogba's turn to hit the woodwork. If that had gone in, it would have been difficult for United to recover from being a goal down at such a crucial moment. Just ask the Bayern Munich players, and they will attest to conceding a goal in the dying minutes is not exacty the greatest feeling on Earth. But it seems as quickly as lady luck decided to favour Chelsea in the first half, so did she deserted Chelsea as time wore on. Many battles on the pitch were personal. Ballack vs Tevez, Essien vs Ronaldo and Makelele with.....almost anybody :). Of course it was a delight to see twinkle toes Ron skipped over Essien twice or thrice.
And then Drogba did the unthinkable. At extra time, when the match was getting heated, words between the players were exchanged. Thats normal. But Drogba had to slap Vidic. It wasn't a hard hitting slap, just a petty one, but it was enough to see him earn a red card. Come On......remember Zidane and Materazzi? Tempers flared, but at least Zidane made full use of the red card and headutted the outspoken and often villified defender. Now that was worth it...hahahah!If you wanna go down, go down in style hhaha. Such a waste, but seriously, kids.....don't try it in the football field. Never, never involve yourself in a football fight. So Chelsea were down to 10 man at the end of extra time. During the whole extra time, the players could be seen stretching their legs, apparently to recover from cramps. No goals which meant, penalty kicks were in line.
The moment of truth now. It was indeed Russian Roulette. One winner, one loser. No in betweens. The real deal. Each player scored, Tevez, Carrick, Ballack, Belletti. Ronaldo was up next. He knew the pressure was mounting. He tried to dummied Cech, but Cech would have none of it and he made the save (see picture below)! Ronaldo now knew that he depended on his other team mates to absolve himself of the blame. Now we all know that in penalty shoot-outs, there shouldnt be anyone to blame as in all boils down to luck. But then again, we know the vile press woud always get their scapegoats. Finally when it was Terry's turn, with much confidence he stepped up. A Captain's penalty was all it needed to seal the deal. However, for sure this time, luck had deserted them and his penalty was wide! A sigh of relief for the United fans after cringing for mercy for a miss from Terry and a miss they got. Sudden death. Each shot was vital and important. In the end, it was Le Sulk who missed. The player who plays for a different club each season, was given the honour to hand the trophy to United. Anelka's shot was saved by Edwin Van De Sar, who was by now, the hero of the day.
As the United fans celebrated, Ronaldo collapsed into the ground, hands on face tears streaming. This wasnt his usual crybaby whines. This was perhaps tears of relief and joy. He knew that the weight was on his shoulders and it was finally off. Player of the year? Perhaps. It will depend on his Euro 2008 outing. I couldnt help but felt bad for Terry. He knew his miss was even more vital than Anelka's miss. And penalties are always the cruelest way to lose. Its a game of chance and tonight, it favoured United. But then it didnt matter. United won. the crowd in KAYU was fantastic as we sighed relief and hugged each other as if Malaysia had won the Thomas Cup or the World Cup. We suspect there were more Man United fans than there are Chelsea fans in that premise. The victory was perhaps a hallmark moment for Ryan Giggs as he surpassed Bobby Charlton's record of appearances in a United kit. Now....he is the most decorated United player ever. GOOD OL' No.11!!
Me, Daren and Wil Liam celebrated the victory with dim sum at SS2 as we did a post mortem the match. A wonderful double for United and it as a victory to savour. Well....by now if you havent notice....i'm a Manchester United fan. Thank you and good night.