• Rewind to 2008

The slip watched around the world

ESPN staff
May 17, 2012
The 2008 Champions League final is primarily remembered for one moment © PA Photos

Ahead of Chelsea's appearance in Saturday's Champions League final against Bayern Munich, ESPN looks back at the last time the Blues reached football's showpiece occasion - as an inopportune loss of balance cost the west London club dear against one of their biggest Premier League rivals...

It perhaps does a disservice to one of the most dramatic Champions League finals in recent memory that ultimately all anyone remembers it for - barely four years down the line - is one player's slip.

The 2008 final of Europe's premier club competition, hosted in Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium, saw Chelsea and Manchester United compete for continental dominance in the first ever all-English affair. Chelsea were looking for revenge after being pipped to the Premier League title by their opponents, although in truth winning the Champions League for the first time - the long-stated ambition of Blues owner Roman Abramovich - should have provided more than enough incentive to win the game.

United were considered narrow favourites by the bookmakers, although there was little to choose between the two sides. On the pitch they were certainly evenly matched - Chelsea had the minor inconvenience of fielding Michael Essien at right-back, which led United to play Cristiano Ronaldo on the left-wing as Owen Hargreaves got the nod over Park Ji-sung on the right - but the difference in experience in the dugouts was notable, with Sir Alex Ferguson able to call on far more top-level knowledge than his opposite number, Avram Grant.

Grant had only taken on the job after the sacking of Luiz Felipe Scolari earlier in the season, but was widely expected to be sacked by Abramovich if he lost the final. A man of little coaching experience, he at least had Henk ten Cate - Frank Rijkaard's assistant at Barcelona - to guide him through matters.

United had distractions of their own to deal with, however.

"There was, of course, extra poignancy with it being the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster," Sir Bobby Charlton recalled to the Guardian in the game's aftermath, "and Alex Ferguson had made all his players well aware of the history."

After an underwhelming start to the game that saw members of both sides struggle with nerves, United took the lead after 26 minutes as Ronaldo headed past Petr Cech after a nice exchange between Paul Scholes - guaranteed a starting spot by Fergie after missing the 1999 final through suspension - and Wes Brown.

An Edwin van der Sar save (from Rio Ferdinand, no less) apart, United dominated from that point onward - with Cech twice spreading himself to save from Carlos Tevez and Michael Carrick. But on the stroke of half-time the Blues were on level terms in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, as Frank Lampard turned home after Essien's double-deflected shot left Van der Sar woefully wrong-footed.

"Chelsea had big stars, but I thought United had more team spirit"
- referee Lubos Michel

Ferguson fumed at referee Lubos Michel on the way back to the dressing rooms, but in truth he was perhaps grandstanding for his players - who had seemingly wasted the opportunity to extend the lead while the momentum was with them. Chelsea came out far the stronger in the second half, and proceeded to enjoy all the big chances to decide the game.

Essien squandered a good opening after breaking through on goal, before Didier Drogba clattered the post with a long-range effort. In an attempt to stem the flow Scholes was withdrawn for Ryan Giggs - who in the process overtook Charlton as United's all-time leading appearance-maker.

And it was Giggs who had United's best chance to win the game, but he opted to move the ball onto his right foot before shooting - allowing John Terry the time to get back and make a crucial clearance.

That ensured the game would go to extra-time, where things would really get interesting. With the pace and quality of the game only getting better, both sides had glorious chances to take the initiative - with Giggs again being foiled by Terry (this time from a header) as Lampard also crashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar.

With the drama heightening so did the pressure, however, and eventually that all came to a head. All 22 players got involved in a fracas after Terry clashed with Tevez, leading to an incident where Drogba slapped an incensed Nemanja Vidic. The Ivorian forward was shown a red card for his indiscretion, an act of stupidity that would have a ripple-effect on the course of the rest of the final.

With both sets of players spent by that drama, Chelsea were able to hang on for penalties - except Drogba, one of five pencilled in for such duty, was no longer on the pitch. That saw captain Terry step up for the fifth penalty, although only after Nicolas Anelka (a late substitute) had rejected the suddenly available opportunity.

With United going first, both Tevez and Michael Ballack made no mistake with their attempts - before Michael Carrick and Juliano Belletti (another substitute, touching the ball for the first time) made the score 2-2.

Then came the first miss of the shootout, as Ronaldo - after a rather arrogant attempt at a stutter-step run-up - proved to be outwitted by the impressive Cech. Lampard, another of Chelsea's standout performers, proceeded to cement the proverbial break of serve.

Hargreaves and Ashley Cole then traded goals, before Nani converted under the pressure of sudden death to at least ensure United didn't lose the final, Chelsea would have to win it. Therefore, with the scoreline at 4-4, Terry walked up to the penalty spot with the chance to win the biggest trophy in the club game for his boyhood club.

John Terry's crucial miss © Getty Images

What happened next has become the stuff of legend. In the driving rain, Terry stepped up and - at the crucial moment of impact - slipped to the floor. Van der Sar was sent the wrong way, but the ball was too - spinning away off the post as United were handed a remarkable lifeline.

"I walked forward to take it knowing that it was there to be won and it was all down to me," Terry said sooner after, with the tears barely dried from his cheeks. "What happened next will haunt me for the rest of my life."

Although to all intents and purposes the game had already been sudden death for United, this was now the case for both sides. Anderson and Salomon Kalou - two substitutes - both held their nerve to score under the most extreme of pressure, and then Giggs stepped up and calmly slotted home to test the nerve of the next Chelsea man up.

Unfortunately for Chelsea, that man was Anelka, who had previously refused to take one of the first five penalties. Perhaps Grant should have seen the signs - instead of replacing the Frenchman, he saw Anelka step up remarkably nonchalantly and strike a weak effort at the perfect height for Van der Sar.

Manchester United were the champions of Europe.

Three days later, Grant was sacked.

"I was asked to take one of the first five penalty kicks but I said: "That is out of the question. I have come on as a right-back and you want me to take a penalty?" So I had to go seventh," Anelka later told the Guardian, in a somewhat worrying assessment of what unfolded. "Van der Sar pushed away my shot. All the better for him; that is the game."

Fifty years on from the disaster of Munich, Manchester United were champions of Europe once again. But the game was equally memorable for the tears of Terry, who was inconsolable at seeing his dream snatched away from him just as it appeared to be realised.

Such finals rarely end up being about the loser, but this was one such instance. United, however, nevertheless ended up poignant winners.

"Fate seemed to play a big part," Rio Ferdinand later said. "Giggsy broke Bobby's record in the European Cup final and it was 50 years since Munich - so maybe it was written in the stars."

What happened next?
Manchester United went on to reach the final a year later, losing to a clearly superior Barcelona side in Rome - an experience they would be forced to relive, this time at Wembley, in 2011. Chelsea, meanwhile, will make their first appearance in the Champions League final since that night in Moscow this Saturday, taking on Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. This time, however, John Terry is suspended...

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