United downs Grant's Chelsea to win double

As hordes of fans flooded the Luzhniki Stadium in the pouring rain, a game unfurled complete with committed tackling, adventurous shooting and even a ruckus.

man united win champ AP (photo credit: AP)
man united win champ AP
(photo credit: AP)
On Wednesday night, England came to Moscow, not just in body, but in spirit as well. As hordes of Chelsea and Manchester United fans flooded the streets and the Luzhniki Stadium in the pouring rain, a game unfurled on the pitch complete with committed tackling, adventurous shooting and even a ruckus, which saw Didier Drogba sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic in the face. As was the contest between these two clubs in the domestic league, the match could have been balanced on a pin, split evenly at 1-1 by the end of extra time. It was no surprise, and certainly no injustice to either, that the game was decided on penalties. In the end it was United which prevailed, claiming its third European title after winning 6-5 in the shootout. Nicolas Anelka and John Terry missed the crucial shots for Chelsea, the latter slipping on the drenched turf when he had a chance to seal the cup. Chelsea manager Avraham Grant came so close to a glorious first season in English soccer, but he may find it was his last chance to have a significant impact at the top of the game. The night was a personal success for Christiano Ronaldo, even though he was the only United played to miss a penalty. It was he who put the Red Devils ahead in the first half, scoring a headed goal in the 26th minute with a composure that bellied the words of critics who said that he still had not performed properly on the biggest stage. In the second half, when the northerners were often pegged back in defense, he was their most reliable outlet, exchanging clever passes down the left with Patrice Evra, even though the final touch was never quite there. On one occasion Evra sent a cross too long from the touch line, much to the chagrin of Wayne Rooney, who didn't hold back in showing his frustration. Michael Ballack was Chelsea's main architect, directing his team with intelligent and fluid passing. However, his shooting around the edge of the box was often wayward. The first twenty minutes of the match passed without a single significant chance. But, a telling sign came in the second minute, when Michael Essien upended Ronaldo in the middle of the park. The Ghanaian would continue to struggle with his Portugese counterpart throughout the first half, looking uncomfortable in his make-shift position of right back. The first chance of the match was to provide its first goal and Essien was at fault. In the 26th minute, United won a throw in on the right side. Paul Scholes and Wes Brown interchanged the ball before Brown was given time to deliver a looping cross to the far post, where Ronaldo rose unmarked to head it into the bottom corner of the goal. Peter Cech was left stranded, let down by Essien's lack of awareness in failing to pick up his man. United continued to put together the more coherent play, although the match was tightly balanced. Five minutes later, Rooney crossed in from the left, but Carlos Tevez's bullet header was well saved by Cech as was Michael Carrick's follow up drive from the edge of the box. The Liverpudlian then sent in a low cross from the right. Claude Makelele couldn't make contact, and with the goal at his mercy Tevez inexplicably missed the ball altogether. United paid for its profligacy at the end of the half and would never take the upper hand again. In the last minute of the half, Lampard, who had continued his big game tendency of being completely anonymous for the first 44 minutes, leapt on a gift of a chance. Essien had driven in a 25 yard shot, the ball crashed off Ferdinand's backside and into Lampard's path. From five yards out, the midfielder deftly lifted the ball over Van der Sar's flailing hand and into the net. He pointed his hands to the heavens in celebration, an apt gesture, given that the luck seemed to have a touch of the miraculous about it. The second half brought on a role reversal as the drama intensified. Michael Ballack had been Chelsea's best player in the first half, coming close to scoring from a free kick just before half time. Along with Makelele he controlled the midfield, the Frenchman destroying any embryonic United attack, while the German cut open the defense with passes of surgical precision. The Blues best chance came in the 78th. Drogba picked up the ball on the corner of the box and with few options open he superbly curled a shot as he was falling over, only to see it ricochet out off the far post. Joe Cole seemed to be denied a justifiable call for a penalty in the 89th when the referee saw no problem in Ferdinand flying with a kung fu-style kick across Cole's chin. Both teams had one excellent chance apiece to settle the match in extra time.Three minutes in Lampard hit the bar after swiveling in the box and chipping the keeper. Seven minutes later Terry did brilliantly to head away a shot from substitute Ryan Giggs. Drogba was sent off late on, but by then penalties seemed a foregone conclusion.