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Chelsea Win Champions League on Penalties

In a classic, thrilling finale to club soccer’s greatest tournament, Chelsea rallied past Bayern Munich twice to stake it’s claim as European Champions. @JoeBianchino

Only so many months ago, Chelsea were dead in the water.  They’d fired their manager.  They were middle of the table in their own league.  They were about to be eliminated from the Champions League by a less than well known Napoli side. Their season was in shambles, and a squad of stars who have spent their entire career bathing in the splendor of soccer glory were about to know what it’s like to be an abject failure.

But then something happened.

Alex Livesey, Getty Images

Either by change of form, or belief in new management, Chelsea remembered who they were, and they found a fight that hadn’t even been shown by those glory-ridden squads of yesteryear.  They rallied with four goals against Napoli to advance 5-4 on aggregate.  Down to ten men and without either center half, they turned back the greatest offensive force in soccer in Barcelona, and with two goals, smote the team many have proclaimed to be the greatest ever assembled.

And then the final – An absolute microcosm of what Chelsea has been in the season’s second half.  Bayern controlled early and threatened throughout.  But without three starters – including two of four back line regulars – and with their backs pressed firmly against the wall, the Blues stood resolute, and took the contest deep into its second half tied at nils.

So when a game’s worth of possession and attack crescendoed into an 82nd minute go-ahead goal for Bayern, did anyone think it was over?  Was anyone surprised when Drogba drove home an impossible header to pull even in the 88th?  Why would you have been?  All this team has done is fight.  Of course they would stride into Munich, to play Munich, and be unfazed when their world came crashing down around them.

And of course, it was only fitting that when Chelsea conceded a penalty in overtime, Cech made the stop.  And given how this team of stars so familiar with the game’s peaks has learned how to battle back from the depths of its valleys, it was positively poetic that when a fruitless overtime took the game to penalties, the Blues placed themselves in an early hole with a first kick missed, but converted the next three and collected two Cech stops – putting their decorated Ivorian on the line with the chance to cement the win for his squad.  He ends wars.  Of course he’d end the game. Drogba the goal, Chelsea the win, Chelsea the glory.

The win was far from perfect, but it was the culmination of the careers of players like Lampard and Drogba, Terry – though he missed the final – and Cech.  The players who – for so many years – have been the very heart and soul of a Chelsea team that has won every trophy there is – except this one.  It was only months ago that Chelsea fans could have been heard quoting 90′s R&B genii Boys 2 Men.  They could be heard musing on how hard it is to say goodbye to yesterday – but maybe it was time for the club’s past to become the club’s past.  But now?  Yesterday has brought today Europe’s greatest crown.  And what an unbelievable ride it was.

And so club futbol makes way for Euros 2012, having celebrated two of the greatest months of play as could have been imagined.  From a game that was heralded as one of the greatest to be played – Chelsea-Barca Champions League Semi, leg 2 – to the following night’s Bayern-Madrid semi which went to penalties; to the grippingly intense final day of the Premier League; to Saturday’s classic final, April and May have been a whirlwind of futbol glory.  May the trend continue into June.  But that’s for then.  Now?  Chelsea are champions.  Congratulations.

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