Chelsea, luckiest team in football

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By JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press

MUNICH (AP) — Lots of money, lots of luck, and players who didn't care about winning ugly — just so long as they won — turned Chelsea into the champions of Europe.

The money, of course, is Roman Abramovich's. The billionaire finally got his hands on the shiny trophy with big ears he so coveted. A bargain at $1.2 billion and counting.

That's roughly how much of his wealth the Russian has poured into the London club he bought in 2003, filling the heads of Chelsea fans with dreams of such special nights and scenes like these.

Striker Didier Drogba, scorer of the late goal that kept Chelsea in the game in normal time and of the penalty that won it after extra time ended with a 1-1 draw, ran across the pitch with the Champions League trophy in his arms and delight on his face.

Tens of thousands of Bayern Munich fans, forming a wall of red and white, silenced and shellshocked in their own magnificent stadium.

Chelsea now having the bragging rights of being the first club from London to claw its way to the top of Europe. Tottenham, Arsenal — are you watching?

There were times in the Champions League final when Abramovich may have wished that he had bought another super-yacht, instead. At least it would have been prettier than a lot of the football played by his expensive team.

But there's no law against playing ugly football. Chelsea didn't travel to Munich to dazzle as Barcelona and Real Madrid surely would have done had those Spanish clubs not foundered in the semifinals.

Chelsea didn't even come here to play attacking football — as Bayern did in wave upon fruitless wave on Saturday night, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben double-teaming like Batman and Robin, but without the knockout punch.

No, Chelsea came to right the wrong of the tear-streaked night in Moscow in 2008, when Chelsea captain John Terry slipped on the soggy turf and hit the post in the decisive penalty shootout won by Manchester United.

This time, there was again the agony of penalties. Only this time, it was Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger who hit the post.

Drogba, in what may well have been his last kick of a ball in a Chelsea shirt, then fired home the winning spot-kick.

So what this final lacked in beauty, it made up for in drama and absorbing storylines.

Like that of Terry, forced to watch from the sidelines because of his stupid red card earned in the semifinals, meaning he couldn't make amends for 2008 himself.

Or manager Roberto Di Matteo, the stand-in who succeeded where the likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti failed when they were at Chelsea.

Abramovich has burned his way through seven managers in nine years, his impatience for success costing him tens of millions of dollars. Di Matteo only ended up in charge because Abramovich ditched the last manger, Andre Villas-Boas, in March. And even now, having delivered European success, Di Matteo may still be looking for a new job next season.

So is Chelsea the luckiest team in football? There are those who will argue that it.

Lionel Messi fluffing a penalty, as he did in the semifinal, doesn't happen every day. A banner hung by Chelsea fans in the Allianz Arena — "Who Do You Think You Are Kidding?" — on Saturday night seemed to nicely encapsulate the unlikely journey that Chelsea's golden oldies made to get to Munich, recovering from a 3-1 first-leg defeat to down Napoli in the last 16 and beating Barcelona with 10 men after Terry's red card for kneeing forward Alexis Sanchez in the back.

Barcelona, and now Bayern, failing to make their clear superiority count certainly felt like fortune favored Chelsea.

The statisticians would have been forgiven had they still been calculating the number of missed Bayern chances well into next week. Their figures — Bayern had 35 attempts on goal; Chelsea just nine — told the story of a lopsided game where one team attacked while the other defended.

Bayern's confident fans flaunted huge banners emblazoned: "Unsere stadt, unser stadion, unser pokal" — our city, our stadium, our cup — before kickoff. The city was awash with red shirts and expectation.

Chelsea was the underdog, and played like it, too. Chelsea let the Germans come at them in waves, waiting for opportunities to counterattack. Jose Mourinho left Chelsea long ago, for Italy and now Real Madrid, but his tactics are alive and well in west London.

To be fair, Di Matteo had few alternatives. Suspensions had robbed him of Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires, the Brazilian whose speed and inventiveness was sorely missed.

Bayern seemed less affected by the loss of its three suspended players, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Luiz Gustavo.

That Di Matteo was forced to field Ryan Bertrand, a 22-year-old neophyte in the Champions League, to help Ashley Cole defend against Robben's runs, showed just how much Chelsea's cupboard was bare.

So if the showcase of European club football wasn't the spectacle it could have been then the organizers, UEFA, are partly to blame. Keeping six players out of one of the biggest matches in their career because they picked up yellow cards earlier in the tournament was ultimately self-defeating.

The victory may well have been the last big European hurrah for the nucleus of the team upon which Chelsea built a remarkable decade of success, with three Premier League crowns, four FA Cups and now the Champions League in the Abramovich era.

At 34, Drogba's 75th Champions League appearance may have been his last in Chelsea blue.

Fernando Torres, 28, is in theory there to step into the vacuum that will be left by the Ivory Coast international who has scored 157 goals since he joined Chelsea in 2004 — few of them more important than his equalizer in the 88th minute that took the final into extra time.

But all that is in the future.

The here and now is that shiny trophy. Chelsea, champions of Europe.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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