The biggest game on earth

The European Champions League final was much more than a battle between teams from England and Germany.

The hero of Chelsea's win over Bayern Munich hails from Africa, the team owner is Russian, and the coach is Swiss-Italian.

Bayern started eight Germans but also fielded players from the Netherlands, Ukraine, France, Belgium and Croatia. Besides its four Englishmen, Chelsea fielded players from Ivory Coast, Brazil, Spain, Nigeria, Portugal, Czech Republic and France.

That Bayern had a Japanese player on the bench meant there was representation from four continents. With so many actors from so many different parts of the world, no other game, not even the World Cup final, ignites passions so far and wide as the Champions League final. …

THE POLITICIANS … Barack Obama was hosting a G8 summit at Camp David on Saturday and let the leaders of the world’s eight biggest economies take a break to watch the action from Munich. Obama stood between UK Primer Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast nailed the penalty kick that gave Chelsea the victory. Merkel reportedly said scheisse under her breath and Cameron noted that, “We did hug and make up afterwards.”

THE OWNER. Cameron said that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was all smiles after the win by the English club owned by compatriot Roman Abramovich, the oil tycoon who acquired Chelsea in 2003 and has invested some $2 billion in the club. About $1 billion was spent on more than 60 players considered world-class stars. Chelsea runs a deficit every year, but Abramovich picks up the tab. Bayern Munich spends no more than it earns and thrives on players from its youth program. Its president, Uli Hoeness, four years ago lashed out at Abramovich: “The oil Mafia takes money out of my pocket to invest it in soccer players. To my mind this stinks to high heaven, and this applies to Mr. Abramovich among others. … What can we do? We simply have to defeat teams like Chelsea on the field of play. That would give us great satisfaction.” But Bayern was denied by Drogba.

THE HERO. Chelsea bought Drogba from Marseille in 2004 for nearly $40 million. He’s helped Chelsea win three EPL titles, but what Abramovich really wanted was the Champions League crown. Abramovich wasted $50 million on Andriy Shevchenko in 2005 and $80 million on Fernando Torres in 2011.

Chelsea came close to lifting the Champions League trophy in 2008, when Drogba was red-carded in overtime against Manchester United, which won on penalty kicks as Drogba watched.

Drogba turned 34 in March, but still provided more punch than 27-year-old Torres. Drogba started against Bayern and with two minutes left in regulation time, headed the equalizer that sent the game into overtime. In overtime, although a forward, he was defending in his own penalty area when he tripped Franck Ribery. But Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech saved Dutchman Arjen Robben’s shot and the game went to a penalty-kick shootout.

Earlier this year, Drogba missed a penalty kick late in the African Cup of Nations final that Zambia ended up winning in a shootout. He was also on the losing end in the 2006 African Cup final and the 2004 UEFA Cup final while playing for Marseille against Valencia.

What must it have been like for those watching the Chelsea-Bayern final in Ivory Coast when Drogba stepped up to take the shootout penalty kick that could clinch the Champions League trophy?

In 2010, Time magazine included Drogba in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Drogba donates all of his income from commercial endorsements to his foundation, which is building a hospital in Abidjan. Time cited his plea, upon Ivory Coast’s qualification for the 2006 World Cup, for a cease fire in the nation’s civil war: “Many credit the ensuing calm for allowing reconciliation to begin.”

Drogba’s shot from the penalty spot hit the net, giving him his first international title and igniting celebrations from London to Camp David -- and in his hometown of Abidjan where his success has meant the most.

4 comments about "The biggest game on earth".
  1. Andres Yturralde, May 21, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.

    Good stuff. Thanks.

  2. Kent James, May 21, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

    Drogba seems like a pretty class act. It's great that he donates the income from his endorsements to his foundation. I didn't realize he was so old (I mean "experienced"); he's always a danger to opposing teams. Although I was cheering for Bayern (for the reasons Hoeness articulated) as well as Barcelona (because of the way they play) in the semis, I love to watch Drogba. I don't think there is anyone better at holding the ball under pressure, and his finishing is clinical. The header he hit was almost impossible to defend. Although I think Bayern blew their chances more than Chelsea earned win, Drogba certainly deserves credit for his part in the victory.

  3. Kerry Ogden, May 22, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.

    I think that Petr Cech is the real hero for Chelsea and in this game, yes Drogba did score the goal but if it wasn't for Cech stopping several attempts throughout the game BM would have won the match!!!

  4. Carlos Thys, May 23, 2012 at 11:15 a.m.

    Has anyone ever before seen a goalkeeper guess?/choose the right dive or position all six times out of six total penalty kicks taken against him in one match? That is what Petr Cech did in this match versus FC Bayern Munich. I've never seen that before. And, yes, it makes me wonder....The comment from the NATO summit in Chicago is interesting. FC Bayern was not "denied" by Didier Drogba who was frankly useless most of this match. (Did someone forget the idiotic foul on Ribery?) They were denied because Jupp Heynckes decided to sentimentally insert Belgian defender Van Buyten for his last game AND Heynckes chose to sub out Thomas Mueller. Mueller? He looked so jazzed up that he was ready to score a second goal. Why not bring off Ribery? Or Schweinsteiger? This was daft. If a coach just must do this, do it in the 90th minute of regular time; it would have the same effect, and your club goes home as the 1 - 0 winner.

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