Ronaldo redeemed after Drogba's Moscow madness earns a red card

It was a tale of two superstars and it was always destined to become for one of them the best of times and for the other the worst. In the end the winner was Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro and the unlucky loser, in a team of them, was Didier Drogba.

Chelsea's moody talisman, who snatched the FA Cup away from United right at the death in extra-time a year ago, found himself a central figure again. Involved all night in a predictably physical battle with Rio Ferdinand and principally Nemanja Vidic – none of the trio giving an inch while all took bumps and bruises – he hit a post, then hit Vidic, much less forcefully, but paid a heavy penalty with a red card.

So the Ivorian was not around for the penalties that eventually went United's way after Ronaldo, having missed one in the Nou Camp semi-final, was denied by Petr Cech.

The Portuguese double Footballer of the Year has been forced to confront the question of whether he can impose himself on the biggest matches, as opposed to an Old Trafford romp against a West Ham or Wigan. Once again the evidence was not entirely convincing either way. Playing on the left in the absence of Park Ji Sung he gave Michael Essien – not a natural right-back – a torrid hour, threatening from early on to take the game and mould it in a manner he never managed on occasions like semi-finals against Milan last season and Barcelona this, plus the FA Cup final. If he was less of an influence in the latter stages, that reflected the way Chelsea, and Drogba, recovered in pursuit of their quest to become London's first European champions.

The night had begun with the two potential match-winners bringing up the rear as their teams filed out, aware that the last needed to be first in commitment and accomplishment. Each of them was prominent once the earliest sparring was over, though the first television close-up of Ronaldo was a familiar plaintive look up at the referee from a grounded position, where Essien had dumped him as a little welcome note.

It was clear that the deterrent had failed when Ronaldo – regularly praised by Sir Alex Ferguson for his courage in coming back for more – bewitched Essien and put in a cross just too high for Owen Hargreaves.

In a number of key games, starting when United salvaged a last-minute draw at Tottenham this season, Ferguson has used him through the middle to capitalise on the height and heading ability inevitably lacking in Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney. Last night the manager was rewarded with the best of both worlds when after 25 minutes of taunting Essien he left the Ghanaian flat-footed to head his first goal against Chelsea and 42nd of the season.

Drogba's role in the equaliser 18 minutes later was that of a decoy as Frank Lampard initiated and finished the move. He had shed blood early on, taking a bang to the mouth from Vidic that left him with a cut tongue, but already he had won a couple of headers, and continued to do so as Wednesday in Moscow became Thursday and Chelsea used him to good effect without ever quite falling into the occasional trap of simply hoofing balls forward.

The 78th minute might have provided his golden moment. Knocked to the ground he still succeeded in slipping the ball out to Florent Malouda, then taking the return and curling his shot from outside the penalty area against a post. In extra-time he took control of a free-kick in a promising position – no arguments with Michael Ballack on this occasion – but clipped it wide. Then, unwisely, he clipped Vidic on the jaw and was forced to take the long walk past the corner flag in front of Chelsea's supporters to the dressing room.

Ronaldo had been involved in a double threat to Cech in between the goals, setting up Tevez for the first effort. In the second half he remained as potentially dangerous as anyone in red, though his team were being pushed backwards.

With his penalty in the shootout, however, Ronaldo ran up to the spot before then pausing for far too long before making his kick. He failed completely to tempt Cech into committing himself and the striker turned away in despair as the shot was saved by Edwin van der Sar. But five minutes later came tears of joy as the striker lay flat in the sodden centre circle.

So to the future. Whether Drogba's will be spent as a Chelsea player is a matter of some doubt. Ronaldo, having signed a five-year deal with United last April, was a little naughty in his ambiguous remarks last week, but seems much the more likely to stay at his club and keep Real Madrid waiting and scheming for another year or so.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment