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.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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.

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments