James Lawton: Ferguson's competitive spirit edges epic contest

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The Independent Online

If you were in the Nou Camp in Barcelona nine years ago and here in the small hours of this morning you never again need to be told that a football match is never lost until the last kick and that sport, like life, can be as wonderful as it is cruel.

Wonderful for Sir Alex Ferguson, delivering, quite astonishingly Manchester United's third European Cup 50 years after the Munich air tragedy and scarcely a minute after his world seemed to be in ruins and with it so many others', young and old, who have made this club the most romantic football has ever seen.

But then there was the other side of the glory and it was almost indescribably harsh in what it did to the spirit of Chelsea's captain John Terry.

If you wanted to grasp the degree of his pain after he slipped and missed the penalty kick that would have given the European Cup to his oligarch patron Roman Abramovich in his own city, it was surely captured by the sight of Frank Lampard – for the last few weeks immersed deeply in the tragedy of his mother's shockingly sudden death – attempting to offer some kind of consolation.

He might as profitably have attempted to turn around the Moscow River flowing beside the stadium.

For Terry his sudden juxtaposition with the sensation of the season, Cristiano Ronaldo, will surely never cease to be a source of both anguish and something close to disbelief.

When Ronaldo, who had scored a brilliant goal in the first half before slowly ebbing away from his potential role as the man who shaped everything, missed his kick, Terry stiffened in the belief that after a season of some adversity, and the loss of the England captaincy, he was about to enjoy the supreme moment of a career marked by burning ambition.

All of this, though, was swept away on the tide of Manchester joy and the truth was that if Chelsea had come on more strongly after the first waves of United attack had yielded a goal – and some bouts of fluent football, much of it orchestrated by the bloodied Paul Scholes (he had collided with the still ferocious Claude Makelele) – you could not say that the prize had been stolen.

United, despite the failure of Wayne Rooney, who threw down his shirt when he was substituted in extra time, to inflict his talent and the dwindling of Ronaldo, had produced enough evidence of their instinct to play superior football to justify the regained status of champions of Europe.

It did happen to be true that Chelsea twice struck the post, through the ultimately disgraced Didier Drogba and Lampard, but then that was also true of Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp in 1999 before they were finally engulfed by the sheer competitive honesty of another Ferguson team.

Here last night Ferguson's capacity to survive, at 66, a great tide of tension and then celebrate like a 10-year-old achieved an almost eerie level.

Before the moment of truth and victory he briefly sat back in the dugout, sighed and breathed in deeply. Then he was off again in another bout of delirium, surrounded and hugged by his players and, in another key moment of emotion, his great supporter Sir Bobby Charlton.

Charlton, who had seen his club appearance record broken by Ryan Giggs, a late substitute but a successful penalty-taker, could not hold back the tears but then he has always said the only time it is appropriate to cry at the scene of a great sports occasion is when you are part of a great victory. That would have been a hard point to make to John Terry – or Drogba, who after erupting into classic action and smashing a shot against the post near the end of normal time, was caught up in the anarchy of an extra-time mêlée and was dismissed for slapping the United defender Nemanja Vidic.

The beaten manager, Avram Grant, who will now surely return to the shadows as a favoured Abramovich retainer at Stamford Bridge after making way for someone younger and of greater achievement, maybe the former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, kept his dignity and buried his disap-pointment. He gathered together his players in the cold rain and thanked them for an extraordinary effort.

It was, no question, a performance of great determination and against a different team, and, maybe, a different dynamic and mystique, it would probably have been successful.

As it was, it simply consigned Chelsea to the company of Lothar Matthäus's Bayern, a team who thought they had the taste of victory in their mouths.

How do we describe this forlorn losers column, whose latest member is Nicolas Anelka, who completed the last act of the drama when his kick was saved by Edwin van der Sar?

We have to call them victims of twice-striking lightning and also, it would be churlish not to say, the indomitable values of the manager of Manchester United.

However long he goes on, his place in football is unlikely to be significantly changed. He has proved many times the depth of the ambition he carried from the dockside streets of his native Glasgow but here we may have seen the definitive example of what happens when a great football man teaches his team why it is so important not to lose.

In the lottery of the penalty kick, of course, anything can happen. But when Ferguson is on the touchline we surely know where the best odds lie.

The shootout

1: Tevez (Man Utd) – scored, 1-0

2: Ballack (Chelsea) – scored, 1-1

3: Carrick (Man Utd) – scored, 2-1

4: Belletti (Chelsea) – scored, 2-2

5: Ronaldo (Man Utd) – saved, 2-2

6: Lampard (Chelsea) – scored, 2-3

7: Hargreaves (Man Utd) – scored, 3-3

8: A Cole (Chelsea) – scored, 3-4

9: Nani (Man Utd) – scored, 4-4

10: Terry (Chelsea) – missed, 4-4

11: Anderson (Man Utd) – scored, 5-4

12: Kalou (Chelsea) – scored, 5-5

13: Giggs (Man Utd) – scored, 6-5

14: Anelka (Chelsea) – saved, 6-5

Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties

The Top Ten Previous occasions when English clubs have lifted the European Cup

1968: Man Utd 4 Benfica 1 [aet]

Wembley Stadium, London

Matt Busby led United to a Wembley final a year after Celtic became the first British side to lift the trophy. Garca equalised Bobby Charlton's opener before United scored three in five extra-time minutes to lift the Cup.

1977: Liverpool 3 B M'gdbach 1

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Terry McDermott put the Anfield side ahead midway through the first half before Allan Simonsen pulled the Germans level. Tommy Smith gave the Reds the lead before a late Phil Neal penalty added gloss to the scoreline.

1978: Liverpool 1 Brugge 0

Wembley Stadium, London

Bob Paisley's side retained the trophy at Wembley in a repeat of the Uefa Cup final of 1976. Scottish forward Kenny Dalglish's 64th-minute strike was enough to overcome an injury-hit Belgian outfit.

1979: Nott Forest 1 Malmo 0

Olympiastadion, Munich

A defence-minded Malmo outfit proved hard to break down for Brian Clough's side. Trevor Francis headed home from a John Robertson cross in first-half injury time and Forest held on to keep the trophy in England.

1980: Nott Forest 1 Hamburg 0

Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid

Robertson continued his impressive form in Europe's showpiece game, scoring the only goal as Brian Clough retained the Cup. Forest remain the only side to have won the European Cup more times than their own league.

1981: Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0

Parc des Princes, Paris

Bob Paisley brought the Cup back to Anfield after two seasons in the Midlands, becoming the first manager to lift the trophy three times. A goal from left-back Alan Kennedy eight minutes from time decided matters

1982: Aston Villa 1 B Munich 0

De Kuip Stadium, Rotterdam

Tony Barton amazingly landed the European Cup just three months after taking over. Villa overcame the early loss of Jimmy Rimmer to record another single goal English win, courtesy of Peter Withe's 67th-minute goal.

1984: Liverpool 1 Roma 1 [aet, 4-2 pens]

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Bruce Grobbelaar's infamous bandy legs helped secure a fourth European Cup for the Reds as they were unable to settle matters in normal time. An early Phil Neal goal was cancelled out by Roberto Pruzzo before half-time.

1999: Man United 2 B Munich 1

Nou Camp, Barcelona

Alex Ferguson's side turned the final on it's head in injury time as substitute strikers Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found the net. Mario Basler gave the Germans the lead with a sixth-minute free-kick.

2005: Liverpool 3 Milan 3 [aet, 3-2 pens]

Atatürk Stadium, Istanbul

A Hernan Crespo brace added to Paolo Maldini's first-minute opener gave the Italians a 3-0 half-time lead. Steve Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso pulled the scores level before Jerzy Dudek's penalty-saving exploits.

James Mariner

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