On Saturday the top two teams in Europe will clash after a long road leading to the 2012 UEFA Champions League final in Munich, Germany. Chelsea FC from London, England will face off against the German giants and host team Bayern Munich FC.
Following closely behind a disastrous start to the season under former Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas, the London side took off on a dominant streak in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and the English Premier League. They clawed their way back into contending for the fourth place European spot in the domestic league table, battled their way to a victory in the FA Cup final against their hated rivals Liverpool FC and booked themselves a spot in the UEFA Champions League finals in Munich after a historic, dramatic, enticing and almost unbelievable victory over Barcelona in the Camp Nou in the last leg of the semi-finals.
In the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, they received criticism for disappointing performances against Genk, the newcomers from Belgium, Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen. They managed to salvage enough points to top Group E and move on to the next round.
They faced off against a resilient Napoli side in the round of 16, first in Italy and then at Stamford Bridge in one of the more dramatic clashes in their campaign so far. Thanks to some brilliant tactics, hard work and an impressive display in front of their home fans, they came back from a 3-1 deficit they had accumulated in Naples and went through in extra time thanks to a dramatic late header from defender Branisalv Ivanovic, one of their most crucial players this season.
In the next round they were drawn against Portuguese side Benfica and again played out the first leg away. Despite a shaky performance from both sides in the opening half of the match, Chelsea were the first to snag a goal in the fixture late in the match, giving them the 1-0 advantage at Stamford Bridge and the crucial away goal. By the second leg, now under the guidance of Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea were dominant. Frank Lampard’s penalty added to their advantage in the 21st minute but the fans were put on the edge of their seats in the 85th minute when Javi Garcia scored an away goal for the Portuguese visitors. At that point, just one goal from Benfica would be the end of Chelsea’s Champions League campaign but Raul Meireles made sure that his side were the ones to go through when he scored in stoppage time.
Chelsea were through to the semi finals and were to face one of three European giants: Bayern Munich, who had been demolishing sides since their second leg 7-0 win in the round of sixteen, Real Madrid, who had some trouble dealing with the newcomers APOEL from Cyprus in the quarter finals but managed to make it through after a dominant home performance, or Barcelona, who had smashed Chelsea’s group stage opponents Bayer Leverkusen 10-2 on aggregate and secured a solid victory against AC Milan in the quarter finals.
After the draw was announced, their opponents Barcelona, many critics and even some of the most loyal fans predicted that it was the end of the road for the Blues and they should start focusing on the league again, but Di Matteo and his men would have none of it.
The first leg was to be held in London on a cold and rainy night, not something that the Spanish side were accustomed to but the typical weather for the English game. Many Chelsea fans dreaded the visit of the idolized Lionel Messi, but after a nearly silent first half from the Argentine striker and some good breaks for Chelsea on the attack, they began to back their team loudly and encouraged them to push for the goal. With Didier Drogba in front for the Londoners, their attack was strong and on the stroke of the halftime whistle, the dominant striker found the back of the net. The home side held off the uninspiring attacks from the Spaniards for the remainder of the half and were able to head off to the Camp Nou the following week with a 1-0 advantage.
It only took Barcelona 35 minutes to find the back of the net. Chelsea had already substituted Gary Cahill for Jose Bosingwa in the 12th minute and Barcelona’s Gerard Pique went off with a head injury. With the scoreline tied at 1-1, John Terry was the next man to exit as he was shown red in the 37th minute. With only ten men at the Camp Nou, it was no surprise at Iniesta found the back of the net in the 43rd minute. Chelsea’s dream campaign looked to be going downhill fast and the Londoners needed a miracle. The miracles began just before the whistle to end the first half. Ramirez scored a cheeky away goal and Chelsea were now level on aggregate and would go through with the away goal.
An impressive performance in the second half, including a goal from the controversial Spanish striker Fernando Torres and some surprising misses from Messi, Chelsea had a historic victory in Camp Nou. Against all odds with only ten men, they had defeated Barcelona on their home turf and put the defending champions out of the competition. Following an equally intense match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and one round of penalty kicks, Chelsea learned that their opponents would be the dominant and disciplined Bayern Munich, representing the host city.
The entire squad will travel to Munich, the injured Gary Cahill and David Luiz predicted to make full recoveries and feature in the starting 11, but John Terry will be fulfilling his red card ban and Meireles, Ivanovic and Ramirez will miss out due to an accumulated yellow card bans. Luckily for the visiting side, Bayern Munich will also be missing key players and the Blue’s favored strikers and attackers will still be at their disposal. Despite the absences of crucial players, spectators are still in for an enticing and explosive end to the 2012 UEFA Champions League campaign.