The 2008 Champions League Final: How the Drama Unfolded

Updated on March 28, 2020
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20 Times. Avid United fan through the hard times and the good. Still believes Wes Brown is the real hero of Old Trafford.

United celebrating their victory at the 2008 Champions League Final
United celebrating their victory at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

The Greatest In The Land

Manchester United was the team to beat in the 2007/08 season. They had amassed one of the greatest sides the Premier League had ever seen, beating Chelsea to the title by a measly two points in April 2008, their second out of the three in a row they won between 2007 and 2009. Their backline consisted of greats like Edwin Van Der Sar in goal, Patrice Evra at left back, and the legendary pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the heart of the defence.

The midfield was stacked with talismanic personalities such as Ryan Giggs and Luis Nani, with Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves providing the perfect balance between creative output and structural solidity.

However, it was the attack that United truly excelled at. A frontline of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo had never been seen before in England, and it was unsurprisingly the dominant force in the league campaign that season.

Ronaldo was not only the top scorer for his club and across the league, but he was also the Champions League's most deadly finisher, wrapping up the tournament with eight goals that season. This was truly the first season where Ronaldo had shone as undoubtedly the best player in the world, and he would scoop up Fifa's prestigious Ballon D'Or award once the season drew to a close.

Chelsea team watches as they lose out at the 2008 Champions League Final
Chelsea team watches as they lose out at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

Chelsea was Also a Powerhouse

Whilst United might have been the dominant force in the country and on the continent at that time, it would be wrong to forget about the powerhouse Chelsea still were during this era. Jose Mourinho had constructed a winning attitude in the side that still exists in this club even to this day, they had been back-to-back champions from 2005 to 2006 and boasted some incredible talents in their side.

Although Mourinho's first stint at Chelsea ended painfully in September that season, new manager Avram Grant kept them competing at the top level. In fact, although they might have lost out on the title to United, Chelsea actually lost fewer games than their northern rivals over the course of the campaign.

The source of Chelsea's success came from their experienced and steely spine constructed by Mourinho. The likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba had winning in their veins, and that made them a threat in any competition, regardless of who was the manager.

Their route to the final might have been slightly easier than United's however. Topping a group containing Schalke, Rosenborg and Valencia, they dispatched Olympiacos, Fenerbache and Liverpool before arriving at the final in Moscow.

the lineups at  the 2008 Champions League Final
the lineups at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

The Talking Points

Manchester United

For Manchester United, the major talking point was the inclusion of the legendary Paul Scholes in the heart of the midfield. Scholes had scored the decisive goal in the semi-final win at Old Trafford against Barcelona but had missed out on United's previous Champions League triumph in 1999 through suspension.

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves started on the right side of a 4--4-2 formation, with the ever-reliable Ji Sung Park surprisingly dropping out of both the starting eleven and the first team as a whole for the final.

The fine wine player that is Ryan Giggs was coy with his chances of appearing in the final, but did make Sir Alex Ferguson's bench and would come on in the 87th minute.


For Chelsea, their team almost picked themselves in 2008. The only real debatable decision by Avram Grant was the inclusion of Michael Essien as a makeshift right back over the veteran defender Paulo Ferreira. Essien was a fine footballer on his day, but he was not naturally seen as a right back that could slot in for a Champions League final.

Much of the build-up to the game had been based around the mouthwatering match up of Cristiano Ronaldo against England full back Ashley Cole, so it was surprising to see Grant selecting a midfielder to take on the world's best player at the time.

Ronaldo climbs up and scores the opening goal at the 2008 Champions League Final
Ronaldo climbs up and scores the opening goal at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

Cristiano Ronaldo: 21 Minutes

With the game kicking off at 22:45 local time, the scenes surrounding Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium were dark, wet and windy i.e. the perfect setting for an all English affair. After a cagey few exchanges to kick the early parts of the game off, including several nasty clashes and collisions between the midfielders, the 0-0 deadlock was broken by an unsurprising individual.

After a tidy exchange between Paul Scholes and Wes Brown on the right hand side, the full back whipped a peach of a cross into the penalty area, with Cristiano Ronaldo eagerly awaiting the delivery after slipping his marker. Time seemed to stand still for a moment as the Portuguese attacked leapt like a salmon into the air, timing his header beautifully and tucking the ball away into the corner of Petr Cech's net.

1-0 Manchester United.

Frank Lampard drawing Chelsea level at the 2008 Champions League Final
Frank Lampard drawing Chelsea level at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

Frank Lampard: 45 Minutes

Whilst Manchester United might have just edged the majority of the first half, Chelsea were by no means out of the competition yet, especially when the likes of Drogba, Lampard and Ballack were still on the pitch.

It was actually midfielder Michael Essien who provided the catalyst for Chelsea's equaliser at the end of the first half. Firing in a powerful strike from way outside the box, the Ghanian's strike bounced off Nemanja Vidic and then again off Rio Ferdinand before Frank Lampard raced onto the loose ball.

With only a sprawling Edwin Van Der Sar to beat, the England international calmly tucked the ball home and raced off in celebration. With his arms pointing to the sky in memory of his late mother, Lampard had brought his team level.

John Terry during his infamous slip at the 2008 Champions League Final
John Terry during his infamous slip at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

Red Cards and the Slip

Chelsea's goal at the end of the first half had breathed new life into the West London side, and they dominated most of the second half of the game. United's defence, however, was able to withstand most of the Blues' attacks, with only Didier Drogba's attempt four minutes from time the only chance to truly frighten the United fans.

Extra time at the end of the ninety minutes was where the game really took off again. Both sides had chances to win the game with efforts from Ryan Giggs for United, and Frank Lampard striking the underside of the crossbar for Chelsea.

Chelsea was dealt a seriously bad blow just a couple minutes from the end with star forward Didier Drogba being sent off during a fracas between the sides. With Chelsea angry at Carlos Tevez's reaction to having to kick the ball out of play, both sides quickly started upon eachother in a messy series of confrontations. In the chaos, referee Lubos Michel spotted Drogba slapping at Nemanja Vidic and dished out an instant red card, meaning the star striker would miss out on the crunch penalty shootout.

In the most famous all-English penalty shootout ever, it was the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo who broke rank first. Employing his trademark stuttered run up, the Portuguese star saw his attempt firmly pushed out by Cech, triggering a chorus of roars from the Chelsea side, and reducing Ronaldo to the verge of a breakdown.

This was not to be the cruellest moment of the shootout however. With what would have been the winning penalty on the cards, captain John Terry stepped up to the penalty spot. The rain had been pouring down all throughout the second half and it would prove disastrous for the England man as he slipped and fell during his run up, blasting his shot horribly wide and off the post.

Anelka during the final penalty at the 2008 Champions League Final
Anelka during the final penalty at the 2008 Champions League Final | Source

The Final Moments

United had been saved by John Terry's slip, but sudden death between the two sides meant that they still needed Giggs, Anderson and Nani to all net their penalties to stay in the game, which they duly did. Chelsea recovered from Terry's miss with a well placed penalty from Saloman Kalou, meaning the pressure fell to substitute Nicholas Anelka.

Anelka had only come onto the pitch in the dying minutes of the game and hadn't prepared for spot kick duty. His fairly limp attempt was cleanly saved by the diving hand of Van Der Sar and, just like that, the game was done.

Cristiano Ronaldo had experienced redemption at the highest level, John Terry would have to wait four years before getting his hands finally on a Champions League trophy, whereas Avram Grant was unceremoniously sacked and never managed at the highest level again.

The 2008 Champions League final had massive ramifications on the English and European game, right from the personal and management that took part in it, to the rivals and spectators that were looking on from the outside. It was the culmination of Sir Alex Ferguson's second great side during his career and would prove to be the spark for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his hunt for a Champions League trophy.


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