“They’ve pulled the rabbit out of the hat again! Can you believe it! Chelsea will just not let go in the Champions League.”
On May 19th, 2012, Chelsea won their first and only Champions League victory in the stadium of their opponent, Bayern Munich. Although both Drogba’s bullet header and emotional final kick will go down in the record books as the defining moments of the match, it was the man between the sticks, Petr Cech, who won the match for Chelsea.
Earlier today, Petr Cech announced his retirement from professional football. The Czech spent 11 years at Chelsea where he won 4 Premier League Titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Europa League, and 1 Champions League. In 2015, the goalkeeper completed a move to Arsenal where he has played ever since.
Cech will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the best, goalkeeper to ever strap on a pair of gloves (and head protector), in the British game. The keeper played an instrumental role in transforming Chelsea under Jose Mourinho alongside fellow legends Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and John Terry. In ‘04/’05, Chelsea’s first Premier League winning season, Cech was a crucial man in the record-setting Chelsea defense that let in a record few goals (15) and a record high number of clean sheets (25).
For all of his heroics in the Premier League, however, no save was more important than in the 95th minute of the 2012 Champions League Final.
After 90 minutes of tense back and forth play, Chelsea and Bayern Munich found themselves in a 1-1 deadlock. A Thomas Müller bouncing header (that ESPN’s sports science has discovered too complicated to break down) and some typical Didier Drogba last-minute heroics, the match was headed to extra time.
Just a few short minutes into the first half of extra time, however, the collective stomach of all 25,000 Chelsea fans in attendance. Didier Drogba, that same man that had rescued them from the verge of irrelevance, committed a foul inside of Chelsea’s own 18-yard box. The Ivorian clipped the heels of Franc Ribery in an attempt to win back the ball, sending the Bayern Munich man tumbling to the pitch. The whistle blew.
The onus of an entire club now rested on Petr Cech’s shoulders. To maintain Chelsea’s chance of victory, Cech had to stop a penalty from Arjen Robben – a player who had only missed 1 penalty in his 12-year career.
As the ball was placed, the entire arena shuddered to a still, quiet hush. Thousands of Germans clenched their fists, primed to throw them in the air when the ball hit the net. The wall of Chelsea fans behind Cech’s goal resembled a sea of pythons – fans with both hands placed on the back of their heads in preparation for defeat.
The game would now be determined by Cech’s single prediction. Left, right, or center. Which way would Robben shoot?
The ball was placed, the whistle blew, and Arjen Robben rifled a shot towards the bottom right corner of the net.
Cech sprang to his left – but he sprang early. The ball careened off of his lower torso and bounced forward in the direction of the onrushing Robben. Cech scrambled to his knees and threw his body over the ball.
Following Cech’s latest heroics, Chelsea and Bayern would find themselves once again locked at 1-1 at the end of extra time.
In the following penalty shootout, Cech would again show his worth, stopping an Ivica Olic penalty to draw Chelsea level with the Germans. After Schweinsteiger hit the post, which nearly careened off of Cech’s back and into the goal, Didier Drogba stepped up to take the most critical penalty in Chelsea’s history.
4 years after losing the Champions League Final to Manchester United in a penalty shoot-out, Drogba had a chance at redemption.
And Didier Drogba does not miss.
Cech received the Man of the Match award for his performance on the night and no moment was more responsible than his penalty save in the 94th minute. In the game of football, when the spin of the ball, the number of bounces, and the speed of the turf are all factors in determining the results of games and the legacies of teams, Cech refused to let chance conquer Chelsea and displayed a supernatural effort to secure his team’s victory.