Despite having won three premiership titles, four FA Cups and two Carling Cups, there were two honors that coming into 2012, Didier Drogba wanted very badly, the African Cup of Nations (ANC) and the UEFA Champions League. The painful part was that he had come close in the past, reaching the finals of the ANC in 2006 and the Champions league in 2008 but ironically playing a part in his teams’ losses on both occasions. He missed a penalty during the shootout in the 2006 Final against Egypt and then in the 2008 Champions League final he was dismissed during extra time for slapping Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic. It’s obvious that both events stuck to Drogba and he was determined to make amends if given another opportunity. Such was his frustration that in 2009, after Chelsea crashed out of at the Semi Final stage to Barcelona, he lashed out menacingly at the referee who had made some very questionable calls during the match thus earning himself a six game ban from all European club competitions.
Now at the beginning of 2012, heading into the ANC, Drogba’s Ivory Coast team was considered one of the heavy favorites to win the title especially since traditional powerhouses such as Cameroon, three time defending champions Egypt and Nigeria all failed to qualify for the competition. Drogba and his team partially fulfilled this billing by reaching the finals as expected but then the odds were further stacked in their favor when co-favorites Ghana failed to make it to the final with lowly rated Zambia taking their place. History was however going to cruelly repeat itself for Drogba as he missed a penalty that would have sealed the win in regulation and the Ivory Coast again lost the final via a penalty shootout. This was undoubtedly another painful experience for Drogba especially since this was seen as the last opportunity for him and other members of his country’s “Golden Generation” to win their country’s second African title and first since 1992.
Fast forward to Saturday’s final in Munich. When Thomas Muller scored for the “home team” on 83 minutes, it looked as if Drogba and his Chelsea team mates were going to miss out on Champions League success one more time. Up till this point, Bayern Munich had firmly controlled the game and it was only their wastefulness in front of goal that still kept Chelsea in the game. Sensing another crushing defeat, Drogba and his troops pushed forward hoping for a late equalizer and got rewarded with a corner at the 88th minute mark. Juan Mata swung in the corner and the big Ivorian powered forward and met it with a thumping header. The next thing heard was the commentator screaming DROGBAAAAA… as the ball landed at the back of the net for the equalizer.
Ninety minutes of play ended with both sides tied at 1-1 and thus extra time started with Chelsea still harboring hopes of winning their first Champions League title but then, just like 4 years ago, that man Didier Drogba had a rush of blood to the head during extra time of a Champions League final and this time, he conceded a penalty with rash tackle on Bayern’s Franck Ribery. Once again, it looked as if the dream was going to end for the Blues. Ex Chelsea player Arjen Robben stepped up to take the penalty hoping to condemn his former team to another crushing defeat but his penalty kick was comfortably saved by Chelsea goalie Petr Cech. The dream was still on!
Extra time ended still tied and then came the penalties. With Bayern having missed two of their allotted five kicks with Chelsea only having missed one with their last kick still to come, the man himself Didier Drogba stepped up to do the honors. Now, at that final 4 years ago in Moscow, Chelsea was in the same situation with captain John Terry (who was suspended for Saturday’s game) about to take the last kick that would have given his the win but he slipped as he approached the ball sending it into the upright but this time there was no such mishap as Drogba coolly powered his kick home to send millions of Chelsea worldwide into wild celebrations.
As much as it would have been a nice story had Bayern been able to win the Champions league in front of their home fans, this Chelsea story is probably a better one given all the near misses they’ve had in the past few years. Even better is the story of Drogba who finally won one of the two trophies he cares about the most and particularly the role he played this time towards making it happen.