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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Close to heaven: Chelsea reach the Champions League Final with a 3 - 2 win over Liverpool


Historical night for every blue fan, player, board member and supporters around the world. After many years of struggling, Chelsea reached the Champions League Final for the first time in history.

What's more, it will be the first European Cup final between two English clubs, and beating Manchester United to win the title will make it even more special.

Owner Roman Abramovich wasn't at Stamford Bridge to see his expensively assembled team beat Liverpool 3-2 in extra time to advance to the final on May 21, but United manager Alex Ferguson was.

Manchester United and Chelsea are also neck-and-neck in the Premier League. The Blues beat the Red Devils 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to draw level on points with United, which leads on goal difference with two encounters to go.

"An all-English final. I think everyone's looking forward to it," Chelsea leader John Terry said. "They have been very good in the league. Also we matched them the other week and managed to defeat them here. All in all, they're playing very well. I think we're at the top of our game so in three weeks time it's going to be a very tough game."

It's important to notice that even though it's the first time two English teams have made it to the final, there are no English coaches.

The last Englishman to lead a team to a European Cup triumph was Liverpool's Joe Fagan in 1984. That was at a time when English coaches did well in the competition with seven triumphs in eight seasons, including victories from Liverpool's Bob Paisley (three), Nottingham Forest's Brian Clough (two), Aston Villa's Tony Barton and Fagan between 1977 and '84.

Manchester United has had the veteran Ferguson in charge for 22 years, and the Scot has led the Red Devils to nine Premier League triumphs and five FA Cups and is now chasing his second Champions League title to go with the one he won in 1999.

As for Avram Grant, he is the former coach of Israel who has led Chelsea to its first Champions League final after the man he replaced, Jose Mourinho, failed three times. Mourinho moved to Stamford Bridge in June 2004, a month after leading FC Porto to a triumph in the competition.

And although he won two league titles in a row, Chelsea's first in half a century, portuguese Mourinho couldn't capture a European success and the club replaced him in September. Now, the fact that two English teams are playing each other thousands of miles away in Moscow for a major prize is good timing.

Now talking about the semifinal match, we can say it was one of the most exciting games of the year. Didier Drogba scored the first goal that seemed to assure their ticket to the final. But Fernando Torres kept the emotion alive up to the 90th minute.

In the extra time, the referee downed a goal scored by Kalou, but just two minutes later a penalty shot was converted by Frank Lampard. His celebration is now inprinted in the memory of every blue fan.

Drogba appeared again to score the third one, to unleash the emotion of every Chelsea supporter. Babel scored a goal for Liverpool, but that was not enough to save his team.

Now Chelsea will face Manchester United knowing all about Cristiano Ronaldo's dribbling and shooting skills and how to stop him from adding to his 38 league and cup goals this season. It also has to break open the solid defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

Because it played Chelsea on Saturday, Manchester United is aware of the dangers posed by Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Ballack and the defensive strengths of Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Ferguson's team has a 65-41 record against Chelsea with 44 draws. But the last time they met in a final, Chelsea edged Man. United 1-0 in last season's FA Cup at Wembley.

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