Van der Sar is a shoot-out winner, at last for Manchester United

May 22nd, 2008 - 2:04 pm ICT by admin  

Moscow, May 22 (DPA) Edwin van der Sar knows a thing or two about penalty dramas on the international stage and the experience came handy Wednesday night to help Manchester United lift the Champions League trophy. The most-capped Dutch international was in goal for three successive eliminations in shootouts - at Euro 1996, the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. The 37-year-old keeper lost the Champions League final with Ajax in 1996 on penalty kicks to Juventus, a year after winning with the Dutch side against AC Milan.

When substitute Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take Chelsea’s seventh spot kick in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s Champions League final, that experience helped Van der Sar.

Van der Sar somehow sensed where the ball was going and dived to the right to parry the ball.

“When it came to the final penalty, I knew where he (Anelka) was going. I felt it,” the keeper explained.

It was just before 1:35 am in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and Van der Sar had won not only his second Champions League winner’s medal but a third European Cup or Champions League crown for Manchester United.

While penalties may be a matter of luck, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said that Van der Sar’s save was more than just good fortune.

“That was not an accident when he made that save. When it comes to the last penalty, it requires great experience and patience to wait that fraction (of a second),” he said.

Ferguson spoke of the important role the Dutchman had played at the club after being signed - surprisingly, many felt - at the age of 34 from Fulham. The United boss had been searching for someone to fill the boots of Peter Schmeichel in goal after initial replacements for the Danish keeper had proven unconvincing.

“As I said before, one of the most difficult jobs we have had at this club was replacing Schmeichel,” Ferguson said.

“Three years ago we did that with Edwin, and you can see the marked improvement in our defensive performance since then.”

Van der Sar said he had striven for most of his career to be at a point where he could make such a save to decide the outcome of a major game.

At the national team level he is still going strong and is set to add to his tally of more than 120 caps when he joins the Dutch squad at next month’s Euro 2008, a last major tournament before international retirement.

“It is one of the benefits of having a long career. You’ve been around a certain amount of things,” Van der Sar said.

“I won a final with in 1995 with Ajax. I lost one with Ajax against Juventus on penalties, so I knew. It’s hard. It’s all about the quality of the strikes of our players, and you just have to hope that you save one.”

Although he had not seen Terry take a penalty before, Van der Sar said he was not surprised to see the central defender step up to the spot with the shoot-out at 4-4.

The Chelsea skipper could have been holding up the trophy had Terry converted, but he slipped on the wet surface and shot narrowly wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.

“It’s our luck that he slipped, otherwise it would have been all over and someone else would be sitting here tonight,” admitted the goalkeeper, whose heroics earned him the man-of-the-match prize.

Saving the penalty from Anelka was “immense,” with the victory outweighing his first Champions League title with Ajax 13 years ago, Van der Sar said.

“It is always nice to win the first one, but to win it yourself is something I’ve striven for my whole career,” he said.

“To get a decisive moment, to get that final moment when you win a game, that is fantastic, and I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to come to United at (age) 34. I sometimes ask why it did not happen sooner, but never mind. I’ve got two (Premier League) titles, the Champions League tonight, and we are not finished yet.”

Van der Saar’s delight was Terry’s pain. The distraught captain was inconsolable on the pitch and too upset afterward to talk.

Team-mate Frank Lampard, who had scored Chelsea’s equalizer to Cristian Ronaldo’s opening goal in the first-half of regular time, offered some words of encouragement.

“John is Mr Chelsea,” Lampard said. “He wants it more than anyone, and not many centre-halves would stand up and take a penalty of that importance. John did what he did, and he will be back.”

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