Relief for Ronaldo as star runs into a spot of bother

May 22nd, 2008 - 1:57 pm ICT by admin  

Moscow, May 22 (DPA) As Manchester United players celebrated wildly in the corner after Edwin van der Sar’s penalty save from Nicolas Anelka, one player in a red shirt was lying face down in the centre circle of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and that was none other than Christiano Ronaldo. The drama of United’s 6-5 penalty shootout victory over Chelsea to win a third European Cup or Champions League title after the teams had cancelled each other out at 1-1 was clear to all here Wednesday night.

A distraught John Terry, the Chelsea captain, had to be consoled, first by team-mates, then wrapped in the arms of coach Avram Grant after missing the opportunity of giving Chelsea their first Champions League title.

Other team-mates in blue shirts were on their knees in tears.

Ronaldo’s feeling was pure relief. As he buried his head in the turf in the teeming rain, he knew he had been let off.

When he missed from the spot - his shot saved by Petr Cech - it looked like it had been one trick too many by the player often accused of overdoing the fancy footwork.

Ronaldo, taking United’s third kick, had run up and stopped - too long. Cech in goal was not going to be fooled and simply waited before diving to save the shot that eventually came.

At that point, it seemed that United’s goal-scoring hero would become the goat.

The Portuguese star initially stamped his mark on the first all-English Champions League final. Then an Englishman in Frank Lampard - one of 10 in the line-ups of Manchester United and Chelsea - scored to cancel out Ronaldo’s header.

Ronaldo had begun the match in a personal duel with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba for the honour of top goalscorer of this season’s competition.

In the end, Drogba spoiled a strong display by slapping Nemanja Vidic to earn a red card, as tempers became frayed five minutes before the end of extra-time.

After 26 minutes, the 67,310 fans in the stadium and estimated global audience of 100 million thought they had the answer to the question of who would be the night’s star performer, when Ronaldo rose to head in a cross from the right from Wes Brown.

That gave him eight goals from 11 games in the competition, two more than Drogba.

There had already been an inkling that this could be the 23-year- old winger’s night when he tricked his way past Michael Essien to slightly overhit a cross.

“From the first minute you could see he could make the difference, and he did,” said Russia’s Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

The game could have been virtually over for Chelsea when Ronaldo raced onto a long pass from Wayne Rooney and crossed for Carlos Tevez to see his close-range effort blocked by Cech, with the goalkeeper then flinging himself to save from Michael Carrick.

It had been the expected cagey start from two teams who knew each other too well to produce any surprises.

However, Chelsea, who had been distinctly second best, began to throw off some caution toward the end of the first half, and Lampard ran into the box to score after Essien’s shot struck the back of Rio Ferdinand.

Drogba had soldiered manfully alone up front. His physical presence was always likely to be a threat to United, and as Chelsea took control of midfield after the interval the problems increased for Ferdinand and Vidic in central defence.

His hard work was nearly rewarded with a shot against the outside of the post 12 minutes from time.

Yet Ronaldo’s speed and quick-footed skills - plus a record of 41 goals in all competitions this season - made him the chief threat to Chelsea’s bid to become European champions.

Ronaldo maintained he had nothing to prove in the biggest club match of the season. Having been named the footballers’ player of the year for the second successive season and voted the Premier League’s player of the year, he had a point - but only up to a point.

To silence the doubters who questioned his big-match temperament, he still needed a big game in the biggest game of his career.

Born in Funchal, Madeira, and signed in 2003 from Sporting Lisbon for 12 million pounds (16 million euros), the comparisons with George Best, one of the stars of the United side that captured the 1968 European Cup, will continue.

Best would have appreciated the first-half Ronaldo, but at the end of a long night as the players tired and the game went into penalties, he spectacularly fluffed his lines from the spot.

Thanks to Terry’s miss when he slipped on the greasy surface and the Van der Sar save, earning him man-of-the-match award, Ronaldo was still able to collect a winner’s medal. He was not yet celebrating, but he might have been the happiest man on the pitch - even if more prostrate than some of the Chelsea opposition.

“Sometimes it’s unfair life - that would have been unfair to the boy after what he’s done this season,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

“I thought he was absolutely fantastic. Every time he had the ball, you thought something was going to happen for us. A marvellous performance.”

Meanwhile Drogba, bought by former coach Jose Mourinho for some 30 million euros four years ago, trudged slowly off in the rain after his red card, a lone figure, his temperament having let him down.

At 30, he will undoubtedly be considering his future at Chelsea. Speculation of a Ronaldo move to Real Madrid will probably continue.

But for now, Ronaldo can enjoy the crown of Champions League top scorer. The European player of the year award could well follow.

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