MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 20: Thomas Mueller (R) of Bayern Muenchen talks to Arjen Robben during the FC Bayern Muenchen after party at Postpalast on May 20, 2012 in Munich, Germany. Bayern Muenchen lost the Champions League final match against FC Chelsea at a penalty shot at the Fussball Arena München on May 19, 2012 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
In some circles (many circles, actually) Chelsea's Champions League win has been met with something approaching rancor. The Blues hardly sparkled their way through the competition, only achieving one emphatic win in their seven knockout matches, and that means that they, apparently, are unworthy winners. Football is, in the eyes of some, about the attack. Anything else is uncouth and, frankly, evil.
For me, football is about attack, sure. But it's also about defending well, taking your chances when they come, and not cracking under immense pressure during important situations. Chelsea were down and out no less than three times over the course of their European campaign (with a couple of other hairy moments on top of that). They lost 3-1 in the first leg against Napoli. They were down 2-0 at the Camp Nou with ten men before halftime. And they were 1-0 down in the 83rd minute of the final, against a better team and away from home.
The Blues never blinked.
When the pressure was on Barcelona, 2-1 up against ten-man Chelsea in the Camp Nou, Lionel Messi missed a penalty. When Real Madrid faced the stress of a shootout, they saw Manuel Neuer save tame efforts from Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka before Sergio Ramos skied a shot over the bar. Bayern Munich held their nerve in that match, more or less, but then in the final they lost their cool entirely.
It should have been easy. Bayern are a better footballing side with supposedly better finishers. They were playing at home. All they had to do was beat a team that finished sixth in the Premier League, a team they sliced open more or less at will. They totally and utterly failed.
Petr Cech made one good save from open play when he tipped Arjen Robben's shot onto the post. Other than that, Bayern were taking off-balance, shanked shots that either went well wide, cannoned straight into one of the defenders, or were inexplicably rolled past the post. Even Thomas Mueller's header for the goal wasn't particularly special (Cech should have saved it). Throughout the match, you could see Bayern getting nervier and nervier, and nobody looked more worried than Mario Gomez, who had a nightmare of a game, blowing every clear chance Chelsea presented him with.
We've seen a striker look an awful lot like Gomez did last weekend. Never taking the right shot, always being in nearly - but not quite - the right place, touching the ball to make things impossible to miss rather than just blasting away like a real centre forward would. He looked an awful lot like early-Chelsea Fernando Torres.
Meanwhile Didier Drogba had one half-chance, with the score 1-0 and with two minutes to play. He buried it, sending a screaming header past Neuer to equaliser with a fairytale goal. It was the best shot of the match and it came from the team which could do nothing at all for most of the game. Chelsea got one chance and took it. Bayern had a dozen and couldn't be bothered.
And then there's the penalties. Robben missed his kick and Bastian Schweinsteiger couldn't even look. Neither the Dutchman nor Toni Kroos* could bear to step up to the spot after extra time, meaning Neuer himself had to take a penalty (it was very good). On the fifth and decisive Bayern kick, Schweinsteiger staggered towards the ball, almost zombielike in his runup, and clattered a weak shot against the post before virtually collapsing in tears.
*I assume, since Jupp Henyckes referenced multiple players who refused to take penalties and Kroos is the only obvious candidate left.
Chelsea, of course, know the pain of a penalty shootout. They know it very well. And yet, the exhausted Juan Mata aside, they didn't even look like they were under any pressure at all. David Luiz's effort was absurd to the point of surrealism. Frank Lampard's cool and collected. Ashley Cole's was so precise that they should figure out a way of bottling it (pun intended) and selling it to people who... really need precision. And then Didier Drogba rolled the ball home for a win. There was never any doubt - even Torres, hardly noted for his confidence, had wanted to step up to take a kick.
Simply put, Chelsea are Champions of Europe because nobody else came close to deserving it. We might not have been the best team, but we're the side that didn't choke. And that counts for a lot.