...Stamford Bridge to the Luzhniki Finale : A Mission.
After ploughing millions into Chelsea, Russian playboy billionaire Roman Abramovich has the ultimate satisfaction this week of seeing the club play on his home turf in Moscow for the Champions League final. The European Champions' League finalists English Premiership sides Chelsea and Manchester United both arrived at the Russian capital with more than just great expectations.
There may still be less than 24 hours to go until the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final gets under way at the Luzhniki Stadium but excitement in Moscow is already fast approaching fever pitch as the city welcomes the European Champion Clubs' Cup showpiece for the first time.
As a massive Chelsea fan, here's a quick rundown on The Blues road to championship tomorrow (Haha! Yes. I am that optimistic that Chelsea will prevail and win) :
The notion that Chelsea FC would be gracing the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final seemed a distant one after the opening match of their campaign. Clawing their way back to claim a 1-1 draw against Rosenborg BK in front of a below-capacity crowd at Stamford Bridge, the London side looked every bit a team in trouble.
That impression was only magnified when inspirational manager José Mourinho left two days later. The fans were stunned and the press coverage unrelenting, not least when Avram Grant stepped out of the shadows to take over, but since then the Israeli has slowly but surely hauled the team back into the domestic and European limelight. Reasons for optimism began to appear very quickly, in fact, with Grant's very first UEFA Champions League outing producing an impressive 2-1 win at Valencia CF.
Didier Drogba struck the decider in that match, and the powerful Ivorian scored again as Chelsea followed up by defeating FC Schalke 04 2-0 at home. The German side were then held to a goalless draw in Gelsenkirchen, allowing Grant's men to wrap up qualification with a satisfying 4-0 triumph away to Rosenborg in Trondheim, where Drogba helped himself to two goals. Chelsea's final Group B outing ended 0-0 with Valencia, guaranteeing them the strongest defensive record of the opening phase with just two goals conceded.
Still few were betting on the club reaching Moscow, however, and their 3-0 aggregate win against Greek champions Olympiacos CFP in the first knockout round did little to change that. The quarter-finals provided a stiffer test and also what proved to be the team's only loss en route to Moscow as they succumbed 2-1 at Fenerbahçe SK, but an early Michael Ballack header calmed nerves in the second leg before Frank Lampard added another to confirm Chelsea's progress. That set up the club's fourth semi-final appearance in the last five seasons and their third against Liverpool FC, leaving the players desperate to end their losing streak against their Merseyside rivals.
The Anfield noise factor had seemed to swing previous encounters with the Reds, and Chelsea were suffering again when Dirk Kuyt scored 43 minutes into the opening leg. John Arne Riise's own goal deep into added time turned the tie on its head, though, giving the Blues the advantage going into the return game. They looked set to drive it home as Drogba gave Chelsea a first-half lead only for Fernando Torres to take the tie into extra time. There, a penalty from Lampard – less than a week after the death of his mother – and a sixth goal of the campaign for Drogba put the home side in command and, although Ryan Babel made it 3-2 late on, Chelsea had done enough to reach their first UEFA Champions League showpiece.