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2007/08: Fate favours triumphant United

Fifty years on from the Munich air crash, and 40 years since Manchester United FC were first crowned European champions, they won their second UEFA Champions League, beating Chelsea FC on penalties at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Sir Alex Ferguson lifts the European Cup
Sir Alex Ferguson lifts the European Cup ©Getty Images

Manchester United FC 1-1 Chelsea FC (aet, United win 6-5 on penalties)
(Ronaldo 26; Lampard 45)
Luzhniki, Moscow

Sir Alex Ferguson said "fate had played its hand" after his Manchester United FC side defeated Chelsea FC 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to win the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League.

Fifty years on from the Munich air crash, and 40 years since United were first crowned European champions, Edwin van der Sar blocked Nicolas Anelka's spot-kick to clinch a third European Champion Clubs' Cup for United and the second of Sir Alex's reign, John Terry having slipped to miss an earlier effort for Chelsea that would have handed them victory.

Sir Bobby Charlton, who survived the Munich disaster and went on to score twice in the 1968 European Cup final win against SL Benfica, led the United players up the stairs at the Luzhniki Stadium to lift the cup on the evening that Ryan Giggs broke his appearance record with his 759th club game. "I said we wouldn't let the memory of the Busby Babes down," Sir Alex said. "Fate played its hand today. We had a cause which is important and people with causes become very difficult people to fight against."

United's third triumph in the competition was founded on defensive solidity and the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo who signalled both his and the club's intentions by scoring the winner in the opening group match away to his former team Sporting Clube de Portugal, and four more clinical victories soon followed. The Portuguese winger found the net three more times in back-to-back wins over FC Dynamo Kyiv then proved the thorn in Sporting's side again with a late free-kick at Old Trafford. Only a 1-1 draw at AS Roma prevented United from finishing Group F with a 100 per cent record, although they would erase that minor blip by eliminating Luciano Spalletti's men in the quarter-finals.

United's opponents in the first knockout round, Olympique Lyonnais, came within three minutes of inflicting a first defeat on the English champions only for Carlos Tévez to salvage a 1-1 draw at the Stade de Gerland and Ronaldo to finish the job off in the second leg with another decisive strike. The 23-year-old was in unstoppable form for much of the campaign, moving clear at the top of the UEFA Champions League scoring charts by registering his seventh goal in the quarter-final first leg Roma, as further strikes from Wayne Rooney in Italy and Tévez at Old Trafford ensured the same outcome as 12 months previously.

United fans were hoping that similarities with 2006/07 would end there, but must have feared a repeat of the AC Milan defeat a year earlier when Ronaldo missed a penalty three minutes into their semi-final with FC Barcelona in the Camp Nou. However, unlike at San Siro the visitors' defence – expertly marshalled by Rio Ferdinand – stood firm and United claimed a goalless draw. That game may have lacked the fireworks of United's visit to the city nine years earlier, when Ole Gunnar Solskjær's last-gasp goal against FC Bayern München clinched the UEFA Champions League trophy, yet the result proved every bit as vital after Paul Scholes' magnificent goal 14 minutes into the second leg at Old Trafford carried Sir Alex's side to Moscow.

There they would meet Chelsea in the first all-English final, but the notion the London side would get that far seemed a distant one after the opening match of their campaign. Clawing their way back to claim a 1-1 draw against Rosenborg BK 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. The Israeli, though, 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 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. 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. Lampard would rise to the occasion once again in Moscow, drawing Chelsea level shortly before half-time after Ronaldo had headed United in front. Both sides created chances in a thrilling contest played out in pouring rain, but there were no more goals until the dramatic shootout sealed United's third triumph.