Didier Drogba collected the ball on the edge of the Napoli penalty area and, with the match in the balance, swivelled past a defender and cut a low cross in the general direction of the penalty spot, just hoping someone would be there to hit it home. Branislav Ivanovic had stayed in the box after a free kick just moments before and he was the man who met Drogba’s cross. The Serb’s strike rose into the roof of net and he sprinted away in celebration at the Shed End, sliding on his knees towards the corner flag with almost the whole stadium in raptures. What Ivanovic and his teammates didn’t know at the time was that this goal would prove crucial in the compelling story that followed.
Chelsea face Inter on Saturday in Singapore as they continue their preparations for the new season in the Premier League and Champions League. There have been many great matches against Italian opposition over the years but one that sticks in the mind is that tie against Napoli in 2012 on the way to winning the Champions League for the first time
After a poor showing and team selection in the first leg in Naples, Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as manager and replaced by assistant and former player, Roberto Di Matteo. This was one of Di Matteo’s first jobs in management and his first one in the Champions League. His job in just his second game in charge was to defeat a strong Napoli side who had a 2-goal lead in the last 16 of the Champions League. After Villas-Boas left out many of the senior players in the defeat in the first leg, Di Matteo started the likes of Drogba, Lampard, Ivanovic and Terry as he looked to complete a comeback for the ages.
Chelsea took the lead midway through the first half after Ramires’s cross found Drogba who guided his header into the near bottom corner. The Ivorian ran over to Ramires to celebrate but both the players realised they needed to get the game restarted in order to keep up this momentum. It wasn’t until the second half that the Blues went ahead in the tie as Lampard’s corner found JT at the near post. The captain’s header flew past Morgan De Sanctis in the Napoli goal and it seemed the job was done but most people in the stadium weren’t expecting the twist that followed.
Gokhan Inler scored a stunning half-volley from the edge of the area, beating Petr Cech and sending the Italian side back in front in the tie. The minutes ticked by and Chelsea’s time in the Champions League seemed numbered until former Liverpool man, Andrea Dossena, handled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Mr Reliable, Frank Lampard stepped up and fired his spot-kick down the middle and most importantly, into the back of the net. The 3-1 score line matches Napoli’s lead in the first leg and the game went into extra time where Branislav Ivanovic wrote his name into Chelsea history by sending his side into the quarter-finals and beyond.
Di Matteo had put his trust in the so-called Old Guard and, all those 4 names that I mentioned earlier, scored against Napoli in this epic comeback. The Old Guard went on to help Chelsea win their first ever Champions League and this game against Napoli kick-started this incredible run.