As Andre Villas-Boas tries to pick out the pieces from a disappointing night in Naples, one moment will give the Chelsea manager hope that he can overturn the 3-1 score line. Just 10 minutes from the end of the first leg, Napoli’s energetic wing back Christian Maggio found his way on the end of Marek Hamsik’s ball across goal who was only denied by the lingering left boot of Ashley Cole. He may have surprisingly begun the game on the bench, but the man whose form has dipped in recent months was still focused and instinctive with his positioning that those actions could be the difference between Champions League success and failure.
Napoli’s relentless attacking triumvirate caused concern for a disorganized Chelsea defence all night and having forced Petr Cech from the comfort of his line, the keeper can only have assumed the worst. Ashley Cole was there to put his body on the line, but will his actions be enough to change the course of this Champions League story as the following five players managed to do before?
1. William Gallas versus AC Milan (2010/11 Last 16 Second Leg)
Providing the best value for a match ticket in the 2010-11 Champions League, Tottenham’s attacking football was a joy to watch and Redknapp’s side were particularly ruthless at the Lane. When AC Milan turned up for the second leg of their last 16 tie, Spurs found life more difficult however. Going into the match with a slender 1-0 win at the San Siro, Milan dominated possession and put the back four of Dawson, Gallas, Asoit Ekotto and Corluka and holding midfielder Sandro under intense pressure. In the 25th minute, William Gallas, a player with plenty of Champions League experience came to the rescue of his goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes leaping to block a Robinho’s deflected shot off the line. Spurs held out to secure a quarter final tie against Real Madrid where the Champions League journey would end.
2. Henning Berg versus Inter Milan (1998/99 Quarter Final First Leg)
En route to that historic final in Barcelona, United had to negotiate their way past an Inter Milan side that topped their group beating Real Madrid in the process. With a side containing the likes of Chilean Ivan Zamorano, Youri Djorkaeeff and a young Nicola Ventola, a certain Diego Simeone would face David Beckham for the first time since the infamous night in St Etienne. Ferguson’s side were already 2-0 up courtesy of a Dwight York brace in the first half, but Inter continued to probe for an away goal, and it was thanks to Peter Schmeichel and a stubborn back four that the score remained at 2-0. It could have been an even tougher trip to the San Siro in the return leg had United’s Norwegian centre back Henning Berg not been in place to block defender Francesco Colonnese’s shot.
3. Djimi Traore versus AC Milan (2004/05 Final)
As you once again come to terms with the fact that the French-born Malian international is the proud owner of a Champions League winner’s medal, Liverpool fans will never forget the defender’s heroic piece of defending on that famous night in Istanbul. Traore unsurprisingly struggled against Shevchenko, Kaka and company particularly the Ukranian who got the better of the defender on several occasions in the first half. Just six minutes after Liverpool drew level in the most dramatic of circumstances, Milan managed to regain some composure after the quick-fire treble and once again set upon the Liverpool goal. Step forward Traore who endeared himself to the Liverpool faithful by hacking away Shevchenko’s shot after Dudek was lured off his line.
4. Andrea Ranocchia versus Bayern Munich (2010/11 Last 16 Second Leg)
It was a repeat of the 2009-10 final and this last 16 match up will be remembered as one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. Leonardo’s men with an unconvincing defensive performance looked like they would be leaving the competition having succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in the first leg. Despite Inter scoring early at the Allianz Arena, Bayern were 2-1 up in the match and 3-1 on aggregate with Thomas Muller looking a continuing threat. It was Muller who was denied the opportunity to put some distance between the two sides, but Andrea Ranocchia lunged to save a shot from Muller after Mario Gomez had laid the ball across an unprotected goal. Inter held on in time for Goran Pandev to step off the bench and score a spectacular winner and send the Nerrazzuri through to the quarter-finals and the Inter fans into raptures.
5. John Terry versus Manchester United (2007/08 Final)
He had the opportunity to deliver the Champions League trophy that Abramovich craved in the billionaire’s own backyard, but John Terry’s penalty miss and subsequent tears after will be the iconic moments from a Champions League final that Chelsea fought back to take the match all the way to penalties. The first half was undeniably United’s and the second Chelsea’s, and into extra-time the game opened up as body and minds began to tire at the Luzhniki Stadium. Lampard had rattled the underside of Van De Sar’s bar in the early minutes and then Ryan Giggs on as a substitute and surpassing Bobby’s Charlton’s appearances record in the process was denied by Terry in such spectacular fashion after Patrice Evra helped fashion the chance. Chelsea and United fans of course know what happened next when players from either side had the responsibility of slotting the ball away from twelve yards in a goal that shrunk in size with every penalty miss.