Roberto Di Matteo and Didier Drogba have proven their value to Chelsea Football Club in helping the team to the Champions’ League title (Image | Reuters)

It takes more than physical skill to be a winner at the highest level of professional sport. It needs grit, determination, focus and confidence. Chelsea have shown that in spades in their last three Champions’ League games. In both legs against Barcelona in the semi finals, the Blues were pinned to the proverbial wall from start to finish; tonight, in the main, was more of the same.

Home-town favourites Bayern Munich had more of the ball, four times as many opportunities on goal, and a plethora of chances to kill the 2012 Champions’ League Final both in regular time and extra time. Arjen Robben’s missed penalty, chances squandered by Mario Gomes and Thomas Muller, the botched pass from Ivica Olic which rolled past Daniel van Buyten before an open goal …

And yet Chelsea were the victors, courtesy of defying all the odds over 270 minutes. Even after John Terry’s moment of insanity in the Nou Camp, Roberto Di Matteo’s ten men clung grimly on, finding the mental strength to recover from 2-0 down and advance with an astonishing display of bloody-mindedness and sheer willpower.

Several of Chelsea’s staff embody this mental capacity. Di Matteo’s composure, level-headedness and humility in the face of all the pressures and plaudits he has encountered of late have been incredibly eye-catching. He refuses to let the incessant speculation over his future cloud the importance of the present, and has cajoled a squad which was at breaking point into an impenetrable, cohesive unit.

Didier Drogba’s selfless energy and work ethic have shone out over Chelsea’s run to the Champions’ League trophy. The Ivorian’s commitment to covering his teammates is outstanding. Chelsea fans will have noticed it long ago, I’m sure, but it’s only really dawned on me watching the semi-finals and tonight’s game that whenever Ashley Cole or Jose Bosingwa is caught out of position, it’s almost invariably Drogba who busts a gut to get back there and plug the gap. Yes, he conceded a penalty in extra time – but doesn’t that tell you something? How many strikers would have been in the position to concede it?

Veteran striker Drogba may have just played his final game for Chelsea – but between his effort defensively, the bullet header to equalise in the dying moments and the title-clinching penalty conversion, surely he has done enough to extend his eight-year stay in London. And even in the jubilant scenes which followed the shoot-out, the Ivorian found time to console not only Bastien Schweinstaiger, but his former Chelsea teammate Robben, with whom he talked and hugged for some time while his teammates celebrated.

Depleted in midfield, Di Matteo leaned heavily on Frank Lampard to anchor his team, and the Chelsea stalwart did not disappoint. This was not a night for Lampard to showcase his attacking talents, but he covered as much ground as he could in shadowing Muller and Toni Kroos and harrassing Bayern’s creative talents when they came within shooting range.

Ashley Cole rolled back the years to produce one of the finest defensive displays of his Chelsea career (Image | Sky Sports)

And then there was the back four. Many – me, for a start – believed that the absence of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic would be decisive. Although Bosingwa and David Luiz weren’t perfect in their performance – Luiz committed so many fouls it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him sent to an early bath – their work rate was outstanding. Gary Cahill played through the pain barrier in extra time.

Cole, meanwhile, personifies the siege-defence mentality Chelsea have been forced to adopt in the latter stages of this tournament, the England left-back producing one of the most memorable displays of his career in timing every tackle to perfection and getting in block after block as Munich threatened to overcome their ‘visitors’.

Many in red showed that they had what it takes to win tonight, too. Manuel Neuer, barely tested in two hours of football, stood up to save Juan Mata’s penalty and then convert his own in the shoot-out. Philipp Lahm exorcised his shoot-out demons of the semi-final; Muller recovered from a couple of poor misses to score the opening goal seven minutes from the end of normal time.

In the end, however, Bayern didn’t get enough from their front three tonight. Robben, Gomes and Frank Ribery combined to blaze shot after shot over the bar or round the post, and on several occasions missed the target when it should have been easier to hit it. And after Robben’s penalty miss in extra time seemed to herald a shoot-out, it was Schweinstaiger, the archetypal Munich hero, whose stuttering run-up backfired so spectacularly in the final moment of the competition.

There will, naturally, be endless questions over the next couple of months about the futures of Di Matteo, Drogba and others in the Chelsea squad. For now, at least, they have proven their worth – mentally, as well as in terms of results – to Roman Abramovich and Chelsea.

Tweet the author: @RobertSchatten

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