Edwin van der Sar is mobbed by his United team-mates after saving Nicolas Anelka's penalty to win the 2008 Champions League final

'How I cracked Chelsea's strategy in Moscow'

Monday 21 May 2018 06:00

Ten years have passed since Manchester United lifted the UEFA Champions League on a dramatic, rain-sodden night at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Here, Edwin van der Sar goes into forensic detail on his role in that famous penalty shootout triumph over Chelsea…

"You dive to your right.

You see the ball coming towards you.

It touches your hands and goes away.

You have two, three, four seconds on your own.

Then you see the players coming towards you.

Ten years have gone by since Moscow, but they are magical memories.

I had a long career and people always talk to me about Moscow, but that gives me no irritation whatsoever. It was a magical moment for myself, for my club Manchester United, for Holland, for my parents, for my family, my wife and my kids so, of course, it doesn’t bother me at all.

If I think back I would rather have played, in European football, against European teams, rather than have an all-English Champions League final. Of course, Chelsea we knew. We were always battling it out for the Premier League title, for FA Cups and League Cups. In that way, all the players knew each other very well.

Maybe that is why it made the game more tactical, and it finished 1-1 after extra time. Now, I think the English are not that good at penalties, and historically Manchester United were the same. Germans, they have a 97 or 98 per cent winning rate in shootouts. So Michael Ballack goes first…


'Ballack goes first... scores!' Video

'Ballack goes first... scores!'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls Michael Ballack's penalty in Moscow...

I think Chelsea studied me. Normally, I study the penalty takers but Chelsea really studied my habits, my patterns and I think they did that very well.

Juliano Belletti.

He’d only just come on as substitute, just to take the penalty, so he must have been confident.


Frank Lampard.

I’d faced Frank a couple of times with penalties before. Chelsea were always getting cheap penalties against us, especially at Stamford Bridge. I did save one from him in the Charity Shield at the start of the season, but in the league, he beat me most of the time.

Unfortunately, also this one.

'I'd faced Frank a couple of times' Video

'I'd faced Frank a couple of times'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls Frank Lampard's penalty in Moscow...

Ashley Cole.

I was disappointed with that one. That should have been my penalty already. He’s a defender; I should have saved that one.

'I should've saved from Cole' Video

'I should've saved from Cole'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls Ashley Cole's penalty in Moscow...

John Terry. To win it.

It was a slippery pitch. I slipped for Chelsea’s goal during the game so, of course, the moment I dived to the right, I saw the ball going to the left. You see it in the blink of an eye and it’s off the post and out. 

That feeling. 

Okay, this is going to go wrong for them. 

This is our match, our trophy. 

In that moment, it felt like that.

I need to clear something up, by the way. I’ve seen some pictures of me standing over Terry after he missed. I’m generally quite a nice guy and that image, standing in front of him, is not me.

'It was a slippery pitch' Video

'It was a slippery pitch'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls John Terry's penalty in Moscow...

Anyway… Salomon Kalou.

Scores to my left. Again.

That was their strategy – going to the left. I think they analysed my penalties and probably 60-70 per cent of the time I went to the right. Less to the left and I stayed in the middle a couple of times. They really analysed that but it was also the turning point. I was starting to realise that every ball goes to my left.

Why is that? 

So I tried to make a little plan for the seventh penalty.

'Kalou scores to my left. Again!' Video

'Kalou scores to my left. Again!'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls Salomon Kalou's penalty in Moscow...

'I had a plan for Anelka' Video

'I had a plan for Anelka'

Watch as Edwin van der Sar recalls Nicolas Anelka's penalty in Moscow...

Nicolas Anelka.

Normally, as a striker who has scored 150-200 goals already, he knows how to be calm and collected to score. His heart-rate doesn’t go up. But I don’t think he felt confident when he walked up. 

Luckily, I could do some movements. I reacted a little bit to what had been happening. I pointed to the left. I know your game now. I know where you take the penalties and you are going to go to the left now. Luckily, he took the bait. 

I went to the right. The ball came to the right too. This one wasn’t in the corner. This one was an easy save. It comes towards you in that moment, it touches your hands and goes out.

I’m quite collected but I stood there and the guys are coming towards me. There are those three or four seconds on your own, when you see them coming and then…


Everything happens then.

I think Ronny collapsed on the pitch. Wazza touched a couple of the guys then jumped over the boards. The rest of the boys were on top of me. I still have some great pictures with Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson.

Of course, you make saves as a goalkeeper, play the ball from the back, catch a corner. But, to be like a striker, scoring in the last minute or getting the only goal of the game to win it, it’s much more difficult. For me, winning the Champions League for United in Moscow, after extra-time, after penalties, was fantastic.

I don’t watch it back every week, of course, but every time I see the footage – and it’s honestly not that often – then the feeling comes back. 

Yeah, this is the greatest moment of your life."