JOHN Terry is destined to go down in European football history as the man who only had to score a penalty to win the Champions League – and missed.
The Chelsea captain stepped up to the mark knowing that a successful spot kick would clinch victory and send him up the steps to collect the huge silver trophy. But he slipped as he took the spot kick and fell to the ground as his effort clattered off the right hand upright.
From, that point on the Champions League dream began to crumble, and when Nicolas Anelka's kick was saved by Edwin van der Sar the trophy was delivered into the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson for a second time, Terry slumped to the turf, head low between his legs as the celebrations began for Manchester United.
Nothing could console the England centre half as Champions League glory evaporated in the early hours of a Moscow morning, not even the words of teammates from both sides who sprang to his defence as a sense of despair engulfed him, his team-mates, no doubt the Russian billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich sitting in the stand and the thousands of Blues fans who had made the trip to Moscow.
When you have climbed so high and come so close to the summit, the tumble down is bound to be a painful one.
"John Terry's a man's man, not many centre halves will stand up and say I will take the last penalty because everybody knows that's the thing it can hang on," said a tearful Frank Lampard, whose equaliser had cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo's opener.
Behind the tears was a season of spectacular near misses – all put into context by the unexpected death of Lampard's mother, Pat.
"You have got to hold your hands up," he said. "They won it and all credit to them." But Lampard was adamant that the team will bounce back from a season of missed chances.
"I think we'll be back. We're a strong unit and we showed that today," he said.
The jubilant Red Devils took time out to deliver words of sympathy to Terry and co.
"I was thinking he's going to score," Rio Ferdinand said of his England team-mate's skewed penalty. "He's a great penalty taker normally but he slipped. Unfortunately someone's got to lose and tonight it's them."
"We've had fate on our side all season and I felt that fate played its hand with John Terry slipping," Ferguson said.
Chelsea fans at the match were stunned after losing the penalty shoot-out. Peter Slade, 56, a printer from Surbiton, Surrey, said: "I am just stunned. I'm a long-term Chelsea fan since the 1960-61 season, and I just can't believe this has happened. We hit the woodwork twice, and I thought we were going to win the penalty shootout."
Mick Saward, 52, a taxi driver from St Albans, Herts, put a brave face on it. "I think they gave their best. I feel so sorry for John Terry, who slid when he was taking his penalty. It was just like a deja vu of when that happened to David Beckham," he said. "But we must give it to Manchester United, fair play, and we'll be back."
Chelsea manager Avram Grant was full of praise for his talismanic captain who sobbed on his shoulder after the defeat. "He is very sad and has cried but he is the main reason we are here," said the Israeli. "This was not a normal season for Chelsea but he was there whenever we needed him. He took the last penalty, he is a great player, a great captain and was fantastic today."
Asked if Drogba would have taken a penalty and not Terry Grant replied tersely: "He was not on the field."
Grant took control of Chelsea in September after previous coach Jose Mourinho left the club and he guided them to second place in the Premier League behind United.
As well as losing in the Champions League final, their first appearance in Europe's premier competition, they also lost in the League Cup final to Tottenham Hotspur but Grant maintained the club had improved since Mourinho left. "I think it has been a terrific season and everyone at Chelsea can be very optimistic about the future," he added. Grant's future has been the subject of intense speculation for months but he would not be drawn on that subject. "I am not thinking about that," he said. "All I do know is that I will not be very happy for the next few days at least."
It seemed only human that Terry could be forgiven for his mistake; after all, he made a superb clearing header inside the box to protect Petr Cech in extra time when Manchester United were threatening. The same could not be said of Didier Drogba. The Ivorian striker who threatened the goal on more than once occasion, let his team-mates down by getting involved in a needless scuffle in the 116th minute when a melee developed out of nothing.
Tempers boiled over and Drogba was sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic with what looked oddly like a single finger as if he was intent on checking the quality of his opponent's 1am shadow.
Bearing in mind Drogba's predatory instinct in front of goal throuighout the competition, Chelsea could have done with him in the shootout.
Instead, they were treated to a disbelieving stare at the Slovakian referee, then a long, sullen walk from the pitch.
The whole farce was not quite the explosive nature of the Zinedane Zidane's World Cup final dismissal against Italy perhaps, nor the needless attempted headbutt of Rangers' Daniel Cousin against Fiorentina in the Uefa Cup semi-final second leg, but it was a costly act of rank stupidity nonetheless.
Saward claimed Drogba getting sent off was crucial.
"If he had been there to take his penalty, that wouldn't have put the pressure on Terry," he said.