“Sometimes it’s nothing to do with football. Sometimes there’s someone up there watching out for you.”
That was certainly the case at Camp Nou as Chelsea somehow held out for almost two thirds of the game to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage.
Having done everything but knock the Chelsea goal down at Stamford Bridge last week; Barcelona were long (1/3) odds on favorites to reach the Champions League Final, despite the Blues having somehow nicked a 1-0 home lead from the first leg.
The Londoners showed terrific guts and spirit to hold out wave after wave after wave of Catalan attack (despite the home side hitting the woodwork twice again); this must go down as one of the greatest nights in Chelsea’s history.
Having struggled since joining the club in January last year, it was fitting that Fernando Torres scored the clinching goal deep in injury-time. With the freedom of Camp Nou as Chelsea repelled another Barca attack, the Spaniard proceeded to run 50 yards with the ball, before rounding goalkeeper Valdes and tapping home to an empty net as Chelsea sealed a place in the final with a 3-2 aggregate win (though they had been leading on away goals before Torres’ last gasp clincher).
It was always likely to be a busy night for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and that was how it proved, including getting a finger onto a Messi pile driver to force the ball onto a post ten minutes from time as the Pensioners clung to their lead. Speaking immediately after the game, the Czech international beamed: “We had to try to survive and we survived pretty well.”
The night did not start well for the three times Premier League champions with center half stalwart Gary Cahill having to come off with a hamstring injury after just 11 minutes.
Busquets then scored a tap in for the home side ten minutes before half time as Barcelona’s pressure finally got the reward it deserved.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as captain John Terry committed a stupid off the ball, kicking Sanchez in the back ten minutes from the end of the first half which was rewarded with the red card it deserved.
The four times European champions were 2-0 up on the stroke of half-time and finally ahead (2-1) in the tie as Iniesta finished off a sumptuous passing move following a fantastic one-two between Fabregas and Messi which ripped the Chelsea defence to shreds.
It looked like being a long, long night for Chelsea at that stage until Brazilian youngster Ramires popped up in front of goalkeeper Valdes 25 yards from goal and the 25 year-old clipped a fabulous chip over the custodian which nestled in the back of the net and suddenly Chelsea were once again ahead in the tie (on away goals).
The expected onslaught from the home side continued apace from the start of the second half with the home side totally on top once again.
Six minutes into the second half Fabregas went down very easily under a challenge from Drogba. Messi stepped up to smash the penalty onto the crossbar. This was his sixth match against Chelsea and he is still to net one against the Londoners.
the remainder of the match continued with Barcelona totally on top and Chelsea putting all ten men behind the ball for almost the entire time. With a bank of five and another bank of four in front of goalkeeper Cech; the defensive effort repelled most of what the Spanish champions threw at them. When their line was breached; Cech was there to pull off the saves with Drogba putting in a fantastic shift also as he showed his defensive capabilities. Lampard also covered every blade of grass on the night, though this was a night for the team.
Following Terry’s red card, Cahill’s injury (which will likely rule him out of the final), Ramires, Ivanovic and a number of others suspended, Chelsea will be down to the bare bones for the Champions League final.
Those are all concerns for another day however. Tonight will be remembered as arguably the greatest night in Chelsea’s history, against probably the best team they have ever played, with the few thousand Blues fans who traveled staying in the ground for hours after the final whistle. Real Madrid or Bayern Munich await in the final in Munich on 19th May.
It’s worth recalling that Chelsea scored three goals from four attempts over the two legs. Those goals came in injury-time at the end of the first-half in both ties as well as in injury-time of the second half of the second leg – periods of the match when Barca had no time to respond as the teams were headed for the dressing rooms. I’ve never believed in things being “written in the stars. ” Until now that is.
Special mention also deserves to go to Barcelona as every one of their players stayed on the Camp Nou pitch to shake hands with their conquerors’. The Catalans are great players and will be back. They showed against Chelsea that they are also great lads, showing no histrionics. This night was Chelsea’s though. The king is dead long live the king. For now at least.