Chelsea seemingly wrote their own script today as they managed to draw 2-2 with Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and send them through to the Champions League Final, to face either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
The task was enormous to start with, but had to play an hour of the game with 10 men thanks to John Terrys sending off.
Having been unbeaten in six against the reigning champions, they went into the game in high spirits, and defended comfortably for the first half an hour, before Busquets scored from close range.
Terry was then sent off just two minutes later, and it took just 6 minutes for the Catalan giants to double their lead, and put them ahead in the tie, but in first half stoppage time, Ramires chipped delightfully on the counter, before Chelsea resisted the attacking force, and survived a penalty, before stealing the game in the 90th minute, after Torres raced clear.
It was the kind of game that made The Matrix look realistic, although the first half hour was very predictable. Chelsea got the ball to Drogba when they could, and were intent to disrupt the rhythm of the Spaniards, and get the crowd agitated. That they managed, until Messi found time unmarked, to square the ball for the unlikely of scorers, in Sergio Busquets.
Then came a moment of madness, Chelsea trying to get to half time unscathed, were put on the back foot when John Terry inexplicably kneed Alexis Sanchez from behind, before being showed the dreaded blood-red card.
After heading for an early bath, the Chelsea captain would’ve wanted the ground the swallow him up, as Iniesta found the space to slot past Petr Cech on 41 minutes, while the anguish was painted on the faces of all from the Bridge. With nearly 50 minutes of the tie left, they were out bar a miracle, one that had someone predicted, they would’ve most likely been checked into the nearest mental clinic.
They needed someone to keep their calm, and they got it in stoppage time, with Barca looking to end the tie pre-break, Frank Lampard played the most exquisite of passes to Ramires, who produced a training ground chip over Valdes from all of 25 yards, to send Chelsea into the break with a glimmer of hope.
At half-time, Chelsea were going through by the away goals ruling, but were still huge underdogs, and would have to face an entire 45 minutes without conceding, with only 10 men against Europes most formidable attack.
It seemed over again just minutes into the second period, when Drogba tripped Iniesta in the box, allowing the worlds greatest a chance from 12 yards to effectively end the tie. Millions watched, as he smashed the ball into the crossbar, sending more jolts of belief into the Chelsea team, and few could believe it.
In a true backs-to-the-wall effort, Chelsea camped out in their half, refusing to even chase their own clearences, as minute-by-minute, the red and blue striped giants honed in on their area. One by one, players in white picked up yellow cards, ruling three of them out of a final that they were increasingly close too, but all that mattered to them was putting the club on the turf in that match.
Didier Drogba, who had played left-back for 25 minutes, came off for Fernando Torres, who although didn’t put in as good a defensive shift, gave his all.
The clock ticked by, and the millions that were waiting for Barcelona to score, realised the clock had hit 90 minutes. Three were added on, and the whole Barca team were dotted around the penalty area, passing, and passing, waiting for a gap in the Chelsea brick wall to appear. It didn’t, and when they tried to force it, the ball was booted 50 yards back yet again.
But this time was different. Fernando Torres had been left all alone, and he controlled the ball, and stared at the 40 yards of vacant grass ahead of him. Time seemed to stop, as Mascherano gave chase, to no avail, as the £50m hitman rounded Victor Valdes, and sloted the ball into the deserted net.
Barcelona players had their heads in hands, and with seconds left on the clock, the reigning Champions had been eliminated on their own turf, by a wounded animal, that was begging to be put down after 42 minutes, one that had come back to stun the world, in one of the most amazing games of football in a long time.
The Camp Nou was silent apart from the pocket of Chelsea fans who had made the trip, for one of those ‘I was there’ moments. Last years Champions stayed on the field, congratulating the victors, and Chelsea players celebrated, like they had already won the trophy, a team that three months ago, had been destroyed in Naples, and on their way out.
Roberto Di Matteo has worked wonders since, and with a double Cup Final date to look forward to, few would argue should Roman hand over a contract this weekend.
By Brad Smith