Chelsea stuns Barca, advances to final
Chelsea’s hopes looked all but over after going down 2-0 and having John Terry sent off for a needless foul in the first half, as Barcelona seemed well on its way to reach a third final in four years.
But Ramires’ audacious lob right before halftime gave the advantage back to the Blues on aggregate, and the Spanish giants never found away to recover after the break. After Lionel Messi blasted a penalty off the crossbar in the 59th and hit the post with another shot, substitute Fernando Torres netted in injury time to make it 3-2 on aggregate and ensure that Chelsea reached the May 19 final at Allianz Arena in Munich.
”We did it in a brilliant way. Defending well, and trying to score,” said Didier Drogba, who gave away the penalty by tripping Cesc Fabregas inside the area. ”I think we gave a lot to these games. Nobody expected us to be there (in the final), and we are.”
The result highlights a remarkable turnaround for Chelsea after manager Andre Villas-Boas was fired in March and replaced by Roberto di Matteo on an interim basis. The Blues are now in the Champions League and FA Cup finals despite languishing in sixth place in the Premier League, while Barcelona – considered by many to be the best club side of all time – could end its campaign without a major trophy. It lost 2-1 to Real Madrid at home over the weekend to all but end its hopes of a fourth straight Spanish league title, and now has no chance of becoming the first team to repeat as Champions League winners. It still has a chance to win the Copa del Rey.
Chelsea won the first leg 1-0 at Stamford Bridge last week after Drogba scored with the hosts’ only shot on target amid a series of wasted chances by Barcelona.
It is Chelsea’s first Champions League final since losing to Manchester United on penalties four years ago, and gives owner Roman Abramovich another chance to finally capture the elusive title in Europe’s premier club competition.
Bayern Munich leads Real Madrid 2-1 in the other semifinal going into the second leg in Spain on Wednesday.
While Chelsea celebrated its improbable run to the final, Messi left the field in tears.
Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta had put Barcelona up 2-0 by the 44th as the Spanish club again dominated possession from the start – owning 73 percent for the game. In between those goals, Terry was given a straight red card for putting his knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez, making a Chelsea fightback look even more unlikely.
”I feel as I let them down, I’ve apologized to them,” said Terry, who will also be absent. ”Looking at the replay, it does look like a red card.”
But just like at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea proved very opportunistic once it created a rare counterattack.
Ramires ran onto a long through ball from Frank Lampard to send an impressive lob over Victor Valdes to calm Chelsea’s nerves and boost the visitors morale as they headed back into the dressing room.
”We knew this is how we had to play against Barcelona, even if sometimes it’s not so attractive,” said Torres, who replaced Drogba with 10 minutes left. ”We used our strengths well and it worked for us in both games. They had their chances but they didn’t finish and Ramires’ goal gave us life.”
Barcelona’s inability to convert its possession advantage into goals was symbolized by Messi’s rare miss from the spot in the 49th, as the Argentina winger has now been held scoreless in seven meetings against Chelsea. Barcelona hasn’t been able to beat Chelsea in the last seven meetings, either.
Messi hasn’t scored in his last three games, after netting 63 times previously this season.
Torres, who has struggled all season, was then sent clear in acres of space and rounded Valdes to slot the ball into an empty net in injury time – his eighth goal in 11 games against Barcelona.
Chelsea’s defense, already without David Luiz, lost centerback Gary Cahill in the 12th with an apparent hamstring injury. Barcelona’s backline then lost Gerard Pique to a concussion in the 25th after he was knocked unconscious when colliding with teammate Victor Valdes in the rush to clear a long ball.
Cech was solid in Chelsea’s goal as he stuck his foot out in the 19th to deny Messi following a slick exchange with Fabregas. However, the Czech keeper was well out of position after Daniel Alves – who replaced Pique – gathered a short clearance and found Cuenca along the left to set up Busquets for an easy tap-in.
Terry’s sending off provided Barcelona with extra incentive and Messi drew enough of the defense to set up Iniesta for 2-0.
After Ramires cut the deficit in half, Barcelona attacked with further intent but Iniesta had a shot deflected wide in the 47th before tempers flared as Fabregas and Lampard exchanged words with even Messi interfering.
Sanchez saw his 54th-minute header fall wide of the near post before Cech stepped out to block Cuenca’s shot after Drogba had tested Valdes with a long ball from inside the Chelsea half.
Chelsea, which was eliminated by Barcelona in the 2009 semifinals after a contentious second leg, will be missing four players for the Munich final after Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic and Raul Meireles were all booked.