Chelsea topples Paris Saint-Germain to advance to Champions League semis
It was a heart-stopping night that produced a miracle and a near-miracle. The sides that had been beaten so badly in the first legs of these UEFA Champions League quarterfinals that the second games seem to leave them with little chance to advance made real matches of their contests regardless. Chelsea’s late 2-0 home win made up for their 3-1 away loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg, even if Borussia Dortmund’s 2-0 win on German soil wasn’t enough to overturn the 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in Spain last week.
It would have been ironic if Chelsea had been bounced from the tournament by a team that followed the Blues’ own blueprint. In the last few years, PSG became a side that was quickly bought together with the stated aim of winning in Europe, just as Chelsea were a decade ago. Chelsea was much the better side on Tuesday, as PSG evidently hadn’t acquired quite enough experience and know-how to hold down the aggregate result, especially without their best player, the injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Both sides made an eager start to the game. Chelsea obviously needed goals. But Paris Saint-Germain’s players simply aren’t wired to sit in. Playing time is so competitive in Paris these days and the pressure to perform so intense that they’d all quite like to stand out.
Still, it took almost half an hour for either side to forge a serious chance. In the 28th minute, by which Chelsea’s Eden Hazard had been taken off for Andre Schurrle, courtesy of an injury, Frank Lampard’s free kick by the corner of the box deflected violently but Salvatore Sirigu was very sharp with his reaction save at his near post.
Chelsea made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute. Weirdly, a long throw-in into the Parisians’ box bounced off the back of a ducking David Luiz. It fell for the wide-open Schurrle all the same, however, who cleanly slid his finish past Sirigu to put Chelsea down just a goal on aggregate – with the tie-breaking away-goal in hand.
Chelsea seemed to have recaptured the spirit of their round of 16 tie with Napoli during the 2011-12 season, when they overturned a 3-1 aggregate deficit after the first leg under newly installed manager Roberto Di Matteo, after Andre Villas-Boas’s sacking, and went on to lift the European crown.
And from there on, traffic flowed almost exclusively from the English to the French side of the field, with PSG only mustering the odd chance through Edinson Cavani. Still, the winning second goal would prove elusive for Chelsea. On the very next play, Schurrle was brought down in the box by Marco Verratti, who had already had a yellow card. But no foul called, and to be fair, such would have been a tad soft. Gary Cahill knocked a free kick down for himself in the box in the 37th minute but sliced through his finish.
And early in the second half, a really handsome attack, in which Chelsea pinged the ball from one side of PSG’s box to the other, culminated in a return to the central Schurrle, whose shot clanged off the bar past a beaten Sirigu. Not a minute later, Oscar curled a free kick from just outside the box onto that same uncharitable bar. Schurrle’s clever run in the 68th minute resulted in a shot that was simple for Sirigu to save.
As desperation set in, Demba Ba finally scored the winner in the 87th minute. He stayed aware on yet another scramble-like play in the box and was able to slide home the liberating goal from up close, after which his manager Jose Mourinho sprinted down the sideline to bellow instructions into his celebrating players’ ears.
”It happened so quickly,” Ba said. ”I was on the floor, just looked at the goal, and I saw the ball was in the net. It was a big joy for everyone. I just do what I have to do when I get chances. I haven’t had many this season.”
Chelsea thus advanced to the semis – Mourinho’s fifth in a row with three clubs – while PSG failed to match their best-ever European performance: reaching the semis in 1994-95.
”It’s a good victory, but so many semifinals for me, so many semifinals for Chelsea,” Mourinho said. ”Nothing extraordinary.”
Real Madrid, meanwhile, pushed into their fourth consecutive final four appearance.
Los Blancos survived a dramatic test in Dortmund, their first leg 3-0 victory just enough to see them into the semifinals despite a heroic Borussia battle.
”We are pleased to have reached the semis, that was our goal, but we are not pleased with the way we did it,” Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
Playing without injured Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid nearly saw everything slip away when Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller’s 16th-minute penalty save turned the match on its head.
With Ronaldo not available, Angel DiMaria took the spot kick after a handling call on Lukasz Piszczek offered Real the opportunity to kill off the tie. DiMaria’s shot to the right post was saved by Weidenfeller, that moment bringing both Borussia and the sellout BvB Stadion crowd to life.
When a dreadful Pepe headed-back pass fell for Marco Reus, the Borussia standout made no mistake in the 23rd minute. It was truly game-on when Reus scored again in the 37th minute, roofing a rebound of a Robert Lewandowski shot that came back off the right post. Reus had begun the play by springing his Polish attack partner after Illaramendi gave away possession near the halfway line.
It was one-way traffic now as the Madrid midfield looked non-existent and the defense was correspondingly shaky, but the Spanish side weathered the storm to the break.
That gave boss Carlo Ancelotti the opportunity to re-organize his struggling team. The introduction of Isco in midfield for the out-of-place Illaramendi was the first step in a much-improved second 45 minutes, but even with that adjustment Real Madrid can consider themselves very fortunate that Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a night of misery in front of goal.
Three golden chances fell to the Dortmund forward, but he shot wide of an open net, hit the near post of another open net and finally had a begging opportunity saved by Madrid keeper Iker Casillas. Indeed, Casillas pulled off a string of vital stops around the 70th minute as Dortmund threw everything into the chase for an equalizer.
Weidenfeller was also outstanding for Borussia, who ended a 34-match Real Madrid streak during which they had scored at least once in every match. In the end, his saves which kept Dortmund in with a chance were not quite enough to fuel a miracle turn-around.
FOXSoccer’s Jerry Trecker contributed to this column.