The second leg of the first UEFA Championship semi-final of this year was one of the greatest football matches (soccer games to you, Americans) that I have watched in quite a long time. Chelsea and Barcelona, two of the historically great European squads met up this afternoon at Camp Nou, Barca’s home ground, and played to a fantastic 2-2 draw with a trip to the Champions League Final on the line. As this was the second leg and final match of this semi-final series, Barcelona needed to overcome a 1-0 deficit from the previous match (due to a brilliant left-footed strike from Chelsea’s Didier Drogba just before half-time six days ago). And in the first 43 minutes of play it looked like Barca was the better team and the one destined to play in the final match of this 57th season of Champions League action, but I guess that is why the beautiful game is played for 90 minutes per match. As it stands, Chelsea and their supporters are the ones celebrating this evening, while Barca will try to get over the shock of this match.
All early signs pointed to Barcelona being the team that would be privileged to play one more match for Europe’s biggest prize. They were playing at home, many of Chelsea’s players were one yellow card away from being suspended for the potential final, and inexplicably moments after Barca’s defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets scored the aggregate tying goal in the 35th minute Chelsea’s captain John Terry was sent off for an intentional kneeing Barca forward Alexis Sanchez away from the ball. It got worse before it got better for Chelsea, as in the 43rd minute as Andres Iniesta scored off a feed from Lionel Messi to make the game score 2-0 and the aggregate 2-1. At that point all Barcelona needed to do was hold on, and with the talent that on that squad and the ball possession offense that they play it looked like they were poised to advance.
Two minutes after the Iniesta goal the game did change, and finally something went right for Chelsea. Just before half-time, Chelsea’s #7 Ramires, found himself in a position to chip the goalkeeper and as the ball sailed past Barca keeper Victor Valdes, Chelsea was right back in it. While still down 2-1 on the day, that goal gave them the first away goal of the series and the tie-breaker necessary to advance if the score remained the same after the second half.
The Fox Soccer announcers and probably millions of Chelsea and Barcelona fans around the world were stunned by the sudden fortunes of the English side, but many still thought that Barca was in a good position to advance. With Chelsea’s goal, Barca now needed to win the game by two goals, but they already had a 1 goal differential heading into the half and Lionel Messi has been a goal-scoring machine all year. And less than 5 minutes into the second half, it seemed like Barca had the chance they needed to get back on top. Chelsea forward Didier Drogba had been ruled to have tripped Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the box and Barcelona was awarded a penalty kick. Lionel Messi stepped to the spot, but his shot hit the crossbar and a huge opportunity was lost. After that moment you could start to see momentum shifting towards the 10-men Chelsea side, but the outcome was still very much in doubt.
Barcelona continued to control possession in the second half (83% to 17% for Chelsea) and shots (23 overall, 6 on goal for Barca; 7, 3 on target for Chelsea) but they were not able to put the ball in the back of the net, and that’s all that really matters. Barca did have two excellent chances in the final ten minutes of the match, one when Sanchez had a goal taken away for off-sides and another when Messi hit the post from twenty yards out. The outcome of this game was finally decided when Fernando Torres found himself all-alone on a breakaway and was able to dribble around the Barca goalkeeper to score in the 90th minute and put the game out of reach.
Today was just Chelsea’s day as they produced one of the greatest escapes in the history of European football and earned their spot in the May 19 Champions League Final in Munich, Germany. It is a day that football fans won’t soon forget and is arguably one of Chelsea FC’s greatest victories. They and have never won the UEFA Champions League and are going back to the final for just the second time in club history. Even though I follow one of Chelsea’s main rivals, Manchester United, this semi-final win by the Blues is something to admire. The grit, determination, and discipline (outside of Terry’s antics) shown today by Chelsea proves that they deserve to be in this spot and have a chance to take some hardware back to England next month. They will face the winner of the Real Madrid versus Bayern Munich semi-final which concludes tomorrow afternoon, and if that game is anything like what we saw today we’re in for a special treat.