Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3): Knees-up as Torres puts Blues in final
Published 21:48 24/04/12 By Martin Lipton
It could not happen. Simply could not happen.
Not against Barcelona in the Nou Camp. Not playing for nearly an hour with 10 men against the greatest team on the planet.
But somehow, on a night that transcended belief, turned everything we are supposed to know on its head, it did.
From utter despair, facing death by a thousand cuts at the hands of Lionel Messi and Co, captain John Terry in the doghouse, hope virtually extinguished, Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea found their finest, most remarkable result.
Quite how remains a mystery this morning, will have left the Chelsea fans who remained perched in the uppermost tier of the Catalan cathedral long after every other seat had emptied still shaking their heads in joyous disbelief.
When you go two down to Barcelona, you lose.
When you go two down and a man down, when your defensive kingpin experiences a moment of madness to haunt him, you lose big-time.
When you are penned back on the edge of your own box, with your back line almost entirely reshaped by injury and indiscipline, you get mauled, pulverised, battered black and blue.
Yet Chelsea ignored what all the normal principles of football ordered.
Just as they started to when Andre Villas-Boas was ditched in favour of Di Matteo two months ago, when they seemed all but eliminated after 90 minutes in Naples.
Where they should have folded, fallen apart, accepted the inevitable, something astonishing was born, a night that will live in Chelsea legend. much make Roman Abramovich consider Di Matteo for the job for real.
This was the footballing equivalent of Rorke's Drift, Di Matteo's men first refusing to roll over in the face of overwhelming odds, then, almost inconceivably, dethroning the Kings of Europe on their own sacred turf.
Incredibly, even after this night of nights, it will only get harder for them to make history in Munich next month, whether against Bayern or, of course, Jose Mourinho, the man whose fingerprints remains all over this Chelsea side.
Along with Terry's red card, the bookings picked up by Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires mean all four will be absent from the side on May 19.
How this tale transpired defied belief, too, as Terry, incredibly, went from being the story of the evening to a remarkable sub-plot, Messi emerged as the unlikely villain of the piece.
Soon after Sergio Busquets stroked home Isaac Cuenca's cross to level the tie, Terry gave Alexis Sanchez a sly, needless knee up the rear end, behind the back of Turkish referee Cuynet Cakir but spotted by his eagle-eyed assistant.
Chelsea were already rocking at this point, having lost hamstring victim Gary Cahill inside 12 minutes and Terry looked in stunned horror at Cakir, as if suddenly realising the enormity of his crime.
His folly was almost instantly punished as Chelsea's re-jigged back division - Ivanovic had already moved inside and now he was joined by Cahill's replacement Jose Bosingwa - was over-run, Messi setting up Andres Iniesta.h
Yet the inevitable - only Petr Cech's reflexes to foil Messi, bad finishing and goalline clearances from Ivanvic and Asley Cole had kept the Blues on terms for that long - did not come to pass.
In first half stoppage time Ramires, galloped forward from his emergency duties at right-back, running at full-pelt yet finding the calmness and precision to dink a sand-wedge over the head of Victor Valdes.
And then, right at the death, after Messi had slammed a penalty against the bar when Didier Drogba downed Cesc Fabregas and smashed another shot against the post, after Alexis Sanchez' strike was rightly ruled out for offside, after Cech had pulled off save after save, the ultimate moment.
When Abramovich paid £50million to secure the services of Fernando Torres, it was to score the big goals in the big games, to beat the likes of Barcelona.
The Spaniard has been surplus to requirements under Di Matteo, was again omitted in favour of one-man battering ram Didier Drogba last night.
He only had a handful of minutes, after Drogba, running the risk of getting another red card, was finally given a breather and there were just seconds left when Barca's last advance was hacked away.
Suddenly, Torres had the Barcalona half to himself, only Valdes in front of him, time standing still as he rounded the keeper before slotting home. It feels like destiny.