Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona: Drogba puts Blues in dreamland
Published 21:43 18/04/12 By Martin Lipton
Half-way to Paradise. Half-way to the Promised Land.
The unlikely dream lives on, shining brighter than anyone could have believed, after a victory chiseled out of sheer resilience, utter desire, complete and total conviction.
And while the most difficult, perilous stage of the ultimate Chelsea journey has to be survived and travelled in the Nou Camp next week, nobody can count them out.
Not when they can defend with such intensity, such nerve, such belief.
Not when they can give Roberto Di Matteo so much, frustrating, denying, refusing to concede any ground, as near to defensively "perfect" as they could be.
A night which was supposed to be about Lionel Messi became a story of less illustrious heroes, dressed in blue and not black.
Of Ashley Cole, a purring prince on the left.
Of John Terry, epitomising stoic resolve.
Of Gary Cahill, emerging from his moments of first half doubt to play with maturity and assurance.
And, of course, as on so many of the great nights during the Roman Abramovich era, of Didier Drogba.
The Ivorian has scored many better goals in the Champions League. Indeed, he has scored better goals against Barcelona.
But the one he forced home in first half stoppage time, his fifth on the Road to Munich, means Chelsea - Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea - head to the Nou Camp with the priceless advantage, the edge. Perhaps, after all they survived, the initiative.
Of course, it was not just the goal, in the right spot to turn home Ramires' cross-shot off the gloves and chest of Victor Valdes.
It was also the way Drogba played as the lone out-ball in a route-one team that had no choice but to show courage and resolve from the first kick.
He does infuriate, anger, irritate. If you started counting the number of times he went down and stayed down on your hands, you would run out of digits.
Yet Drogba remains a monster, a beast, able to occupy an entire back line on his own, as he had to here, buying Chelsea the priceless, precious time to regroup, reform and prepare for the next Barcelona wave.
Waves which broke on the bulwarks of Chelsea's determined resistance time and again, the ceaseless tide stymied by the rugged rocks, 72 per cent of the ball adding up to one big fat zero.
On occasions, as Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas ensured Barca stayed true to Pep Guardiola's unyielding and abiding principles all the way until the final seconds of added time, when Pedro rolled against the post and Sergio Busquets blazed over, it did not seem as if it would be enough.
The first half in particular saw four massive Barcelona chances, starting in the ninth minute when Iniesta's quality saw Alexis Sanchez in on goal, lobbing over Petr Cech with the ball hanging in the air before it dropped onto the bar.
Fabregas, of all people, missed a sitter when Cech parried Iniesta's shot straight to him, then stung the keeper's palms after out-thinking Cahill. Messi had a header saved.
Then, the crucial two minutes.
First, Messi rolled John Obi Mikel on half-way and tore forward, before slipping in Fabregas, who teased past Cech with the outside of his right foot only for Cole to clear off the line.
And almost instantly, the little Argentine was caught in possession by Frank Lampard, who spotted Ramires' lung-busting run into the space exposed by Dani Alves - the midfielder's main job was to stop his fellow Brazilian cantering forward - with Drogba on hand to profit.
Barcelona looked shell-shocked and while they made an early surge after the break, Adriano's curler kept out by Cech, Chelsea visibly grew, in determination and defiance.
Cahill was immaculate, a serious of blocks, tackles and interventions that galvanised his team, as Chelsea looked poised, Barca briefly frantic, desperate, although Di Matteo's team were still playing like the away side, knocking long to the one escape route.
And at the death, after Cech dived to thwart Carles Puyol, one last escape, Pedro, sent on to score, seeing Cole's slight touch nudge his shot against the upright with Busquets squandering the rebound.
The final whistle was greeted by the sounds of Madness.
Chelsea do need to take One Step Beyond what anyone might have believed.
Yet you cannot dismiss it, cannot write it off.
Not after this.
LOSE THE FIRST LEG AND IT'S ALWAYS ADIOS TO BARCELONA
The five previous occasions when Barcelona have lost the first leg of a European Cup semi-final. Each time, they failed to reach the final.
1959-60 Real Madrid 3 Barca 1; Barca 1 Real Madrid 3. Agg 6-2
1974-75 Leeds 2 Barca 1; Barca 1 Leeds 1. Agg 3-2
1999-00 Valencia 4 Barca 1; Barca 2 Valencia 1. Agg 5-3
2001-02 Barca 0 Real Madrid 2; Real Madrid 1 Barca 1. Agg 1-3
2009-10 Inter 3 Barca 1; Barca 1 Inter 0. Agg 3-2