Chelsea v Napoli preview: This could be one of our greatest nights ever roars Terry
Published 22:30 13/03/12 By Martin Lipton
He has been so close.
Within touching distance.
Once, within crying distance.
But John Terry knows he is running out of time to get his hands on the Champions League.
Knows that this might be his last chance.
Age, and the demands he has made of his body are just two factors - the willingness to play when he should have rested now taking their toll.
The third, the elephant in the room, is that court date in July, the racial abuse charge he will vehemently deny in the knowledge that the reputational damage if he is found guilty would be potentially career-destroying.
The pain of past failures runs deep.
Four heartbreaking semi-final exits, the first after a 3-1 defeat - the same deficit Chelsea must defeat history to overhaul against Napoli on Wednesday night - to Monaco under Claudio Ranieri in 2004.
Two under Jose Mourinho, both at Anfield.
One in the brief Guus Hiddink reign, at the hands of Barcelona.
Only one win, but the sting in that tail was even more bitter, even hardman Terry left in tears and tatters as his chance to win the trophy from 12 yards in Moscow ended with a catastrophic slip and shot against the outside of the post before Manchester United’s eventual triumph.
Wednesday night, though, is not about that for Terry.
It is about Chelsea.
About pulling one out of the fire.
“I’d like to think I’ve got a few years left in me, thanks,” Terry grinned, wryly.
“Listen, we don’t feel cursed. We’ve been unfortunate in previous big nights here.
“But the one thing that does stay with me is the disappointment from those nights - from Monaco, Liverpool, Barcelona. Moscow, clearly.
“In my mind, the only way to overcome that is to come through this one, kick on and go on and win this competition.
“It’s the one trophy missing from our cabinet. I’ve got a few years in me yet, and I really hope I can bring this trophy to the Bridge.”
Terry, of course, was only a spectator at the Stadio San Paolo, his left knee swelling up overnight in Chelsea’s hotel on the Naples harbourside, forcing surgery as soon as the beaten Blues touched down in London.
It was Terry’s sheer desire, and the crisis at the club in the aftermath of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking, that saw him back in harness against Stoke at the weekend, ensuring he will be the cornerstone of the Chelsea back-line on Wednesday.
But Terry is not the only one perhaps facing up to his final Champions League game in Chelsea colours.
Of those on duty that night in Moscow, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are all likely to start again against Napoli; all of them - the Czech keeper, perhaps, excepted - aware that the summer of change may see them heading through the exit doors.
“There’s no need for me to come out and tell the players what we need to do,” added Terry. “We know what we need to do.
“As a group of players and a club, we should be in a better position, even in this tie.
“I believe 100%, within the squad, we have what it takes to turn this around. We know the statistics, but also that it could really go down as one of the best nights in Chelsea’s history.
“We’d need to go on and continue it, but these nights at the Bridge are great atmospheres, intimidating nights for oppositions, wet surfaces.
"It was intimidating and hostile over there. They were in our faces, which wasn’t nice.
“So we know the qualities they possess. But we’re hoping we have the squad of players and the experience to overcome that.”
If they do, it will need an evening to match the glorious triumph at this stage against Barcelona in 2005 - when Terry scored the winning goal - and the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final victory over another Italian side, Vicencza, in 1998, which the suspended Di Matteo could only watch from the stands.
Di Matteo said: “We need to create the same kind of night as Vicenza and try to turn this tie around.
“We have to be balanced, be aware of the transition and the players that they have got, so that means we can’t go all-out in attack.
“So we can score in the first minute, in the early stages of the game, but we can also score later, as you’ve seen many times before. It’s about what we do over the 90 minutes.
“We do believe. We have to believe. We have the confidence we can turn it around. I’d take 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, absolutely - but I’d prefer to be two up!”
Team-mates a decade ago, now manager and captain, but - at least according to Terry - with one thing in common.
“We were talking on the way to the press conference and agreed that if you had said 10 years ago that Robbie and I would be sitting here with such a big night coming up, we’d have probably laughed at you,” said the skipper.
“But that’s the reality. You won’t find two other people who care more about the football club going into this game.
“We represent Chelsea, we have blue blood. We give that fiery atmosphere in the dressing room and take it on to the pitch, and hope everyone feeds off that.”
CHELSEA v NAPOLI: PROBABLE TEAMS
Chelsea - Cech; Cole, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Lampard, Essien; Kalou, Mata, Ramires; Drogba
Napoli - De Sanctis; Aronica, Cannavaro, Campagnaro; Zuniga, Inler, Gargano, Maggio; Lavezzi, Hamsik; Cavani
CHELSEA v NAPOLI: THREE TO WATCH
Ezequiel Lavezzi: Chelsea's tormentor-in-chief with his two goals in the first leg and John Terry and Co know they cannot give the Argentinian anything like as much time and space tonight. If they do, he will punish them.
Edinson Cavani: The Uruguayan star's equaliser at the San Paolo was his fifth in the Champions League this season and with 24 in all competitions his threat is obvious. Loves to drift out wide and then come inside. Chelsea must get tight.
Marek Hamsik: Slovakian schemer is the third element of the Napoli "trident" and helped lead the Blues a merry dance in the first leg. His link play with Cavani is a huge element of Napoli's game-plan and he was allowed all the space he wanted last time.