A 10-man Chelsea team advanced to the final of the UEFA Champions League, drawing with Barcelona 2-2 and advancing on an aggregate score of 3-2.
That doesn’t begin to come close to telling the story.
Down 2-0 in the first half, with captain John Terry having been sent off, no sane person could have given Chelsea the slightest chance of advancing (the red card was deserved for the stupidity of the challenge, if not for the foul itself).
In stoppage time of the first half, however, Chelsea were on the board thanks to a Ramires goal. As I mentioned in the quasi-preview to the match, vulnerability to counter-attacks were one of Barcelona’s few weaknesses, and sure enough, that is were the goal came from.
The goal meant that if the 2-1 score line held up, Chelsea would be through thanks to the away-goal rule (something I would argue needs to be abolished, but that is a different story for a different day).
By extension, this meant that Barcelona had to put its foot back on the gas, when just a few minutes ago, it looked all but certain they would coast to the final.
A few minutes into the second half, Lio Messi actually missed a penalty, and for much of the remaining 40 minutes, Chelsea adopted a siege mentality: all-out defense, often with all 9 outfield players around their own penalty area.
It was a dangerous game, but one Chelsea had no choice but to play, and though a Barcelona goal seemed inevitable, the Londoners held out heroically.
In a story book ending to the match, Fernando Torres, with his pitiful goal scoring record for Chelsea since his much heralded arrival from Liverpool, scored on a break away to ice the match.
Any highlight reel, much less this short write-up, cannot do justice to how entertaining this match was, not to mention how bizarre. The sheer improbability of the win (Chelsea started out as underdogs, fell into a seemingly insurmountable hole, and then defended in legendary fashion for an entire half) could go down as one of the club’s best matches (101GreatGoals has suggested as much–the link provided will also take you to the highlights, in case you missed it).
Going forward, there will be no Clasico in the Champions League final. The result also leaves open the chances that Barcelona, widely regarded as the world’s best team, could finish the 2011-12 season with no major trophies*. Its final chance to take home hardware this campaign, barring a miraculous comeback in La Liga, will come in the Copa del Rey final vs. Athletic Bilbao (*Barcelona did win the Spanish Super Cup this summer).
As for Chelsea, the team will try to win the most prestigious trophy in club soccer for the first time in team history, as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is one win away from the trophy he desires most. Interestingly, this is hardly the best Chelsea team in recent years. They are currently in 6th in the Premier League and are four points behind Newcastle for the final English Champions League spot with four matches to go (thus, their best chance to qualify for the Champions League in 2012-13 would be to win the competition itself this year).
Carlo Ancelotti’s 2009-10 team, as well the 07-08 and 08-09 teams (the latter lost to Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals) were almost certainly superior to the current edition of the squad.
But none of those teams won it all in Europe, something Roberto di Matteo’s side now has the chance to do (as a side note, he has to be named the permanent coach going forward, right?).
Now all we have to do is hope tomorrow’s match between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid will be nearly as good as today’s match.