Football is the greatest game on the planet because you just never know when something magical is going to happen . . . and tonight’s epic Champions League encounter at the Nou Camp was one of those occasions that will go down in sporting folklore as a match that had just about every twist and turn you could possibly imagine.
For Chelsea’s heroes, who fought on against all the odds after skipper John Terry was sent off for a moment of madness when he inexplicably kicked out at Alexis Sanchez, it looked like mission impossible when the West London club fell 2-nil behind on the night. Didier Drogba’s one goal advantage from the first leg was blown away in 10 minutes of meyhem at the end of the first half in Barcelona, as Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta struck either side of Terry’s red card.
It was a crazy spell punctuated on the stroke of half-time by a breakaway deliciously converted by Ramires – the Brazilian unfazed by the knowledge his earlier yellow card had ruled him out of the final. It was a mighty blow as powerful as Roy Keane’s in similar circumstances that dragged Manchester United back from the brink against Juventus back in 1999. That made it 2-2 on aggregate and put Chelsea ahead at the interval on the away goals rule. But it was far from the end of the breathtaking drama.
When the world’s best player Lionel Messi – who has never scored against Chelsea – smacked his 47th minute penalty against the crossbar after Drogba felled Cesc Fabregas, it was the start of another riveting half. Barca, with over 70 percent of the possession, came forward in wave after wave of attacks. But when they did find a way past the stubborn 10-men, a raking shot from Messi hit the post and then Alexis Sanchez had an effort ruled out for offside.
When Drogba made way for Fernando Torres I remember saying out load ‘If he comes on and scores the winner all his misses will be forgotten.’ It was a script you could not write and there was another lucky escape for Chelsea when they survived a handball that probably should have given Barca another penalty. But the official missed it and the ball immediately broke to Torres who was suddenly clean through on his own.
It was as if the Spaniard had been signed purely for this moment of destiny and this time there was never any doubt the player who has been guilty of so many shocking misses since he was signed from Liverpool for £40 million in January 2011 would seal the tie. As he effortlessly rounded Victor Valdes and steered the ball into the empty net, the man who had masterminded this remarkable sting, interim manager Roberto di Matteo, began his ecstatic victory celebrations on the touchline.
It was a scene that will be etched into many memories for generations to come. It was the day tactics and experience got the better of the team so many had put on a pedestal as arguably the greatest club side we have ever seen. But on this evidence Barca are not the masters we all thought – and even the magical Messi lost his aura of invincibility as he was brought to his knees by the team that lies sixth in the English Premier League.
FT: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea win 3-2 on aggregate). Goals: Busquets 35, Iniesta 43 – Ramires 45+1, Torres 90+1