Many didn’t give them a chance. Critics and some fans of Chelsea were on the same page. You could hardly blame them if you witnessed the 18th April episode in London. Barcelona out-passed, out-played but only failed to out-score their hosts who got lucky via a solitary strike from Ivorien Didier Drogba, who gave a theatrical performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, if not a win.
After that encounter, many wrote off Chelsea because of the return fixture billed to hold at the Nou Camp- a place considered as the ‘holy of holies’. Many had visited and came out scarred. It was indeed a fortress. The last time Chelsea visited, it ended scoreless. At the time Lionel Messi wasn’t as prolific as he is now. He entered this game with 63 goals in all competitions this season.
Unsurprisingly, Messi started the show when he side-netted in the 3rd minute. Chelsea were on the back foot, as they were in the 1st leg. One of the best performers in the previous encounter, Cahill, pulled a hamstring and exited. It wasn’t long before Barca broke the deadlock through Sergio Busquets (of all people). Then came the moment of madness–
Captain John Terry went in for an early shower after he inexplicably kneed Sanchez oblivious that the assistant ref had his eyes trained on him. It looked like Chelsea had self-destructed.
It wasn’t long before Messi teed up Iniesta to grab the goal that seemed like the winner. Nou Camp was ecstatic. Many Chelsea ‘haters’ were obviously happy. You wouldn’t blame them because Chelsea fans are known for their loud mouths.
Trailing by 2 goals and a man, It looked like Chelsea’s luck had run out. Who comes back from 2 goals down against Barca?
In Nou Camp? Against arguably the best team on the planet? Ashley Cole said after the match ”When you lose quality centre-halves like that against a great team, it’s going to be hard”.
Chelsea had other ideas. Albeit depleted in numbers, they weren’t depleted in spirit. They came back. First was Ramires’ Barcelona-esque dink on the stroke of half-time to restore parity. It was a stroke of genius coming on the heels of a booking which meant he would be absent in the finals next month. His display was in the similitude of Roy Keane against Juventus in the 1999 Uefa Champions League semi-final and Micheal Ballack against South Korea in the 2002 World Cup Semi-final. The aforementioned duo got bookings that ruled them out of the finals, but rather than being deterred, they went on to give man-of-the-match performances to steer their respective teams to the finals.
After that goal, I told my brother-in-law that Ramires was gonna play the game of his life. Boy, did he play well? Dude defended and attacked relentlessly. That goal gave Chelsea a lifeline.
Barca knew they had to score if they were to become the only team after AC Milan in 1990 to successfully defend their coveted trophy. They did three things: they attacked, they attacked and they attacked. It paid off when Drogba tripped Fabregas. Messi took the resultant Penalty. Having already scored 14 goals in this season’s UCL, it was an opportunity to set a record for most goals in a single UCL season. Messi hardly misses from the spot. The best player in the world showed he was still human, after all. He missed. He still has never scored against chelsea. I knew Barca had lost it then. They missed a couple more chances. Messi even hit the post. Then came the moment:
With Barca pushing forward to grab the all-important 3rd goal, Lampard – who set up Ramires’ goal – cleared the ball from yet another Barca attack. Who did it fall to? Hehehe!!! The much-maligned Fernando Torres, who had replaced Drogba. He ran for almost Fifty yards before he rounded Victor Valdes to score a goal that sent many into ecstasy. Okada riders were stunting in Lagos, free drinks were being declared in Abuja. You would be forgiven if you thought Chelsea had won the cup proper. No, they hadn’t. People were just celebrating the triumph of determination over a team that didn’t have a Plan B.
Whatever you might think of this encounter, am sure you will, at least, remember it as the night that the underdog conquered the overlord.