Chelsea miracle: was win over Barcelona the best ever?
Pundits compare Camp Nou triumph to Liverpool and United's European miracles
AS the dust settles on a remarkable Champions League semi-final fans and pundits are asking one question, where Chelsea's extraordinary triumph over Barcelona ranks in the pantheon of great football stories?
The Blues went to the Camp Nou defending a slender 1-0 lead and lost one centre-back to injury after 12 minutes and saw the other, John Terry, sent off for an act of madness in the first half. They conceded two goals in the first 45 minutes and then gave away a penalty, but somehow they went through thanks to a late goal from, of all people, Fernando Torres. "As triumphs in adversity go, the night they went down to 10 men and knocked out Barcelona on their own ground will take some beating," says The Guardian.
And the paper's incredulous minute-by-minute reporter was in no doubt about the magnitude of what he had just witnessed. "This is one of the most immense victories in the history of football - not just Chelsea's," gushed Jacob Steinberg. "It's even better than Inter's win here. More flabbergasting than Manchester United's act of escapology in this stadium in 1999. This is up there with the Miracle of Istanbul. Maybe even more astonishing."
Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail said he felt the same "stunned incomprehension" he experienced after Manchester United's Champions League win over Bayern Munich in 1999.
"Stuff purism; this was one of the great nights, simply because it was about more than just beauty and technique," he said. "It was about bravery, determination, a refusal to bow, a triumph of sheer will. It was not Chelsea's destiny to be in Munich; it was their destiny to leave Catalonia defeated, as most teams do. They changed the narrative; they made this happen, somehow."
James Lawton of The Independent said the way Chelsea bounced back from John Terry's sending off was remarkable. "Chelsea, quite simply, found such a greatness of will that you could spend a lifetime of watching football without the privilege of anything to compare with it."
The pundits rounded on Terry, whose red card came for a knee in the back of Alexis Sanchez, but other Chelsea players were praised to the rafters. There was acclaim for Brazilian midfielder Ramires, who responded to a booking that will keep him out of the final by scoring Chelsea's first goal, goalkeeper Petr Cech, tireless forward Didier Drogba and other notables including Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard. The Mail branded them "the incredibles".
Then there was caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo, who took over a rabble less than two months ago and and guided them to victory over Barcelona. "Whatever happens to Di Matteo, he will always have the memory of outwitting Pep Guardiola, of Lionel Messi failing to score, of his players rallying to the cause against one of the most feted sides in history and of the blue flag flying over Camp Nou," says The Daily Telegraph.
But there were some dissenters. The Times columnist Tony Cascarino, a former Chelsea player, was unimpressed by English team's plan to "restrict and retrain" Barcelona.
"I was willing them to get through and yet, among those incredible celebrations surrounding Fernando Torres at the end of his troubled season, I cannot help but consider it a poor reflection on English football," he sniffed...