Chelsea denied final spot by last-gasp Barcelona
Guus Hiddink’s team controlled the tie but went out of a Champions League semi for the fourth time in six years after an injury time strike
Chelsea 1 Barcelona 1 (1-1 on aggregate, Barcelona win on away goals rule). Chelsea crashed out of the Champions League last night when European football's most glittering prize was within their grasp after a devastating strike from Andres Iniesta earned Barcelona a thoroughly undeserved draw deep in injury time.
Adding to the seething sense of injustice that boiled over during the Stamford Bridge tie was an appalling performance by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who denied the Premier League side four penalty claims, two of which were for handballs and the others for challenges in the box.
At the final whistle, Chelsea frustration exploded at what they saw was a "conspiracy" to prevent a repeat of last year's final clash against Manchester United, with Didier Drogba a particular offender, harassing the officials and demanding of a live TV camera crew "Are you watching this? It's a disgrace. It's a fucking disgrace."
Michael Essien's sumptuous ninth minute strike had put the Londoners ahead, and they choked the life out of the Catalans, swamping the midfield and defence and again reducing Lionel Messi's contribution - before he set up Iniesta's late strike - to the practically negligible.
The visitors saw Eric Abidal dismissed by the hopeless Ovrebo in the 66th minute, and Drogba should have made it safe ten minutes before that when his shot hit Barca keeper Valdes' leg. Guus Hiddink's one moment of tactical failure could have been the decision to take Drogba off with 20 minutes to go, as his replacement with Julian Belletti indicated a release of pressure for the Spaniards.
Chelsea paid for their inability to kill the leg off, and will continue to rage into the future about their fifth Champions League campaign in the last six years to end at the semi-finals stage. Barcelona, meanwhile, prepare for a mouthwatering final against Manchester United in Rome on May 27.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Kevin McCarra the Guardian: "Despair in a football match cannot come more intolerably or improbably. Barcelona vaulted over Chelsea in the third minute of stoppage time to seize a place in the Champions League final against Manchester United with their sole shot on target. There could be no sportsmanlike appreciation of that drive, which brought triumph on the away-goals rule, when Chelsea had so much to resent."
Martin Samuel, Daily Mail: "Do not let anyone tell you the best team won. Do not let anyone say that football was the victor here. Barcelona may yet grace the Champions League final, they may yet dazzle this competition with a beautiful game, but this was not one of them. They swung a boot. Swung a boot and got lucky. Swung a boot and, somehow, eliminated a Chelsea team that were superior on the night and deserved a rematch with Manchester United in Rome. Andres Iniesta’s equalising goal in the third minute of injury time was a fine shot, a killer blow, timed and directed to perfection but for Barcelona it was also the last roll of the dice." ·
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