The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “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. It also stood apart because the strike into the top corner by Andrés Iniesta was exquisite after Lionel Messi had set him up on the fringes of the area.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “The bitterest of bile could be the only taste in Chelsea mouths on Wednesday night. A poor performance by the Norwegian referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo, who failed to award Chelsea three penalties, cost Guus Hiddink’s side a place in the Champions League final and cost some of Hiddink’s players their composure.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “The anguished expressions of John Terry and his team-mates at the end were familiar, but this time, rather than a game of Russian roulette in Moscow or a phantom goal on Merseyside, Chelsea’s European dreams were ended by the cruellest twist in the final moments of this dramatic tale as Andrés Iniesta sent Barcelona to Rome with a spectacular goal in the third minute of stoppage time.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “The fickle hand of football seems to discover new, ever crueller ways to deny the billionaire who has everything the one thing his money cannot buy. It was penalties in Moscow last year; last night it was a goal from nowhere, or rather from the right boot of Andres Iniesta in the 93rd minute, Barcelona’s one shot on target in the entire game. The goal was the last defiant act of the 10 remaining Barça men who for long periods of the game were ploughed into the home soil by the power of Chelsea.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “An away goal two minutes into stoppage time at the end of the game knocked Chelsea off the road to Rome on a night of many regrets.”
I was calm, relaxed and not at all nervous in the build-up to kick-off. In fact, I was painting bookshelves until 7:40 p.m. when I decided that it was about time I checked the line-ups.
I wasn’t as surprised as some to see that Hiddink had named both Drogba and Anelka in the starting eleven. The two of them combined brilliantly in the weekend win over Fulham.
Would we go for it though?
Barcelona were without defenders Puyol (suspended) and Marquez (injured), while Henry missed out with a knee injury. Yaya Toure was switched to centre-half alongside Pique, probably to give their defence a bit of height in an effort to counteract the threat of Drogba.
‘Blue is the Colour’ and the pre-kick-off Champions League tune finally got the nerve ends jangling.
- Hiddink’s tactics. They were perfect. To limit a team of Barcelona’s undoubted quality (they’ve scored 146 goals this season) to one shot on target in 96 minutes of this match, and one goal in over 180 minutes of the tie was nothing short of genius. Ignore all the “anti-football” crap – Hiddink knew exactly how to beat Guardiola’s side and came within 90 seconds of doing so. Barca had 70% possession but it’s what they did, or didn’t do, with that possession that counted. They were toothless and ineffectual in the final third. If we had taken just one of the numerous chances we created after Essien had given us the lead, there’s no doubt in my mind that Barca’s heads would have dropped in much the same way Arsenal’s did against Manchester United last night. After Drogba missed the best of the chances to make it 2-0, a friend looked across with a wry smile on his face and said, “That’s going to cost us.” I thought it prudent not to say anything, but silently I agreed. I wrote in an email to Habs after last week’s first leg that I didn’t think nil-nil was a good result, because preventing Barca from scoring at least one goal was always going to prove difficult. We almost did, but almost isn’t good enough.
- Florent Malouda. It’s hard to believe he’s the same player we saw at the start of the season. He’s been a revelation since Hiddink took charge. His all round performance was outstanding. He gave Alves a torrid time but also defended brilliantly. Probably my Man of the Match.
- John Terry. Magnificent. He marshalled the whole team as one defensive unit. People need to recognise that this aspect of the game is just as beautiful as free-flowing, attacking football when it’s done as well as we managed in this tie. It’s not good for the old ticker though.
- Essien’s goal. What a strike. I doubt he’ll hit a ball as sweet as that again in his next 100 games.
- Yaya Toure. I’ve been an admirer of his for a couple of seasons now. It was clear from the kick-off that he’s no centre-half, positionally he was all over the place, but on several occasions he recovered and saved his team from going 2-0 down. His perfectly timed tackle on Drogba was the one penalty decision the referee got right, and his recovery to deny Anelka a shooting opportunity was outstanding. His contribution was just as important as Iniesta’s goal.
- The referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo. I hate conspiracy theories so won’t go down that route. Ovrebo was inept and incompetent, that’s all. It was as incompetent a refereeing performance as you’ll see in a game of this magnitude (Hiddink said in the post-match press conference that “At this moment I have to think a lot if I have ever seen worse”). There’s no doubt we should have had at least two penalties – Alves’ foul on Malouda was clearly inside the area, and Pique’s handball was as blatant a handball offence as you’ll see (Pique even admitted as much in a post-match interview) – but on the flip side Ovrebo sent off a Barca player for a nothing tackle. Both Barca’s full-backs, Abidal and Alves, can count themselves unlucky to be missing the final. Bring back Collina.
- We didn’t take our chances. Hiddink’s counter-attacking tactics would have worked perfectly if we had taken just one of the several opportunities we had to kill off the tie. Barca wouldn’t have recovered from a 2-0 deficit.
- Didier Drogba’s reaction after the final whistle. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with several commenters on the last post. I just found it all a bit embarrassing. He did get one thing right though, the ref’s performance was a fucking disgrace. A lot is sure to be made of the team’s reaction at the end, but it was no worse than Barca’s after Abidal had been given his marching orders. I might start believing in a conspiracy if we’re charged and Barca get away with it.
- Petr Cech – 6/10 – Had nothing, and I mean nothing, to do all night except pick the ball out of the back of his net in the 92nd minute.
- Jose Bosingwa – 7/10 – Dilly-dallied on the edge of his own area a few times, and gave the ball away lightly a few times. That said, he kept Iniesta quiet on the left for 92 minutes.
- John Terry – 8/10 – Superb display, a defensive master class. Was at the heart of, and executed to perfection, Hiddink’s master plan.
- Alex – 7.5/10 – Yet another no nonsense performance alongside Terry. Took one for the team when he stopped Messi in his tracks and would have missed the final if things had ended differently.
- Ashley Cole – 7.5/10 – Got forward to play a big part in our goal – it was his turn and pass back to Lampard that kept the attack going and ultimately set up Essien’s wonder strike. Did well against Messi once the diminutive Argentinean was switched to the right after spending the opening 20 minutes or so in the centre of attack.
- Michael Essien – 7/10 – A wonder goal, probably a better strike than Zidane’s similar effort in the 2002 final. His weak clearance that led to Iniesta’s equalizer was his other major contribution. From hero to villian in the space of 80 minutes.
- Michael Ballack – 7/10 – Sat in front of the back four and did his job. Solid is the best word to describe his performance. Lost it after our umpteenth penalty claim was turned down and was booked. Would have missed the final if we had somehow managed to score a second.
- Frank Lampard – 8/10 – Didn’t waste a pass all night. Made several excellent tackles to rob Barca of possession, all be it briefly. Played a major role in Essien’s goal.
- Florent Malouda – 8.5/10 – Brilliant going forward and in defence. Didn’t let up for the whole 90 minutes. A Man of the Match performance.
- Nicolas Anelka – 7/10 – Was at the centre of two of the biggest talking points: Abidal’s sending off, and Pique’s handball. Did a good job out on the right before switching to play the lone striker role after Drogba was taken off with a knee injury.
- Didier Drogba – 6.5/10 – Wreaked havoc in the Barca back four, but his finishing let him down. Was a rock in defence too. I found his reaction after the final whistle a bit embarrassing though. Sure to receive a ban.
Man of the Match
Florent Malouda. Just ahead of John Terry.
It’s a cruel, cruel game.
But we still have the Cup Final to look forward to!