Apr 25, 2012

Vengeance in Catalonia

The second leg between Chelsea and Barcelona at the Camp Nou, at 81 minutes and 15 seconds, Alexis Sanchez put the ball at the back of the net. The TV room at the Rajiv Bhawan roared to life. The word 'Heartbreak' popped into my mind, images of the 93rd minute goal from Iniesta three years ago came flashing back. Such was the atmosphere there that we failed to hear the commentator shouting,
Offside. Offside, it won't count, it's offside. The flag went up before Sanchez hit the ball. 
My heart skipped a beat, so did every Chelsea supporter's around the globe.
After a hard fought 1-0 victory at the Bridge, where Chelsea absorbed all the pressure and scored from the only shot on target, it was time for a different approach altogether at the Camp Nou. A slightly wider pitch, double the capacity of the Bridge, mostly filled with hostiles, simply 'parking the bus' could never have helped Chelsea.

CR7 stunned Camp Nou with his winner
Perhaps, the fact that Barça had to play an El Classico in between made a significant difference. Because of the importance of the match, Barça had to put their best 11. A win for Barça would have put them just a point of league leaders Madrid, but something else was on the cards altogether. An early Khedira strike was cancelled by substitute Sanchez's goal, but then came a force by the name of CR7 with shook Camp Nou, and it never come back to rest. On the contrary, Chelsea were fighting for the Champions League spot and fielded a relatively weaker 11, but still scraped through with a draw against Arsenal in their playground.

Mourinho had already announced publicly that his heart was with Chelsea, but stressed that the referee would play an important role. Chelsea had the backing of many others like Zola and Wenger but received a lot of criticism because of the apparently negative tactics from the likes of Cryuff, van der Sar, and Koeman. Pep Guardiola even went onto say that he had no doubt Barcelona would defeat Chelsea.

Chelsea parking the bus © Goal.com
Chelsea started in Nou Camp just like they did at the Bridge. They effectively 'parked the bus' and started absorbing the pressure, defending deep and relying on the counter attack for goals. The first shock came to Chelsea when, after 5 and a half minutes, Cahill succumbed to injury and was subbed soon by Bosingwa. This was not even a part of the Bosingwa who played so well so shut out the threat of Thierry Henry back in 2009.

The next blow came to Barça, as Gerard Pique had a nasty collision with Victor Valdes and Didier Drogba, almost knocking him out(I just prayed that he somehow survives). He got back to his feet but was subbed by Dani Alves. However, Chelsea could just hold on till 35 minutes, when Dani Alves released Cuenca on the left, who passed on to Busquets, and a calm finish is what followed.

Tragedy struck Chelsea two minutes later, when John Terry was given a straight red card for kneeing Alexis Sanchez. A soft, but crazy thing to do. Alexis Sanchez creating a scene out of a considerably small incident. I agree, he would've easily escaped the red, but the referee's shadow continued to help Barça in important matches. The score was 1-0. At this point, if Chelsea defended well, they could somehow take it to extra time and maybe penalties. But that was not on the cards.

After losing both centre halves, Chelsea back four (or whatever remained) was broken. The next few minutes reminded me of how I play FIFA 12. Barça capitalised quickly with a well taken shot by Iniesta giving Barça a 2-0 lead, proving yet again how underrated a player Iniesta is. It looked all but over for Chelsea, another manager would be axed soon, another season with apparently no major trophy left to play for. However, the Football God had other things in mind.

Ramires chipping it over Valdes
After the centre, a moment of craziness prompted Ramires to shoot from the centre, which earned him a yellow, which meant he would miss the next match, which really didn't matter at that point of time. The commentator said, 'It's a very unlikely scenario now that he would miss the final.' After some frantic directionless passing, a moment of brilliance by Frankie Lampard saw the midfield maestro release Ramires, the speed of the Brazillian leaving veteran Puyol and actor Busquets in his wake, and scoops it over Victor Valdes, who had no chance. Barça 2-1 Chelsea, the latter leading on the away goals rule. The teams went back to their dressing rooms at half time, leaving the millions of people watching the match wondering what to expect in the next 45 minutes. They were not to be disappointed.

The commentators discussed at the start of the second half regarding Chelsea's chances. Gary Neville seemed to believe that 10 men Chelsea might do it, but they would have to believe in themselves, while Alan Parry was sure they could remind us of the hammer blows Chelsea had faced in the recent years. The half started with the worst possible way for Chelsea with Drogba bringing down Fabregas inside the box with a clumsy tackle, and a penalty was given. Messi stepped up to take it. Messi, who had failed to score against Chelsea EVER. Maybe this was the easiest way to do the same, break the deadlock.

Messi penalty miss
Petr Cech stood like a giant in front of goal, and I am sure he would have intimidated even the strong Hulk. Messi appeared to remain calm. As Messi started his run, Cech spread his arms, a massive figure in front of the goal. He dived the right way, but the shot hit the bar, rebounding to Raul Merieles, who made no mistake in clearing the same. The Messi jinx continued. A resilient defending by Chelsea followed, with Ivanovic and Cole at the centre, and Drogba playing at the left back. As Chelsea defended as a team, the chances for Barça became lesser and rarer, with the Champions League Winners' curse staring them right into their eyes! Subsequently, Ivanovic and Raul Merieles got yellows, which would mean they would miss the important final, in case Chelsea qualified.

The match entered the last ten minutes and the situation couldn't be any more tense. Torres had been brought on for Drogba, and Kalou for Mata. But neither of them wandered too far away from the box. The offside goal I mentioned almost cost Chelsea as Torres failed to mark Dani Alves properly, and fortunately he was just offside. Shortly thereafter, Messi struck the post with a wonderful shot as he got just a bit of space from the Chelsea defenders. So frustrated Barça were, that Puyol was attacking at positions further up front from even Messi.

The £ 50 million goal
Deep into extra time, there were shouts of a handball against Chelsea, but what followed made everybody gasp for breath. Chelsea's £ 50 million baby Fernando Torres was released by a good clearance with no one to beat but Valdes. As he approached the goal, memories of that open goal miss against Manchester United must have haunted players and fans alike, but El Niño passed Valdes quickly, avoiding the challenge and put the ball at the back of the net. A single goal which was worth 50 million pounds. The last eighteen months for Torres were forgotten in just TWO seconds. All the Barça players were devastated. As the final whistle blew, you could just wonder if that was the greatest night in Champions League history.

To come from two goals down against a team is unbelievable, but to do it against Barça, the champions and arguably the best in the world, it was nothing short of a miracle. Just two months back, the team couldn't have done it, but it was certainly the wizardry of the caretaker manager, Roberto di Matteo, who had just proved that he might be the one to bring the Holy Grail to the Bridge!

Inter had done it two years ago, Chelsea followed in the same footsteps. The mighty Barça were defeated. Chelsea showed certain loopholes which Inter had highlighted. Messi was totally shut down, just like in 2009. A plan executed to perfection. Ten heroes, who have etched their name in the history of the club, this was certainly a superhuman performance.

Seven days ago, Barça were preparing for a Champions League match where they were huge favourites to go thorough, and an El Classico, where a win would being them very, very close to the league leaders. Seven days on, they have been kicked out by Chelsea, and well beaten by a good performance by an inspired Real team. You can only wonder, is it the end of their dominance? Or will they strike back stronger? Only time will tell.

I would sign off with a status update of a Manchester United fan.

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