Chelsea defied the odds against Barcelona to reach the Champions League Final as they've done all season long.
Only one word can describe the Chelsea Football Club after its semifinal victory over Barcelona in this Champions League: defiance.
Left for dead in the middle of the Premiership table, manager sacked, rumors of player mutiny, a captain disgraced (again) for racially abusing the brother of his England teammate, one striker too old, the other incapable of scoring, facing certain exit in the Champions League against upstart Napoli, the spirit of Chelsea came to life.
Napoli were swept aside in the hallowed Stamford Bridge as the old guard -- Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba -- decided enough was enough. Casting aside wild accusations that Chelsea, and even the Premier League itself, were no longer fit for the glory and praise of Europe’s finest, Chelsea outclassed the Italians by a three-goal margin and found themselves the only English side remaining in the Champions League as well as the only side alive in three competitions (they face Liverpool in the FA Cup Final on May 5).
That Chelsea spirit earned scenes of wild celebration against Barcelona on Tuesday after Fernando Torres, yes that Fernando Torres, brought back memories of his days as the most dangerous striker in the world, rounding the woeful Victor Valdes and coolly slotting home the dagger to the Catalan side.
This game, if game is even worthy a word for what Chelsea accomplished, captured all that Chelsea have been through in the 2011-12 campaign. Down and out, Chelsea once again defied the odds to reach its second Champions League final under Roman Abramovic.
Within 12 minutes, fears rose quickly as the recently superb Gary Cahill was lost to a hamstring injury. Barca were dominating and scored a goal with slicing passing as has become routine. Terry, the man well known for taking defiance far past the line, should he even know where the line is, or worse, that there is a line at all, was sent off for a severely miscalculated knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez. Barcelona quickly scored again. The contest, much like the maligned season, looked lost once again.
But counting Chelsea out has been a mistake all year – just ask Eric Wynalda. Lampard, who fought his way off the bench weeks ago, passed an inch-perfect ball to a streaking Ramires who justified the pass with an equally inch-perfect chip over Valdes’s head to level the aggregate score just before halftime. Game on.
To listen to the halftime speech from interim manager, certain to be named permanent manger, Roberto di Matteo must have been like a scene from 300. Drogba slotted at left back, Chelsea came out ready to defend with their lives, and very nearly gave them up when Cesc Fabregas earned, in every sense of the word, a penalty for Lionel Messi to surely slot home.
Not against this Chelsea team. Not against the massive figure of Petr Cech, whose frame surely put off the tiny Argentine as his shot slammed off the crossbar just above Cech’s long arms.
The siege continued for the rest of the half with pass after pass intercepted, cross after cross turned away. Herculean Cech pushed another sure Messi goal into the post. Drogba, feeling the wrath of the raucous crowd for his classic tactics – and goal – in the first leg, was replaced by Torres, owner of seven goals in ten matches at the Bernabeu.
Torres was immediately impactful by losing his man who set up the goal Barcelona had longed for, only to be saved by the raised flag of the lineman. His touch looked, well, as it had consistently during his time at Chelsea: poor, none worse than the moments before his $80 million redemption, carelessly giving the ball away to Xavi who sent a pass to the heart of the box.
But challenging the heart of this Chelsea side is a dangerous proposition, and with eight men in the box defending it, the ball was again intercepted and booted to midfield where Torres was all alone with one man, and his own writhing self-doubt, to defeat.
As he made his way towards Valdes, the thoughts going through his head after a season and a half of pure agony must have been akin to Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill one more time. This time, the rock went over the top of the hill, the ball in the back of the net, and the man, the team, had defied everyone and everything possible thrown their way.
It was a moment of sheer ecstasy, relief, belief, and surrender as even the magnificent fans in Barcelona paid tribute to the unparalleled efforts of the Londoners.
It was a moment of Champions League legend.
It was a moment fit for Chelsea Football Club.