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A 90th-minute strike from Michael Essien helped Chelsea FC come from behind to win 2-1 at Valencia CF and reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the third time in four seasons.
Following last week's 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, the English side had looked to be on their way out of the competition when Fernando Morientes put Valencia in front in the 32nd minute. However, Andriy Shevchenko levelled from close range seven minutes after the break, and Chelsea were rewarded for their tireless second-half endeavour in the final seconds as Essien – who will miss the first leg of the semi-final through suspension – beat Santiago Cañizares with an angled low shot to set up a meeting with PSV Eindhoven or Liverpool FC.
It would have frustrated José Mourinho that his team did not take full command of the match within 20 minutes of kick-off. Although both sides played cautiously, Chelsea's ascendancy led to them winning three corners in eight minutes, two of which from Frank Lampard should have brought the opening goal. First Ricardo Carvalho was offered a completely free header which he screwed wide of Cañizares's goal, then Michael Ballack outjumped Emiliano Moretti but with time and space to score, directed his header into the Valencia goalkeeper's midriff.
The fact the Chelsea midfield was winning so much ball was the catalyst for the English champions' superior possession, but as so often happens, spurned opportunities sparked punishment at the other end. Fair warning was given to Mourinho's men on the quarter-hour when David Albelda sent David Villa scampering down the left. The Spanish international dragged defenders wide then released a perfect pass inside to Morientes, whose shot struck Petr Čech's right-hand post with the keeper beaten.
Valencia moved smoothly into top gear and two minutes later were ahead as Morientes took advantage of John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Carvalho's inability to deal with Joaquín Sánchez's right-wing centre, sliding in with his left foot as the Mestalla Stadium erupted with joy. Moments later Villa's scintillating run into the area ended with a shot that Morientes followed up to strike on goal, but Ashley Cole produced the vital block.
Chelsea's lack of width was immediately addressed with Mourinho switching to 4-3-3 by moving Essien to right-back and introducing Joe Cole. The impact was instant. Cole and Didier Drogba linked perfectly and Chelsea played much further forward. Seven minutes after half-time Drogba met Essien's cross and, although Luis Miguel and Roberto Ayala crowded out the striker, the ball fell for Shevchenko to stab past Cañizares from close range. Valencia's back line began to creak, with possession presented back to Drogba in the 66th minute although the Ivorian scuffed his shot and Cañizares made a comfortable save.
Despite Chelsea now being noticeably on top, Valencia substitute Miguel Ángel Angulo might have won it with a powerful left-foot drive. Then Cañizares, who had acrobatically kept out Drogba's header shortly before the break, produced another wonderful diving stop from Ballack's late header as a thrilling match appeared destined for extra time. However, the Valencia custodian was powerless to prevent Essien's thunderous strike that gave Chelsea the lead for the first time in the tie with seconds remaining, making the visitors the first English side to win at Mestalla and taking them into the final four.
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