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Ten-man Chelsea FC pulled off a remarkable rearguard action to reach the 2012 UEFA Champions League final. Trailing 2-0 to FC Barcelona, they were heading through after Ramires pulled one back with a delicious chip before Fernando Torres made sure on the break in added time.
The writing looked on the wall for the visitors when, having had their 1-0 first-leg lead wiped out by Sergio Busquets, captain John Terry was sent off on 37 minutes. Andrés Iniesta promptly put Barcelona in front on aggregate, only for Ramires to return Chelsea to the box seat before half-time and, despite Lionel Messi hitting the woodwork twice, once from a penalty, in the second period they held on until Torres confirmed progress.
By the time the breakthrough goal came in this extraordinary game Petr Čech had already pulled off a fine one on one save from Messi, both Gerard Piqué and Gary Cahill had departed with injuries and the crowd had roared their throats hoarse. Isaac Cuenca forced the first goal, taking a pass from substitute Daniel Alves and cutting the ball across perfectly for Busquets to steer it past Čech.
The keeper was causing his own attacking problems with his long clearances to lone frontman Didier Drogba, but Terry's departure after an off-the-ball incident involving Alexis Sánchez provided more immediate concern. The tide of pressure and opportunities, already ferocious, looked set to overwhelm Roberto Di Matteo's team. No matter how hard Chelsea worked, there seemed to be two or three Barcelona players around them harassing and then combining with crisp passing movements.
From that came the second goal. Busquets turned the ball over in midfield and freed Sánchez, who rolled it into the path of Messi on the run. The forward has 63 goals to his name this season but when he saw Iniesta better placed he had only one thing in mind, teeing up his team-mate to calmly curve the ball into the Chelsea net.
It takes special stuff to be trailing 2-0, down to ten men and still conjure a response – so hats off to Chelsea. As he had done just before half-time in London last week Frank Lampard ventured forward, found space and clipped a perfect pass to Ramires. The Brazilian displayed sangfroid of which Pelé or Romário would have been proud, deftly lobbing over the advancing Víctor Valdés.
Any expectation that the wind might be taken from Barcelona's sails was dispelled almost immediately after the restart. Drogba's trip on Cesc Fàbregas brought a penalty but while Čech feinted to go this way and that, Messi smashed his effort against the crossbar. Chelsea's attempts to repel any further danger were heroic, trying to compensate for Terry's absence.
Messi was not prepared to depart the competition meekly and late in the game he cracked in a firm shot that Čech touched against the base of his post – it just was not to be. To cap it all, substitute Torres sprinted clear as Barcelona sought the winner, rounding Valdés and finding the net. Chelsea are on their way to Munich, though there they will be without suspended quartet Ramires, Raul Meireles, Branislav Ivanović and Terry.
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