Everyone said Chelsea would have to play two perfect matches to beat Barcelona in their Champions League seminfinal. They patiently waited in defense and held on for a 1-0 win at home in the first leg. In the first half of the second leg, Gary Cahill went off with an injury, Sergio Busquets equalized for Barcleona, John Terry got himself sent off to put Chelsea down to 10 men after just 37 minutes, Andres Iniesta put Barcelona ahead against a team with just 10 men and no centerbacks and then Ramires lobbed in a beauty to give Chelsea the advantage on away goals. Halftime.
The second half of the second leg began and Didier Drogba lunged at Cesc Fabregas in the box, who went flying because he felt the breeze. Still, it was enough to earn a penalty and Lionel Messi was the assassin to deliver the deathblow. Except, under the pressure of the situation and to the disbelief of everyone, he pinged his shot off the crossbar. Chelsea were somehow still in the lead.
Barcelona again dominated possession, lulling themselves to sleep with every pass. Time slipped away as Chelsea made clearance after clearance. In the 80th minute, Fernando Torres was subbed on for Didier Drogba. There were giggles and shrugs, but Torres was there -- an old tormentor for Barcelona and current punchline for everyone else. And in the added time, with Chelsea just trying to survive a few more nervy seconds, it happened. Fernando Torres snuck behind the Barcelona defenders and found himself alone with just half a pitch, Victor Valdes and the goal. He made a move, hopped Valdes and slotted the ball into the empty net. Chelsea win on a 3-2 aggregate score. Advance to the final. And Fernando Torres proved why he was worth every penny of that £50 million. Or something. I'll recalculate the numbers after the match intoxication subsides.
Maybe this was the final evidence of the end of the Barcelona era -- that a team could hand them a man advantage and a penalty kick and they couldn't capitalize on it. Or maybe it was just a repeat of the semifinal against Inter in 2010. Regardless, Chelsea showed superb patience and resilience, had great performances from the likes of Petr Cech, Ramires and Drogba and generally proved that they can't be counted out with Roberto Di Matteo in charge. To repeat: He put Fernando Torres in at a crucial moment and it worked. Read that again.