Emotions run high as Chelsea reach final
LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea reached the Champions League final for the first time on Wednesday, beating Liverpool 3-2 after extra time at rain-lashed Stamford Bridge to set up a meeting with Manchester United in Moscow next month.
Two goals from Didier Drogba and a penalty from a grieving Frank Lampard gave them a 4-3 aggregate victory in a dramatic semi-final against the side that had knocked them out twice at this stage in the last three seasons.
Liverpool's goals came from Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, whose speculative 40-metre shot three minutes from the end of extra time somehow bamboozled Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and revived Liverpool's hopes for the last few minutes.
But Chelsea held on in an absorbing match that was in the balance until the final kick to repay billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich for the millions of pounds he has invested in the west London club since taking over in 2003.
They can now look forward to facing Manchester United in the first all-English Champions League final on May 21.
"It has not sunk in properly," said Chelsea captain John Terry. "We will enjoy tonight but it will take 24 hours to sink in. I think everyone is looking forward to an all-English final. It will be a very tough game in three weeks' time."
Chelsea coach Avram Grant added: "I'm very very happy. Every time you create history is something special. We created history and I'm very proud that I did it in my way and I don't want to say 'I' but it is time to thank everybody."
United, whose manager Alex Ferguson was at Stamford Bridge to watch the semi-final, secured their place in the showpiece on Tuesday when they eliminated Barcelona at Old Trafford.
While Drogba was the scoring hero on Wednesday with two excellent, powerfully-executed goals, the remarkable Lampard was the emotional focus of Chelsea's ecstatic fans.
The England midfielder, back in the team following the death of his 58-year-old mother Pat last week, wept after scoring the decisive penalty that put them 2-1 ahead in the 98th minute and got a standing ovation when he was substituted near the end.
He had a decisive impact on the match, too, beginning the move that led to Chelsea's opening goal after 33 minutes and which Drogba completed after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina did well to parry a fiercely struck shot from Salomon Kalou.
Liverpool, who had not scored at Stamford Bridge in their last eight visits, broke that hoodoo in the 64th minute when Torres equalised after a brilliant run from Yossi Benayoun.
The Israel midfielder sent Chelsea's defence into a spin, playing the final ball through Ricardo Carvalho's legs.
It was Torres's 31st goal of the season and enough to take the game to extra time where the match turned Chelsea's way again in a five-minute spell midway through the first period.
First, Michael Essien appeared to have put Chelsea 2-1 ahead and ran half the length of the pitch celebrating before everyone realised his strike had been disallowed for offside.
However, two minutes later Chelsea were ahead once more when Lampard sent Reina the wrong way from the penalty spot after Sami Hyypia had fouled Michael Ballack.
Lampard., who missed Saturday's Premier League win over leaders Manchester United after his mother died last Thursday, was engulfed by his team mates but could not hide his tears.
Ivory Coast captain Drogba appeared to have finally killed Liverpool off when he turned in a cross from Nicolas Anelka with pinpoint precision after 105 minutes.
But Liverpool, five times European champions, winners under coach Rafa Benitez in 2005 and beaten finalists last year, never gave up and got an unlikely reprieve with Babel's goal.
That, though, was their last hurrah as Chelsea held on to celebrate an epic win in front of their delirious fans.
"It is something amazing," said Drogba. "I think today we played very well -- I am really pleased for the club because we have been looking for this final for too long.
"Today what we achieved is fantastic for the fans."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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