ANALYSIS-Soccer-Chelsea eye final after happier late twist
LONDON, - By Mitch Phillips
LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Chelsea may never quite get over the perceived injustice of their 2009 Champions League semi-final loss to Barcelona but Wednesday's victory over the Spaniards could go some way to easing the pain.
Didier Drogba put them ahead in the first half at a rain-lashed Stamford Bridge in Wednesday's semi-final first leg, just had Michael Essien had in the three years ago.
On that occasion Chelsea looked on course for the final and totally dominated the match. They were denied four penalty claims of varying strength but still seemed to have done enough until Andres Iniesta equalised with Barcelona's only real shot on target in stoppage time to secure a 1-1 draw and send them through on the away goals rule.
It was almost deja-vu on Wednesday as, with the clock deep into injury time and Chelsea 1-0 up and defending the same goal, substitute Pedro Rodriguez curled a precise shot beyond goalkeeper Petr Cech, only for it to rebound off a post.
Sergio Busquests lashed the rebound over the bar to leave the Chelsea fans roaring with relief and delight and the small pocket of visiting supporters, who had gone ballistic at their great escape three years ago, taking on the role of disbelieving head-shakers.
For just as Chelsea would have been worthy winners in 2009 and perfectly placed to go on and make amends for their final defeat by Manchester United on penalties the previous year, Barcelona should have been flying home with one foot in this year's decider.
Such are the tiny margins of football at the highest level that the width of Cech's left-hand post - and the crossbar that Alexis Sanchez hit with a first-half lob - could prove the difference.
Barcelona enjoyed no less than 72 percent possession at Stamford Bridge, just as everyone expected they would, and in the early stages it looked as if their precision passing would be too much for the home side.
Chelsea, however, grew into their task and once Drogba had swept them into an unexpected lead they came out for the second half with an extra determination.
It was just the sort of challenge that captain and centre back John Terry relishes and despite criticism of his lack of mobility and pace, he was always on hand with a timely tackle and lifted his team mates by example.
Lionel Messi should, on paper, have been perfectly suited to dart round and through Terry and partner Gary Cahill but the brilliant Argentine could not carve a way through and for the seventh time against Chelsea failed to find the target.
Chelsea's defending was superb and as the game went on Barcelona became more ragged and somewhat desperate and this time fortune favoured the hosts.
Chelsea still have it all to do, of course but, having stretched their remarkable unbeaten run against Spanish sides to 14 matches and having drawn at the Nou Camp on their last three visits, they will travel with justifiable confidence.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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