Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Barcelona eliminate Chelsea

A magical moment of Ronaldinho gave Barcelona a well-deserved place in the Champions League quarter-finals after they drew 1-1 with Chelsea here on Tuesday in their last 16 second leg match and a 3-2 victory on aggregate. It was a sweet revenge for last year’s 5-4 aggregate defeat by the Premiership champions and left Liverpool as the only English side to have ever beaten the Catalan giants at home and that was 30 years ago.

In fact, Ronaldinho’s sixth goal in seven Champions League matches came just over 10 minutes from time while Chelsea got a generously awarded penalty in stoppage time as Giovanni van Bronckhorst was adjudged to have fouled John Terry though it looked as if he had got the ball. Frank Lampard slotted home the penalty but it was all to no avail as the referee blew the final whistle almost immediately. “The best one did not win,” said Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho, who must have had little cause for complaint as his side had never really threatened to pull off the victory. “Eleven against 11 we would have won (he said referring to the sending-off of Chelsea’s Asier del Horno in the first leg). “The first leg we lost an important piece and we had to come here 2-1 down. If we had a bit of luck and scored before the last minute it could have changed us mentally and it would have been different.”

We can say that Mourinho even had a go at the referee Markus Merk. “As it was after the penalty the referee did not play another second.” But Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard focussed on his team. “The team pulled off a really good performance,” said the former Dutch footballing great. “We stayed focussed till the end and although we made some tactical mistakes our defenders held the line really well.” Barcelona’s veteran Swedish striker Henrik Larsson said Chelsea had played well but there was no doubt who deserved to progress. “We showed we were the better side for the two legs,” said the 34-year-old.

“We tried to play our normal game and try and not give them too much space behind us as they are quality players. We tried to fill the gaps. I think in the first-half we had everything under control and it meant as time went on we were even more in control.” Chelsea forward Didier Drogba, who was sent-off in the match in Barcelona last year, had a glorious opportunity to open the score in the 20th minute but he directed his header tamely into the hands of Victor Valdes. The Ivorian striker had not been too far away 10 minutes earlier from getting to a delightful cross by Joe Cole but it flew inches over his head. Chelsea’s physical tactics had an effect on the more elegant style of the Barcelona side and in the end it did for Lionel Messi who pulled up with an injured hamstring after a foul by William Gallas and had to be replaced by Larsson.

Gallas was fortunate not to be called for a penalty after barging over Ronaldinho just before the half hour mark but in truth Barcelona had yet to test Petr Cech. Carvalho - whose controversial holding of the Barcelona goalkeeper last year resulted in Chelsea’s decisive goal - could also have been penalised for a penalty after dragging Edmilson to the ground inside the penalty area. However it was Valdes who was again tested as Arjen Robben cut in from the right in the 38th minute but the Barcelona keeper got down well to save his shot and not to let it rebound into the path of Drogba. Chelsea again went close a minute from the end of the first-half as John Terry won the ball in the air and Cole produced an inspired overhead lob which beat Valdes but landed on top of the net.

In the end, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho made a double switch in the 59th minute bringing on Eidur Gudjohnsen and Crespo for Drogba and Damien Duff. However it was Barcelona who were on target shortly after that as Samuel Eto’o at last got a shot in that forced Cech to beat it away and Terry headed it to safety. Hernan Crespo nearly made a dramatic entrance as on the hour Cole’s expertly directed cross was met by the Argentinian at the near post but his shot trickled wide.