Suddenly, there he was: Chelsea's £50 million mistake, clear on the Barcelona goal and with a shot at sweet redemption.
The script called for it and Fernando Torres delivered. As he rounded Victor Valdes to pass into an empty net, one of the most remarkable matches in Champions League history culminated in the most fitting way possible.
On a night when Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barca failed to put away a Chelsea team reduced to 10 men and missing both central defenders, a Torres goal was strangely in keeping with the madness of it all.
From 2-0 down on the day, Chelsea fought back to 2-2 at Camp Nou and went through 3-2 on aggregate. It was a Champions League comeback to rank alongside Liverpool's "Miracle of Istanbul" and Manchester United's 1999 feats in Turin and Barcelona—it will go down as one of European football's great upsets.
Chelsea parked the bus, rode their luck and every other underdog-friendly cliche you can think of. But just as football has so often rewarded Barca's brand of swashbuckling attacking brilliance, tonight it honored heroic commitment and resolute resilience.
Chelsea deserve every accolade. Roberto Di Matteo's team were up against the most irresistible force of their generation, before 90,000 baying fans used to greeting sacrificial offerings. When they fell behind to Sergio Busquets' goal on 35 minutes, we expected bloody slaughter.
Things would get worse before they got better. Just a minute after conceding, Chelsea captain John Terry committed his latest ill-advised act: driving a knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez to pick up a straight red card.
Chelsea had already lost Gary Cahill to injury, so Terry's sending off left them to contend with a bloodthirsty Barca with a makeshift central defense of Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa. To say that wasn't ideal would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Barca took immediate advantage, but no sooner had Andres Iniesta scored to seemingly set the tie on course for a rout, than Frank Lampard released Ramires with a fine pass down the inside-right channel.
Ramires had already been booked and would thus be suspended for the final, but his frantic legs remained sure of their destination. When he reached the ball, the Brazilian summoned the kind of chip over Valdes that can only be described as exquisite.
Incredibly, Chelsea had scored. Incredibly, as halftime came, they were somehow leading the tie on away goals.
It remained a far-fetched proposition they might prevail. Barcelona had dominated possession and created plenty of chances. Surely their time would come and Chelsea's stubborn resistance would be emphatically broken.
When Didier Drogba's outstretched leg felled Cesc Fabregas on 48 minutes, the inevitable loomed large. Up stepped Messi, the world's best player and scorer of over 60 goals this season, with a chance to beat Petr Cech from 12 yards and put Barca back in command.
Did it play in his mind that he'd never scored against Chelsea? Did he try to be too cute with his placement? Who knows, but when his shot cannoned back of the crossbar, Chelsea's players were invigorated with fresh belief.
For the remaining 40 minutes, they took up their defensive positions as Barca laid siege. Wave after wave of attacks rained down on Chelsea's goal, but time and again they escaped unhurt.
Cech refused to be beaten; Lampard tackled and blocked like a man possessed; Messi hit a post.
Barca could find no way through. By the time the ball broke to Torres in added time, they were so committed that he was given the freedom of Camp Nou to advance on Valdes and strike the killer blow they couldn't.
For Torres and Chelsea, heady euphoria. For Barcelona, gut-wrenching heartbreak.
As for Di Matteo, who has taken Chelsea to the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League since taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, he added the masterminding of one of the most improbable triumphs we've seen to his resume.
After the game, Di Matteo told Sky Sports (as per Goal.com):
It’s an incredible achievement by this group of players. A lot of people had written us [off] but we showed again what kind of character these players have...
We didn’t expect to play with 10 men, but we knew it was going to be tough and it was even more difficult than we expected. Barcelona have some fantastic players but we showed what we’re made of.
The second half wasn’t much about tactics – it was about the pressure, the pride, the desire to go to the final. We were 45 minutes away from the final and that’s what the second half was about.
The belief was always there - we wouldn’t be in the final if we didn’t believe we could get there.
Di Matteo will have to cope without the suspended Terry, Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles for the final in Munich, but after their coup at Camp Nou, the Chelsea coach and his players will feel just about anything is possible.
Just ask Torres.