Barcelona Progress to Champions League Final, But Chelsea Retain UWCC
Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship (UWCC) saw another defence today as champions Chelsea took on Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final second leg.
The first leg had ended 0-0, with Chelsea managing to keep Barcelona's attack at bay, the first time that had been done at the Nou Camp this season. However, questions emerged over whether they could do it twice.
Chelsea had beaten Fulham 3-1 at the weekend, and only needed a 0-0 draw or a win to go through.
Barcelona, on the other hand, had thrashed Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu, proving that Chelsea would need another spirited defensive performance in order to keep the score down to whatever they needed.
They provided that spirited performance for 93 minutes, but a late strike ultimately saw Barcelona book a ticket to Rome to face Manchester United in a highly controversial semi-final, which ended 1-1, with Barcelona going through on away goals.
Barcelona were without Thierry Henry, but they had the first good chance as Xavi's shot deflected off two players before Jose Bosingwa hacked it away from just in front of his goal line.
It was Chelsea, however, who took the lead, and in some style. Frank Lampard's attempted cross was blocked, and the ball dropped to Michael Essien. He swung his left boot at it, apparently his "weaker" foot, and his first-time volley struck the underside of the crossbar on its way into the Barcelona goal.
It was a goal worthy of winning any semi-final, but Chelsea would still have to hold out for another 81 minutes for that to be the case. Barcelona's objective hadn't really changed; they wanted a goal before, now they needed a goal.
Much like in the first leg, Barca dominated the ball, but the Chelsea defence remained strong and stubborn, not letting Messi and company through.
And, again like in the first leg, it was Chelsea, namely Didier Drogba, who came closest to getting another goal for the home side. His free-kick from an acute angle was whipped in dangerously, and Victor Valdes had to make a smart save to deflect it away.
John Terry then came close with a header before Chelsea were provided with their second major penalty shout of the game.
The first had come when Florent Malouda ran down the left wing, only to be repeatedly fouled outside the box by Dani Alves. This fouling continued inside the box before a block from Alves caused Malouda to go down.
The referee, much to the despair of those in attendance at Stamford Bridge, awarded a free-kick, pulling play back for the earlier fouls instead of the one inside the box.
The second penalty claim was just as strong. Didier Drogba found himself through on goal, only to be tugged at by Eric Abidal. Drogba went down perhaps a bit too easily, but there was definite, and obvious, shirt-pulling by Abidal.
Once again, the ref waved away the claims, causing people to wonder whether Drogba's reputation as a diver had preceded him.
Alves then needlessly got himself booked, which means he will miss out on the final, and Barcelona will be without their best attacking full-back.
Barca came out strongly in the second half, but it was Chelsea, again, who had the best chance. In fact, it was Drogba, again, who had the best chance.
Anelka played him clean through on goal, but his first touch wasn't great, allowing Pique to get back. He cut inside him, however, to create a golden chance to put the tie beyond Barca. His left foot shot was tame, though, and Valdes was more than equal to it.
Drogba had another penalty appeal turned down soon after, although it looked like referee Tom Ovrebo had got it right this time, Yaya Toure seemingly getting a foot to the ball.
He had already made himself an enemy of Chelsea, and Ovrebo set about doing the same with Barcelona. Abidal seemed to brush the leg of Anelka ever so slightly when the Chelsea striker was in on goal. The foul was given and the red card flashed, meaning Abidal, Barcelona's other attacking full back, will also miss the final.
The replays showed that, like Darren Fletcher 24 hours previously, it was a harsh red card. Anelka seemed to trip over his own feet, with only the slightest contact coming from Abidal.
As time was ticking on, and both Chelsea and Barcelona were getting more and more nervous, the Blues had another strong penalty claim. It was Nicolas Anelka who forced the issue this time, flicking the ball up past Pique, who clearly blocked it with his arm.
Once again, however, Ovrebo waved it away, causing Stamford Bridge to reach fever pitch.
Ovrebo's apparent inability to point to the spot came back to haunt Chelsea in the cruelest of fashions late on. They struggled to clear the ball, and Lionel Messi laid it back to Andres Iniesta, who struck a beautiful shot into the top right corner.
It nearly broke the net, and definitely broke Chelsea hearts.
There was still time for one more penalty appeal, however, as Michael Ballack's volley in the 96th minute struck the arm of Samuel Eto'o. Ovrebo immediately waved it away, despite being in a great position, causing Ballack to chase him up the field, screaming at him all the way.
At the final whistle, the Chelsea players were understandably incensed. They had been minutes away from another Champions League final, only for it to be snatched from them, some may say robbed, by the referee.
Didier Drogba took particular offence, marching onto the field after being substituted earlier to berate the referee all the way down the tunnel. He earned a yellow card for his actions, but that didn't deter him.
Claims were thrown around afterwards that UEFA didn't want another all-English Champions League final, and that this could have been the reason for the referee's suspect penalty decisions.
Whatever the reason, it won't be of much consolation to Chelsea fans or players, as it will be Barcelona who face Manchester United in what has already been touted as the "dream final."
If it's consolation Chelsea are after, however, then look no further! Despite losing the tie, the fact they drew on the night means that Chelsea keep hold of the UWCC title for another match at least! Who needs the Champions League when you have the UWCC?
The result means that Chelsea have now defended the UWCC title more times in their second spell than they did in their first, and are just one off the all-time record held jointly by Fulham and Manchester United.
Eric Abidal becomes only the sixth player to be sent off in a UWCC title match, and the first from a non-English team.
Of the 54 voters in the poll, 57.4 percent said that Barcelona wouldn't beat Chelsea and win the UWCC title, so well done to everyone who got it right!
Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea (Chelsea become new champions)
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona
(Click here to see the complete history of Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship)
Chelsea's next title defence comes on Sunday, as the two beaten Champions League semi-finalists (Arsenal and Chelsea) meet at the Emirates. Can Arsenal become the best club in the world?!
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