Last-gasp Barcelona edge through to final

Andres Iniesta (right) celebrates his stunning last-gasp strike as Barcelona reached the Champions League final.
A stunning last-gasp strike from Andres Iniesta put 10-man Barcelona in the Champions League final on the away goals rule, giving the Catalan giants a 1-1 draw at Chelsea on a night of high drama at Stamford Bridge.

With the clock showing two minutes gone out of an extra four minutes at the end of the game, Spanish international Iniesta fired in a sublime shot from the edge of the area to break Chelsea’s hearts and take Pep Guardiola’s side through to a dream final against holders Manchester United in Rome on May 27. Following last week’s cagey goalless draw at the Nou Camp, all the talk before the match was whether Barca’s stunning attacking prowess could pierce Chelsea’s solid defense. As Barca had hit Real Madrid for six last Saturday, their hopes were high. However, the loss of Thierry Henry through injury proved a major setback for the Catalan giants and — despite dominating possession for the majority of the match — they failed to seriously trouble the Chelsea goal until Iniesta’s strike. The opening goal of another tight match came in the ninth minute and what a superb strike it was. Frank Lampard’s cross from the left was deflected off a Barca defender and, from a full 30 yards out, Michael Essien fired a spectacular volley that left goalkeeper Victor Valdes clutching thin air.

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Barcelona’s first effort on goal came in the 20th minute with a Dani Alves free-kick, which flew just wide. Then, just two minutes, Didier Drogba seemed set to run onto a long pass from Lampard, but Valdes saw the danger early and sprinted out of his goal to just beat the Ivorian to the ball. There was controversy in the 24th minute when Alves pulled back Florent Malouda on the left-hand edge of the area. Norwegian referee Tom Henning awarded a free-kick to the home side, but TV replays clearly showed the offense occured just inside the area, which should have handed Chelsea a chance to double their lead from the penalty spot. Drogba eventually took the free-kick from an acute angle and only another fine stop from Valdes prevented a second goal. Despite Barcelona enjoying the bulk of possession they failed to trouble Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal — and the second half began in a similar vein when Drogba wasted a great opportunity for the home side. Nicolas Anelka burst through the Barca defense before finding Drogba, who cut inside before firing in a shot which Valdes did superbly to keep out his with legs.

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Barca knew an equalizer would see them reach the final on the away goals rule, but their task was made that much harder in the 65th minute when French defender Eric Abidal was unluckily sent off for clipping Nicolas Anelka when his compatriot was through on goal. As the last man, Abidal had to walk, and in doing so he became the first Barcelona player to be sent off in the Champions League since current coach Guardiola was dismissed 11 years ago. From then on, Chelsea appeared to be cruising towards the final and they really should have had a chance to kill the match off from the penalty spot, but again the referee failed to give the decision when Gerald Pique clearly appeared to handle the ball with nine minutes left. But, with Chelsea’s fans dreaming of a chance to avenge last year’s final defeat by Manchester United, Iniesta’s late intervention broke 40,000 hearts. On the final whistle, Chelsea’s angry players surrounded referee Henning, believing the non-award of two clear penalties deprived them of a final place. Michael Ballack appeared to man-handle Henning and Didier Drogba, who had been substituted with a late injury, completely lost his temper, coming back onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee. European football’s governing body UEFA are certain to take action against Drogba, and possibly Chelsea, following the ugly scenes. The only sour note for Barcelona was a yellow card for Alves which means the Brazilian, along with Abidal, will join Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher in being suspended for the final.