LONDON — Andres Iniesta last night scored one of the most dramatic goals in Champions League history to sink Chelsea and send ten-man Barcelona into a Champions League final showdown with Manchester United.
Three minutes into injury time in a second leg that Chelsea had completely dominated, the Spain midfielder latched on to a pass from Lionel Messi and lashed an unstoppable shot spinning into the top corner of the net.
That was enough to cancel out Michael Essien’s even more stunning ninth-minute strike for Chelsea, level the aggregate score at 1-1 and send the Catalans to Rome on the away goals rule after an encounter that will principally be remembered for the erratic refereeing of Tom Ovrebo.
Out-thought and out-muscled in the goalless first leg in the Nou Camp, Barcelona found themselves out-played in what was, until the cruel final minutes, a one-sided Stamford Bridge encounter.
Ovrebo was wrong to send Barca’s French defender Eric Abidal off with just over 20 minutes left for what he thought was a professional foul on Nicolas Anelka.
But the Norwegian official’s performance hit Chelsea far harder with Guus Hiddink’s side denied what appeared to be at least two stonewall penalties on a night that ended with him being escorted off the pitch under the protection of Chelsea stewards alarmed by Didier Drogba’s attempts to confront him.
Chelsea had made two changes from the side that had prevented Barcelona from scoring at the Nou Camp for the first time this season.
Ashley Cole returned from suspension and John Obi Mikel, one of two defensive midfielders deployed in Barcelona, was sacrificed to accomodate Nicolas Anelka on the right of a front three.
Barca did not have the luxury of tactical fine-tuning. Already deprived, by suspension and injury, of centrebacks Carles Puyol and Rafael Marquez, Josep Guardiola lost Thierry Henry to a knee injury suffered in the 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid at the weekend.
The result was a reshuffle that saw Yaya Toure employed as a stand-in centre-half, Sergio Busquets and Seydou Keita brought into midfield and Iniesta pushed forward to join Messi and Samuel Eto’o in attack.
Pilloried as exponents of “anti-football” after the first leg, Chelsea needed only eight minutes of the return to produce the perfect riposte with a goal that breathtakingly demonstrated that the Catalans do not enjoy a monopoly on technical excellence.
Frank Lampard’s attempted chip was deflected by Toure into Essien’s path and, from just beyond the arc on the edge of the penalty area, the Ghanaian midfielder unleashed a left-foot volley that rattled into the net off the underside of the bar.
Even after falling behind, Barca offered little in terms of real penetration.
Daniel Alves was only narrowly off target with a 40-yard free-kick but the Brazilian right-back was also extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty in a wrestling match with Florent Malouda that started outside but continued into the area.
Drogba’s hopeful shot from the tight-angled free-kick that was awarded yielded a corner that produced another chance, John Terry directing his header inches wide.
Moments earlier, Drogba had been thwarted by Victor Valdes’s speed off his line and when Lampard released the striker once more shortly afterwards, Chelsea’s appeals for Abidal’s robust challenge to be penalised went unheeded. — AFP.