Paris native Demba Ba broke the hearts of French champions Paris Saint-Germain and became the unlikely hero for Chelsea with an 87th minute goal to send his side through to the Champions League semifinals amid dramatic scenes at Stamford Bridge.
Despite Andre Schurrle’s first-half strike, PSG’s 3-1 win in Paris last week appeared that it would be enough to see them advance. Chelsea twice struck the crossbar in quick succession in the second half, adding to the sense that it just wasn’t to be this time around. But Jose Mourinho threw caution to the wind, sticking all three of his much-maligned strikers onto the pitch. And it was the forward who has been most left out in the cold this season who came to Mourinho’s rescue with a desperate close-range finish. Further drama was in store when Petr Cech pulled off a fine injury-time save from Marquinhos, but there was to be no reprieve for the run-away French leaders as Chelsea progressed on away goals.
Having lost a glorious chance to make the semifinal of Europe’s premier competition for only the second time and the first since being bankrolled by their Qatari owners, the loss and the manner of it will come as a bitter blow to Laurent Blanc’s side. And it could have been so different had Edinson Cavani, who missed several chances a week ago, not blasted over just 10 minutes before Ba’s strike. Instead Mourinho has reached the Champions League semifinals for the eighth time in 11 seasons. Having repeated the comeback they produced against Napoli en route to taking the trophy in 2012, Chelsea will again feel there may just be a sense of destiny once more about their run.
While Chelsea have undeniable failings in their squad, their ability to keep fighting to pull out a result is arguably unmatched across Europe. Still, the signs were not promising for a memorable comeback in the early stages at Stamford Bridge. PSG were looking comfortable and threatening on the break in the early exchanges, with the speedy Ezequiel Lavezzi again causing problems staying high on the left. And Chelsea suffered a major blow when losing their most influential attacking player, Eden Hazard, to injury just 18 minutes in. Admittedly, Schurrle, as he was to prove, was hardly a meager replacement.
Before the German’s moment came a fantastic save from PSG keeper Salvatore Sirigu to keep out a deflected free-kick from Frank Lampard. But in the 32nd minute, the visitor’s defense was found wanting and Chelsea got a vital first goal to keep hope alive. From a long throw-in from the right, David Luiz was able to head on and Schurrle was left completely free 12 yards out, as Lucas Moura watched on, to finish decisively low into the corner.
PSG now looked rattled and further poor defending by the visitors from balls into the box could have seen Chelsea two goals to the good before the break. On this occasion, though, Gary Cahill sliced a clear chance wide. The pressure on Paris Saint-Germain’s goal became even more intense at the start of the second half. Twice in a matter of seconds Sirigu’s bar was rattling. First, after the again susceptible Marco Verratti lost possession, Schurrle crashed a shot against the crossbar from Willian’s cutback. Moments later Oscar did likewise with a well-struck free-kick that had the PSG goalkeeper beaten.
Verratti, a fine player but too often caught on the ball, was wisely substituted soon after. His replacement Yohan Cabaye was familiar with the Stamford Bridge surroundings and, with 14 minutes remaining, the former Newcastle midfielder brilliantly supplied a chance that should have seen the tie wrapped up. Cabaye’s long diagonal pass was inch-perfect for Cavani, who took it perfectly into his path but his finish was, as in the first leg, sorely lacking.
How costly it proved. Instead of the world’s costliest strikers, it was one likely to be cast aside in the summer who stole the headlines. Another striker who Chelsea will likely be keen to see the back come the season’s end, Torres, played his part in the buildup, contesting a header to help keep an attack alive. From there it was far from pretty, as Cesar Azpilicueta’s shot deflected through a host of bodies. But no Chelsea fan will care about the aesthetic quality of the buildup, only that Ba was able to get ahead of Maxwell and hook the ball into the net. The euphoric reaction of the whole Chelsea team as well as their coach Mourinho, who in trademark fashion, sprinted down the touchline, demonstrated the spirit and highlighted the resolve which will make Chelsea such a tough out in this season’s competition.