David Luiz scored with the final kick of the match to give Chelsea a potentially vital second away goal in Switzerland and a 2-1 advantage over Basel to take back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Europa League semifinal.
After Chelsea had taken an early lead through Victor Moses’ fortuitous header, Basel had appeared to have salvaged a draw when Fabian Schar converted an 87th minute penalty. But Luiz’s low free-kick that crept past Yann Sommer in the Basel goal puts the Premier League side firmly in the driving seat to make the final.
Chelsea had failed to capitalize on Moses' early goal as chances went begging and they became increasingly negative in their approach. Having shown plenty of endeavor in the second half without, for much of it, displaying the required quality to prosper in the final third, Basel looked set to continue their run of six games unbeaten in Europe this season after Cesar Azpilicueta fouled Valentin Stocker in the area. Yet the visitors piled forward in the closing stages and, despite missing a couple of clear chances, grabbed the winner.
Basel performed well under the intense pressure. In front of a packed and exuberant crowd at St Jakob-Park, which included tennis star Roger Federer, the Swiss club looked well-prepared in their first ever European semifinal.
With Juan Mata and Oscar on the bench and the more industrious Ramires and Victor Moses in their stead, Chelsea were set up to sit deeper and play more on the counter. The quick-paced attacks caused the Basel defense problems and led to the opening goal 12 minutes in.
Eden Hazaed fed the run of Azpilicueta down the right and the Spaniard’s firs-time cross found Frank Lampard at the near-post but Sommer parried the stabbed effort behind. And from Lampard’s resulting corner, Branislav Ivanovic went up for it strongly but it grazed off his head onto that of Moses and diverted fortuitously into the net.
Basel continued to have the bulk of possession but against a resolute and deep-dropping Chelsea defense, featuring the strength of John Terry and Ivanovic as well as the returning Ashley Cole, they had little joy.
Basel’s first and only effort in anger in the opening period came from a short free-kick that resulted in a powerful strike from Schar that was tipped over by Petr Cech.
As the first leg moved toward its halfway point, Chelsea had chances to make it 2-0.
Despite his recent run of four goals in three games in the Europa League, Torres continued to look a shadow of his former self. First the Spaniard produced a poor effort on his left foot before overrunning the ball when he should have been racing through on goal.
Ramires, covering vast ground down the right had a chance too after being found down the right of the box by Lampard but Sommer saved well low to his right.
Chelsea’s clearest chance would fall seconds before the break, but having been played clean through by Moses, Hazard took an unusually poor touch and the Swiss keeper blocked an off balance shot.
Basel needed an reinjection of energy for the players and the fans and they looked like finding it right after the break. Within three minutes of the restart, the man who looked most likely to make something happen, Stocker, exchanged passes with Marco Streller, but the Switzerland international’s slightly scuffed shot came back off the bottom of the post.
While Basel had more about them in the second period, it was still arguably Chelsea that maintained the greater threat going forward.
Making a rare appearance playing in his favored No. 10 role, Hazard in flashes was looking a class above anyone else on show. He showed his quality when he easily beat a defender down the left before cutting the ball back perfectly for Torres, but from 12 yards out the Spaniard could only strike the post.
Basel continued to press, but still lacked the quality in the final third. First, after coming off the bench, Marcelo Diaz shot wildly over from the edge of the box and then Mohamed Saleh took a heavy first touch when played through to allow Cech to collect.
Chelsea, though, began dropping increasingly deep in the closing minutes and as against Rubin Kazan in the last round were vulnerable to crosses into the box. With the stadium crowd roaring on their side for a dramatic finale, Basel responded with a potentially crucial equalizer.
A deep cross from the right was headed back across goal and Azpilicueta was adjudged to have impeded Stocker enough for the referee to point to the spot. Having beaten Tottenham on penalties in the quarterfinals, Basel again made the most of a spot kick as Schar hit his effort straight down the middle and past the committed Cech.
That should have been that for the first leg but the goal had the effect of reawakening Chelsea and Basel were unable to cope with the onslaught in the final minutes. Oscar and Terry had already wasted presentable chances before Luiz’s free-kick from 20 yards appeared to catch Sommer unsighted and went into the net off the keeper’s gloves.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.