Jim White

Chelsea played the game of their lives

Jim White

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What a night. What an astonishing result. At the Camp Nou Chelsea gave final vindication to those who have long preached that what matters in football is not possession of the ball, it is sticking it in the net. Chelsea overcame the minor obstacle of having control of the ball for just 20 per cent of the match to reach the Champions League final.

Yet those stats barely hint at the drama. What a surfeit of discipline, effort and commitment was shown by Roberto di Matteo's men, particularly after their captain, the man who was supposed to co-ordinate their backs-to-the-wall defence, self-destructed so early in the game. Even those whose sympathy for Roman Abramovich's plaything is minimal could not but have found those last 10 minutes among the most viscerally exciting passages of play in the history of the game.

Not being a follower of Ray Winstone's giant disembodied head, I don't know what the in-play odds against Chelsea were after 40 minutes of last night's semi final. Let's just say the improbability of coming back from 2-0 down (albeit 2-1 on aggregate) against the finest club side in the world, without both their centre-backs and with a pair of full-backs filling in, was such that the sane would have given up all hope of progress. At that point I was confidently predicting 4-0, with Terry facing total ignominy.

Instead Chelsea scored twice and progress after a most magnificent demonstration of belligerence, a reminder to us all that defence is as vital a part of the game as attack. Sure, it wasn't as aesthetically pleasing as much of Barca's play. But as Jose Bosingwa demonstrated in the 89th minute, a hit and hope hoof out of your own penalty area can be somewhat more effective than any amount of sideways tippy-tappy. And please, don't tell me Bosingwa spotted Fernando Torres, lurking all alone upfront. That wasn't an inch perfect 30 yard pass. It was "get rid" at its most basic.

So, of course Chelsea were lucky. They were lucky Lionel Messi was having a sulky off-day. They were lucky someone had added an extra layer of paint to the Camp Nou woodwork. So lucky were they that Glenn Hoddle saw the workings of fate in action. According to the batty one this was the only explanation: they were destined to win. Name on the cup etc.

Well, not quite. It wasn't destiny flinging itself at every shot. It wasn't destiny tackling itself into exhaustion. It wasn't destiny retaining two disciplined lines of four with the centre forward corralled in as emergency left back. It was Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and the brilliant Ramires playing the matches of their lives. It was all that experience, all that know-how, all that downright cussedness coming to the fore. Even Raul Meireles turned into a titan.

And let's face it, it was marvellous to watch. Of course, Barcelona were the better team. But nobody can suggest Chelsea do not deserve to be in the final in Munich next month. There is something rather comforting to the rest of us to see the mortals of the football world demonstrate that the immortals can be out-flanked.

What's more, all this was done without the man who was supposed to personify their belligerence. Quite what Terry thought he was doing when he kneed Alexis Sanchez up the backside only he knows. He looked like an eight-year-old attempting to secure playground superiority by dead legging a rival. It was as pathetic as it was utterly futile.

Yet, in a way, it helped concentrate Chelsea minds. From the moment he walked, they knew their only hope lay in collective mass defence. Tactically that had probably always been the best option, but with a man down all they could do was pile behind the ball, defending so deep they all needed an aqualung. Plus, as Ramires and Torres so emphatically did, take whatever chance came their way.

The magnificence of their rearguard was all the more elevated by the fact this is not the way Chelsea are used to playing. Parking the bus is what the visitors do at Stamford Bridge. The group of players put together by Jose Mourinho and restored to full working order by Di Matteo are used to winning matches by streamrollering the opposition. They don't sit behind the ball, they power forward, sweeping aside opponents with ruthless muscularity. Yet here they were playing against type and doing it rather well.

As it happens, we are unlikely to see it again. It worked because of the nature of the opposition. In worked in a way that Manchester United's attempt to match Barca at their own game so conspicuously failed to do in last year's final.

It worked so well, indeed, that it will spark some serious examination at Barcelona. When you have a Plan A as lustrous as that with which Pep Guardiola's team has accumulated so many trophies you might not think you need a Plan B. But last night Barca were found to be something we never imagined them to be: a one-dimensional side, stuck in the same gear. And discovering that is Chelsea's most significant achievement in this game.

More Barcelona-Chelsea reaction:
Andy Mitten: What now for Barcelona?
Rafa Benitez: That's football
Grant backs Di Matteo for permanent job
Questions raised over Barcelona playing style
Chelsea chief proud of players
Terry denies himself shot at redemption
Video: Guardiola cannot explain defeat
Video: Di Matteo delight at progress
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