By BJ James
Since the beginning of the Champions League competition, Chelsea has been ever so close to lifting the most prestigious trophy in world football. Four semi-final and one finals appearance, and yet nothing to show for it but heartache and agony. Year after year Chelsea was close. It was always “the year.” Yet instead of picking up trophies, they picked up evermore rivals.
It was the end of 2011 and Chelsea was yet again in Europe’s most prestigious competition. They drew a relatively easy group, but struggled early on to get the results they needed. But, as Chelsea does, they continued on in the competition, getting just enough of a result to move on. Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona. Barcelona. The draw they didn’t want in the semi-finals. Twice they had been knocked out of the tournament by their most despised rival outside of England. Twice they had lost to the best team in Europe. But this year was different, as every year is. This time Chelsea was an underdog capable of pulling off an upset against the defending champions. This time Chelsea had Fernando Torres. This time the soccer gods smiled down on Stamford Bridge and condemned Camp Nou.
Chelsea went into the away leg with a one-nil lead, but it took less than a half for them to find themselves down 2-1 and a man. Down, away, dominated, Chelsea took one back against the run of play before the long awaited halftime whistle mercifully blew.
Barcelona picked up where they left off, peppering Chelsea’s goal with shot after shot, but nothing could find the back of the net. Barcelona was on the verge of losing out on the Cup Finals, but they still had the ball, they had the momentum, and they had every opportunity and expectation to go ahead. But as the eyes of the world peered down on 21 players, fate shifted. Fernando Torres, a late substitute, the £50 million man, made his presence known.
Barcelona packed their team inside their attacking third and laid a ball into a sea of white, but it was intercepted and bounced around uncontrolled. One deflection, two. And a safe clearance out of the box to give Chelsea type to reorganize. But in the scrum, Torres had drifted behind the last defender waiting at the edge of his own half. The clearance landed in his path, only the keeper was in sight. Torres closed in on Victor Valdez. 50 yards, 40, 30. Valdez came to meet him at the edge of the 18 to make his final stand. To keep Barcelona in the tournament. But Torres masterfully glided around the outstretched keeper. Just Torres and the goal. The simplest of passes slotted the ball into the back of the goal, sending a ripple through the net and a shockwave through the stadium. Chelsea was through to the finals. They would play in Munich. They would please the soccer gods. After years of heartbreak and agony, they would lift the most coveted trophy in European football.