It was April 24th 2012, and Chelsea FC was set to play Barcelona in the Camp Nou.[i] Coming into this second leg fixture with a one-goal advantage, all his squad had to do was stop Barcelona from scoring and they’d be on to the Champions League Final. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. Chelsea’s opponents were one of the greatest sides to ever grace a football pitch, fielding world-class players that literally grew up playing together in Barcelona’s famed youth academy: La Masia. It didn’t take long to realize just how difficult a task it would be for Chelsea to come out on top. Barcelona scored two goals in the first half, taking the matchup by the scruff of its neck, while Chelsea captain and star defender John Terry got himself sent off.[ii] With just seconds left in the half, Chelsea received hope in the form of a glorious chip from industrious midfielder Ramires.[iii] The London club had bent but not broken, and again only needed to hold Barcelona scoreless in the second half to advance on away goals.
Lionel Messi and company relentlessly sent wave after wave of attacks in the second half as Chelsea desperately tried to park the bus in front of their goal. A Messi shot clattered off the bar, Petr Čech made incredible saves, and an Alexis Sánchez goal was rightly called back for offside.[iv] Looking on to all of this for the last 10 minutes of the match was Fernando Torres.[v] One must have forgiven him if he lost focus, for he was watching a beautifully dominant offensive display put on by his countrymen. The play of the game was so distant; he must have felt like the loneliest man in the world standing in the center of the pitch. Yet, Barcelona lacked an end product, and with each passing moment Chelsea crept closer to the Final.
88’… 89’… 90’… 91’… 92’…
Suddenly, a breakthrough. Receiving the ball for merely a split second, Ashley Cole booted the ball up field hoping for a short respite from the onslaught.[vi] The ball somehow found Torres, though, and he was off to the races with no defenders between him and Barcelona’s keeper. He moved up the field so quickly even the cameraman couldn’t keep up.[vii] Chelsea fans around the world waited with bated breath. They had seen this movie before. Fernando Torres in on net, needing just a clinical finish to get the team to victory, only to miss the goal in calamitous fashion. Torres had other plans though, neatly shrugging off the keeper’s desperate challenge and tapping the ball into the empty net, providing a palpable burst of relief. Relief from previous losses to the Blaugrana for Chelsea supporters, relief from past finishing mishaps for Torres, and most of all, relief from the ever-present danger of a Barcelona goal for the Chelsea players.
Only a month later, Chelsea would go on to complete the most improbable Champions League run in history, beating Bayern in the final in Munich.
[i] “Barcelona vs. Chelsea” 4/24/2012. http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2012/matches/round=2000266/match=2007692/postmatch/lineups/index.html (Accessed on 1/31/2018)
[iv] “FC Barcelona vs Chelsea 2-2 All Goals and Highlights with English Commentary (UCL) 2011-12 HD 1080i.” YouTube, YouTube, 18 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QenBb3iIIyQ&t=9s.
[v] “Barcelona vs. Chelsea”
[vi] “FC Barcelona vs Chelsea 2-2 All Goals and Highlights with English Commentary (UCL) 2011-12 HD 1080i.”