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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Drogba Silences Rafa As Chelsea Make History

Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool AET (1-1 FT)

Didier Drogba put in a sensational performance to guide Chelsea through to their first Champions League final on the back of a 3-2 extra time win over Liverpool.

Avram Grant, the man people love to hate, has done in less than eight months what Jose Mourinho could not in three full seasons - guide Chelsea to a Champions League final.
The Blues had their noses in front after the first leg, but still had work to do, and Liverpool made sure they did not give in without a fight.
Didier Drogba's opener was cancelled out by Fernando Torres as the big men showed up to take the game into extra time. Frank Lampard then converted a penalty to restore Chelsea's lead, and Drogba put the match beyond Liverpool soon after with his second of the evening.
Ryan Babel pulled one back with three minutes of extra time remaining, with some help from Petr Cech, but it was too little too late for Liverpool, leaving Grant to savour the truly 'Special' moment that Chelsea have been searching for five seasons now.

First Half

Before the match Rafael Benitez had made his feelings about Didier Drogba quite clear. Yet it took the Ivorian little over half an hour to respond with a goal which he gleefully celebrated in front of the Liverpool bench.
In truth the goal had been coming for some time as Chelsea had had the better of a tightly contested first half played in slick conditions. The rain pelting down in West London made for a lively contest, with the pitch beginning to cut up quite early on. Had the groundsmen been distracted before the game?
Drogba had been involved as early as the fifth minute when an expert turn and shot from the striker had forced a smart save from Reina. An even better chance fell to the striker just over ten minutes later from which he should have opened the scoring. A lovely through ball by Lampard put Drogba in and with just the keeper to beat he slotted his shot just wide of the post.
In the meantime Liverpool had fashioned their best chance of the half. Joe Cole lost the ball on the edge of the Liverpool box and the away side broke with Benayoun. The ball eventually found its way to Torres on the left of the area but his shot was well saved by Petr Cech.
The opening goal finally arrived just after the half hour mark. Another excellent through ball by Lampard found Kalou, who beat Hypia and shot at Reina. Although the Liverpool keeper managed to parry his shot, Drogba arrived to thump home the opener from a tight angle.
Five minutes later and it could have been two nil. Michael Ballack firing a free kick which flew just inches wide of the post. Instead, Chelsea had to settle for a one goal lead at the break, albeit a fully deserved one.

Second Half

Yet within two minutes of the restart Liverpool could have been level. A Gerrard free kick was headed across goal by Mascherano and Dirk Kuyt’s flick goalwards was well saved by Cech. The equaliser wasn’t too far behind though. Chelsea’s level had dropped after the interval and Liverpool had come out from the break with an energy and drive that had been missing from their play in the first half.
Just after the hour the visitors made Chelsea pay. A lovely run from Benayoun saw the Israeli cut inside from the right, beat Makelele and Drogba before smuggling the ball through to Torres just inside the box. The striker finished instinctively past Cech to level the tie and end Liverpool’s recent goal drought at Stamford Bridge.
Suddenly the balance of the match changed. Liverpool were on the front foot for once whilst Chelsea were looking flat, as if their exertions at the weekend against Manchester United were starting to take their toll.
As the second half drew to a close the match grew scrappy as Chelsea tried to claw their way back into a match that had looked at one point as if it was drifting away from them. With few chances arriving and both teams became noticeably more cautious, it was no surprise the 90 minutes finished one apiece and, once again, extra time loomed.

Extra Time

Of course it wouldn’t be a Chelsea versus Liverpool game without a touch of controversy and it duly arrived within five minutes of extra time. A corner wasn’t cleared by Liverpool and the ball fell to Essien on the edge of the box who thumped a shot home and past Reina, only for the assistant referee to flag for offside.
The home side were stunned but seconds later they were celebrating again as Hypia fouled Ballack in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Frank Lampard who made no mistake from the spot to give Chelsea the lead.
An exhilarating first period of extra time wasn’t quite finished there though. With one minute remaining Anelka broke clear on the right and put in a cross which Drogba finished expertly to give Reina no chance and all but send Chelsea to Moscow.
Only it wasn’t quite as simple as that, with the second period of extra time proving almost as eventful as the first. Liverpool looked to have a valid claim for a penalty turned down after Drogba appeared to foul Hypia in the penalty area, only for the referee to wave their appeals away.
Then with only five minutes left on the clock Ryan Babel shot from fully 40 yards, Petr Cech fumbled it and the ball flew into the back of the net. Suddenly it was 3-2 and Chelsea were left to endure a nervous few minutes. The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the home side but come it did and after a dramatic game Chelsea were finally on their way to Moscow and a meeting with Manchester United.


3-2 Liverpool (Babel, 117)
3-1 Chelsea (Drogba, 105)
2-1 Chelsea (Lampard pen, 97)
1-1 Liverpool (Torres, 63)
1-0 Chelsea (Drogba, 32)

Chelsea: Cech, Essien, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole, Ballack, Makelele, Lampard (Shevchenko, 118), J Cole (Anelka, 90), Drogba, Kalou (Malouda, 69)

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel (Hypia, 21), Riise, Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (Pennant, 78), Torres (Babel, 97)
Gill Clark