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Champions League Final Set – Chelsea to Play Bayern

The final for the most important club football tournament the world has to offer is set.  In two absurdly dramatic semi-finals, Chelsea FC and Bayern Munich have upset the favorites and claimed their spot in Munich. @JoeBianchino

It was a night of suspended breath on Tuesday, when Chelsea took their 1-0 aggregate lead into Camp Nou to try to hold down the offensive strength of Barcelona.  It was a daunting prospect.  But mere minutes into the match – with Chelsea once again employing the ten men behind the ball form that won them the match at Stamford Bridge – daunting turned impossible as the turf made a victim out of Gary Cahill.  The central defender who has been such a huge part of this side’s defense having risen from the grave, slipped and wrenched his hamstring.  It was as though Camp Nou herself had come alive and taken from Chelsea its most crucial player.

David Ramos, Getty Images

It was just minutes later when Barcelona’s skill broke down the Chelsea defense, and broke down Chelsea hearts.  A lovely bit of passing – what else could passing be when it’s Barca’s – led to an unmarked Busquets, a calm finish, and a Barca lead.  The hole deepened for Chelsea when, in the minutes following the Busquets goal, Chelsea captain, central defender, and wife enthusiast John Terry needlessly deposited his knee into the leg of Sanchez.  The off ball incident left the referee little choice.  A red card for Terry, and suddenly the Blues found themselves down a goal, down to ten men, without either starting center back, and facing one of the greater offensive forces soccer has ever seen.  Barcelona would capitalize.  And why wouldn’t they, surely Chelsea were doomed.

But then the magic happened.  A counterattack from the Blues culminated with Lampard brilliantly playing Ramires behind Barca’s line.  One flick over the charging keeper, and suddenly, Chelsea were in position to advance on away goals.  The tenuous lead would be tested throughout the second half in what was one of the more dramatic halves of soccer played in recent memory.  Barcelona held possession for almost the entirety of the final 45 minutes, hovering near the penalty area, waiting to swarm on any weakness.  But few came, and when they did, Barca couldn’t capitalize.  Messi rang the woodwork twice, including once from the penalty spot, but could not beat Cech.  Against all odds, ten men were standing strong against Barcelona, but it wasn’t until stoppage time that they knew their efforts would pay off.  A flailing Chelsea clearance found its way to the fifty million pound man, Fernando Torres, who did what he was acquired to do, but hadn’t done yet.  Finished.  Fifty million pounds for one goal?  When it puts you through to the Champions League Final?  Absolutely.  2-2 Chelsea. 3-2 on aggregate.  They were on their way to Munich.

Shaun Botterill, Getty Images

It was an impossible result.  Indeed, there was magic in the Camp Nou Tuesday night, but not from whom you’d expect.  It was not the feet of Iniesta making headlines, or the beauty of Messi’s play waking the Spanish echoes.  Instead, the story here lie in a beleaguered side of ten men, who found themselves without either center back, turning back the greatest offensive force in futbol.  Unbelievable.

How could Bayern and Real match this drama?  Well, how about penalties?  The 2-1 lead Bayern took into Wednesday’s match was erased early, as Ronaldo converted a penalty in the sixth and cooly deposited another in the fourteenth.  Madrid had blitzed the Germans and in a quarter of an hour had pulled themselves ahead.  The lead held for mere minutes, however, as Arjen Robben converted a penalty of his own and pulled Bayern level on aggregate.  The rest of regulation and overtime clicked by largely uneventfully – though Bayern pressed play a bit in the second half – both teams seemingly content to take this game to penalties.

When the penalties did come, it looked as though neither side should have been so content to usher the game to the spot.  Ronaldo and Kaka’s weak boots to the right of the keeper on Madrid’s first two penalties were stopped, and all looked lost for Mourinho’s squad.  Two Bayern misses followed, however, and Sergio Ramos was sent to the spot with an opportunity to pull his squad level.  His attempt found only the parking lot, however – as Ramos smashed the ball ten yards over goal.  Bayern converted their final penalty and were heading home to the final, 3-1 on penalties.

Bayern hadn’t been the underdogs that Chelsea were, but the result was certainly a surprise.  The soon to be champions of La Liga were the favorites, not only to take out Bayern, but to raise the trophy.  Two weeks ago, not many would have predicted a final that didn’t feature a Spanish side, but in fact, that is what we have been given.  Bayern Munich will host Chelsea and their interim manager, Roberto Di Matteo, on Saturday, May 19.  Both sides will be without starters, Chelsea down 4 regulars and Bayern without 3.  But that is for next week.  This week, both clubs will celebrate what were unbelievable runs to what promises to be a dramatic final.

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