Chelsea's hopes of a return to the European Cup final were left in ruins amid controversy and recrimination last night with Didier Drogba facing a lengthy European ban for his furious outburst after the final whistle.
The 93rd-minute goal from Barcelona's Andres Iniesta that knocked Chelsea out sparked a post-match melee as the home side's players surrounded the referee in protest at his failure to award at least one penalty in their favour.
Drogba was particularly incensed at the Norwegian official Tom Henning Ovrebo's performance, yelling: "It's a fucking disgrace," at a TV camera while being restrained by his team-mates. Chelsea believe they should have had four penalties in the match, which ended 1-1 and saw them eliminated on away goals. The striker continued his outburst down the tunnel and allegedly slapped his hand against the wall next to the official.
Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink stopped short of saying the match had been fixed by Uefa to ensure there would not be two English teams in the final again, but he said the performance of the referee certainly added fuel to any conspiracy theories.
Hiddink said: "When he waved away two handballs like that, with hands and arms up in the air, that's when you start thinking. It's not just one decision made in doubt, but several decisions not made. You should ask the people at Uefa who gave the referee this game.
"People are making suggestions. If you talk about that, it's difficult to prove those things. I've seen it with very dry, cold eyes on the tape. There are three or four incidents, which I've seen calmly on video, without any big emotions. You have to analyse things closely. Then I also start thinking. Conspiracy is a very tough word and you have to prove it. I don't want to go with that tough word. It was said in the build-up that it would be nice to have a repetition of last year's final.
"But I can only say what I see. I cannot say if Uefa would not like another all-English final. What I'm sure about is that in big games like this you need top notch referees who have lots of experience of refereeing in the big leagues in Italy, Spain, England and Germany. That was the worst refereeing I have ever seen."
Chelsea captain John Terry was also outraged by the performance of Ovrebo, who after the match admitted to Uefa officials he made several big mistakes. Terry said: "It's astonishing. It was a shambles. We had six or seven penalty claims waved away and that's astonishing"
Hiddink defended Drogba's explosive outburst, and insisted he would stand by the striker should Uefa want to charge him. "I can fully understand Didier's reaction: full of emotion, full of adrenalin. People say he should be in control. The time a player goes beyond emotion to start hitting, that's wrong but I can fully understand his emotion. I will protect him."
Michael Essien's spectacular volley from 25 yards in the ninth minute gave Chelsea the belief they were going through against 10-man Barcelona, until Iniesta scored in the third minute of stoppage time to decide this epic contest on away goals.
Eric Abidal was controversially sent off in the 66th minute for a challenge on Nicolas Anelka, although replays showed there was little, if any, contact from the Barcelona defender. The hosts thought they should have been given four penalties, the clearest being in the 82nd minute, when Gerard Pique handled the ball but the referee waved Chelsea's claims away.
Pique admitted the official got it wrong, saying: "The ball touched my hand but I didn't want to touch it. You have to respect the decision."
Hiddink admitted it will be hard to lift his players, who believed they were heading to Rome. He said: "There's disappointment. The overall feeling is one of being robbed and injustice. That's why it was so hot and angry"
Terry, whose missed penalty cost Chelsea their chance to win last year's final against Manchester United, summed up the heartache of the players. "We did exactly what we needed to do," he said. "Not one player made one mistake in the two legs. The referee has made big errors and now we're out. It's a big game with big players and he simply wasn't good enough."