Ronaldinho's heavenly talent snuffed out and Rijkaard is brought down to earth

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Johan Cruyff said Jose Mourinho is death to football, but the ageing Dutch master could not have got it more wrong.

Johan Cruyff said Jose Mourinho is death to football, but the ageing Dutch master could not have got it more wrong. Death to polite and temperate behaviour, maybe; death to sweet modesty and decorum, as he proved again when he blew brief kisses to the shattered Barça fans after this stupendous match, but not football, and certainly not Chelsea.

His takeover of the high ground of the European ­ and English ­ game moved up another notch here with victory over Ronaldinho's Barcelona.

The rival manager Frank Rijkaard, who was so scornful of Mourinho's somewhat bizarre behaviour at the Nou Camp in the first leg, was the main victim here last night. The Dutch coach, and former great player, has been building a brilliant reputation in Spain with his shrewd handling of Barcelona as they have usurped Real Madrid's old monopoly of the Spanish glory. He has released the stunning talent of Ronaldinho, and had never seemed more certain of another bonus from Fifa's world player of the year when the Brazilian struck with pure genius to pull his team back into a tie that appeared to have been swept away by the sheer force of Chelsea in the first 17 minutes.

But Rijkaard found himself in a maelstrom last night, one of will and optimism and the growing sense that Mourinho can indeed exert an extraordinary influence over any collection of footballers who come under his control.

He stunned the powerbases of European football last year with his assault on the Champions' League with Porto. Here, in his new theatre of action in Europe, he has already been lectured on his wild and eccentric ways by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger but then, failing a remarkable resurrection by Arsenal at Highbury, the reality is that Mourinho's grip seems to be tightening a little more with each new week.

This was the real significance of what happened here last night. Yes, it might be said Mourinho was provocative again in a moment of triumph, dancing on the field and blowing his kisses, and the sight of Rijkaard and Ronaldinho and the fine striker Samuel Eto'o distraught and being held back on the touchline ­ allegedly after receiving taunts from various members of the Chelsea establishment, all the way down the food chain to the stewards ­ was not the image that you might have quite wanted.

But none of this invalidated the fury and the brilliance of a game which saw Chelsea find an astonishing will to throw back a force which for a while seemed likely to prove simply too talented.

The key to everything was the containing of Ronaldinho. For a second time in three years he shook the English football nation in a way beyond the normal limits of native genius.
But whatever Ronaldinho did, and some of his
touches were extraordinary, one achievement was beyond him.

He could never quite subdue the resilience that Mourinho has brought to Chelsea and which, however the sneers go, is not always the natural accompaniment of huge contracts and apparently limitless wealth.

Ronaldinho immersed himself in the post-game rage but it was he who had defined the conflict, set its shape and created so much of its momentum and fantasy.

In 2002, in Japan, his goal for Brazil hastened the end of David Seaman's career and England's World Cup life. But then it also sparked a furious argument about the precise nature of his intentions. Did he mean to make a cross of the free-kick or twist Seaman inside out as he curled the ball into the net?

Here last night there was no whisper of debate about the goal that came straight from the heavens. It was an unequivocal statement of talent from another dimension and it brought Chelsea, rampant, heavy-hitting, unstoppable Chelsea, stumbling back to earth after their engulfing of Barça with three brilliantly taken goals. Only something of an utterly dramatic nature could have done that, so hard and serene had Mourinho's team become in the most extraordinary 19 minutes of his already remarkable stewardship of Roman Abramovich's millions.

Ricardo Carvalho, in the view of some good judges the best central defender in Europe, moved to close down Ronaldinho on the edge of the box. He might just have ambitiously tried to get hold of a gust of wind. Ronaldinho dallied on a shot ­ before flighting it exquisitely just inside the post.

Barcelona had only to maintain the score at 3-2 to pass to the next round. With Ronaldinho masterful, and Deco and Xavi coming out of the shadows, that seemed like a distinctly feasible assignment. But in the end Mourinho's team was too strong. It is something that all of European football, even Cruyff, might have to get used to saying.

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