Roman Abramovich hurried across the Stamford Bridge turf after the final whistle like a man rushing to the scene of an accident, or rather a catastrophe, and goodness only knows what he found when he threw open the door of the home dressing room. Waiting there for him would have been the wreckage of Chelsea's Champions League dream for a sixth successive season, that makes it £679m spent and still no European Cup.
The fickle hand of football seems to discover new, ever crueller ways to deny the billionaire who has everything the one thing his money cannot buy. It was penalties in Moscow last year; last night it was a goal from nowhere, or rather from the right boot of Andres Iniesta in the 93rd minute, Barcelona's one shot on target in the entire game. The goal was the last defiant act of the 10 remaining Barça men who for long periods of the game were ploughed into the home soil by the power of Chelsea.
The power and brute force of Chelsea was awe-inspiring at times; but the scenes at the end of the match were an utter embarrassment. Didier Drogba's pursuit of the Norwegian referee, his "fucking disgrace" bellowed down the barrel of the Sky Sports cameras was beyond the pale and Guus Hiddink's refusal to condemn his player did him no credit either. This was Drogba's bonkers moment, he was a mad-man in flip-flops, whose post-match explosion should earn him a Uefa ban.
It does not take much to convince Chelsea of conspiracy theories when it comes to Barcelona and the Champions League and last night there was enough to feed their paranoia for years. A Uefa fix against English teams. A sinister plan to make sure the Nou Camp's great entertainers were in the showcase final against Manchester United in Rome on 27 May. The truth was that the referee Tom Henning Ovrebo had a dreadful game but talk of a Michel Platini-inspired fix is ludicrous.
Ultimately what lost Chelsea this tie was one tiny defensive error in an otherwise monumentally brilliant performance of containment. In the 93rd minute, Michael Essien, whose stunning goal gave Chelsea hope, failed to clear and the ball found itself worked from Lionel Messi to Iniesta and then past Petr Cech. Hiddink's tactics of control worked a treat but to be successful they had to be sustained for the entire game and when at last Barcelona were offered a chance they seized it.
Six goals against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday, one shot on target in 97 minutes of football last night: such were Barcelona's margins of victory. Ovrebo, the Norwegian referee, turned down three penalty appeals for Chelsea which was why Hiddink said that the prevailing mood in the dressing room afterwards was one of "injustice". Yet for all Chelsea's disgust, the red card for Eric Abidal which meant Barcelona played the last 25 minutes with 10 men was also dubious in the extreme.
If Chelsea had wanted to put this game beyond doubt then they should not have relied on a referee, who admittedly had a desperate game, they should have taken matters into their own hands. Drogba, barnstorming though he was before his substitution, missed a glorious chance on 52 minutes when Nicolas Anelka played him in and Victor Valdes saved with his feet. Chelsea had their opportunities and yet they let the 10 men of Barça back into it.
Those three penalty appeals in full. On 24 minutes, Florent Malouda and Daniel Alves became entangled on the left side of the area and while the foul started outside the area it finished inside it. Debatable. The handball by Gerard Pique on 82 minutes after a shot from Anelka was a penalty because the former Manchester United defender admitted afterwards that was the case. Michael Ballack's late shot that struck the hand of Samuel Eto'o? Again, debatable.
But before Chelsea consult the lawyers, or Terry rages against the world, they should remember that Jose Bosingwa's challenge on Thierry Henry in the first leg was probably a penalty. However hard done by they may have felt, that did not justify the gang-style pursuit of Ovrebo at the final whistle. Rather, what should be remembered of this game was a 20-minute opening salvo that was more frantic than the opening of Saving Private Ryan when Chelsea's sheer power and resolve swept Barça away.
This was not a night for Messi, the little man found himself isolated for much of the game, but in Rome he will get the chance to prove his is more than an equal for Cristiano Ronaldo. Henry did not play in the game, failing to recover in time from his hamstring injury. The bewitching passing of Xavi Hernandez and Iniesta in the Nou Camp last week was truncated by Chelsea's control.
Chelsea were at their brilliant brutal best in the first half. Guardiola, in his trendy skinny tie and sharp suit, had no answer to Hiddink's scorched earth policy. Drogba was an ogre, bullying the Barça defence with the ball in the air or on the ground. The goal came when Frank Lampard's cross cannoned off Yaya Touré and fell to Essien on the edge of the area. It was a half-chance only to a player of fabulous technique. Essien struck the ball first time, left-footed, into the top corner of Valdes' goal.
In that first half of the first half, Chelsea should have put the game out of sight. There was the Drogba miss on 24 minutes and a booking for Alves that means he will miss the final. When Barça were at their weakest, Chelsea failed to finish them off. Abidal was sent off in the 66th minute even though Anelka seemed to trip himself up. Drogba came off injured in the 72nd minute despite his gestures suggesting that he was fit to carry on.
After Iniesta's goal, Chelsea's players came piling forward to try to get the equaliser. Cech even got his helmeted head on a corner. How they could have done with Drogba then, even if he was half-fit. But the prize eludes them again and for Abramovich – let's face it – there will have to be a lot more money spent if he is ever going to open the door to a Chelsea dressing room and find the European Cup waiting for him.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Essien; Anelka, Lampard, Ballack, Malouda; Drogba (Belletti, 72). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Mikel, Kalou, Mancienne.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Touré, Pique, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets (Bojan, 85), Keita; Iniesta (Gudjohnsen, 90), Messi, Eto'o (Sylvinho, 90). Substitutes not used: Pinto (gk), Caceres, Hleb, Rodriguez.
Referee: T Ovrebo (Norway).
Chelsea's saviour at the Nou Camp had precious little to do until the final minute 6/10
Marking Messi in the first leg, now Eto'o and then Iniesta. Coped well with them all 7
Dependable as ever in his 50th Chelsea game of the season. Unlucky with one header 8
Would have been out of the final after yellow card. Needed Terry to cover up for him 5
Coped better with Iniesta early on than Messi who skinned him twice. 6
Glorious goal showed quality going forward and allowed Busquets little scope. Booked. 8
Better down the middle than out wide. No credit for his part in Abidal's dismissal 6
Recovered from nasty knock to face to play some shrewd passes. No scoring chances 7
Could have been sent off in first game and had to tread carefully. Diligent if uncreative 6
More of a duel than a feud with Daniel Alves this time and he came out of it well 6
Not at sharpest when twice sent clear in the first half or when set up by Anelka. Theatrical 5
Juliano Belletti (Drogba 72) 5
No chance with Essien's goal. Chelsea failed to test supposed weakness with crosses 6/10
Furious bursts forward tried to make up for yellow that costs him place in final 6
Rare outing in brother Kolo's position. Battled Drogba well and saw him off 6
Fortunate not to concede penalty, otherwise stayed calm amid the predicted storm 7
Had kept Anelka quiet again until fateful moment of sending off. Rough justice 6
Most things went through captain, though final pass was sometimes wayward 6
Playing centre midfield for Barça is a demanding role and the game often passed him by 4
Given his chance by Thierry Henry's injury, he was a weak link on the left of midfield 4
Pushed forward into front three where he was less effective until his big moment 7
Started in centre, then switched to trouble Cole before half-time. Subdued thereafter 6
Dangerous when cutting in from left, found Terry at his best when moved into middle 6
Bojan Krkic (Busquets, 85); Sylvinho (Eto'o, 90); Eidur Gudjohnsen (Iniesta, 90).
Barcelona v Manchester United
Wednesday 27 May, 19.45
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
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