Blues prevail in Euro classic
Chelsea edged into the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League after grinding out a 4-4 draw with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. A topsy-turvy encounter saw Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso fire the visitors into a commanding half-time lead, but a Didier Drogba toe-poke, a thunderbolt from Alex and a bundled effort from Frank Lampard saw the Blues turn the tie around. An ambitious strike from Lucas and a Dirk Kuyt header set up a grandstand finish, but Lampard snatched his second of the night with time ticking away to hand Chelsea a 7-5 aggregate win and a safe passage into the last four. Liverpool had dominated proceedings from the off and it came as no surprise when they opened the scoring after 19 minutes. Great awareness from Aurelio saw him catch out the usually reliable Petr Cech with a 30-yard free-kick which he snuck inside the post with the Chelsea keeper caught in no-man's land. Liverpool were then in dreamland after 28 minutes as Branislav Ivanovic was penalised for holding in the box and Alonso fired home from the spot. All of sudden a 3-1 first-leg deficit look like being wiped out, but the contest was turned on its head in spectacular fashion after the interval. A slight touch from Drogba on a low Nicolas Anelka cross was enough to see Jose Reina spill into his own net seven minutes into the second half, before Alex rifled home the most spectacular of free-kicks five minutes later. Lampard then benefitted from some fine work by Drogba on 76 minutes to put the Blues in front, but within five minutes Lucas levelled matters once again when his deflected effort beat a stranded Cech. Kuyt then nodded home from close range on 82 minutes as the Reds began to believe again, only for Lampard to dash their dreams in the final minute when he lashed into the top corner from the edge of the box. PunishedLiverpool boss Rafael Benitez had always maintained that the first goal would be the most important but when Kuyt collected a pass from Yossi Benayoun and fired over in the 13th minute, he could have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps the task ahead was indeed far too great. But six minutes later Liverpool were in front when they punished Lampard's push on Kuyt in spectacular fashion. With everyone expecting the free-kick from the right of goal to be pumped high into the centre of the penalty area, Aurelio stunned everyone, including the flat-footed Cech, by firing his 30-yard effort straight into the bottom near corner of the net. Referee Luis Cantalejo then rightly awarded Liverpool a penalty when Chelsea's first-leg goal hero Ivanovic clearly held back Alonso. The Liverpool midfielder stepped up to beat Cech and suddenly the impossible seemed possible. Chelsea had Cech to thank for keeping them on level terms on aggregate when he tipped away a header from Kuyt in the final minute of the opening half. Hiddink's side needed a goal to take the sting out of Liverpool's momentum and it arrived somewhat fortunately in the 51st minute. AstonishingAnelka, a 35th-minute replacement for the poor Salomon Kalou, crossed low from the right and Drogba got a touch on the ball, with Reina only able to turn it over the line. Chelsea made it 2-2 on the night when Jamie Carragher's foul on Drogba was punished by a fierce 25-yard free-kick by Alex. With 14 minutes remaining Liverpool's dreams looked finished when Drogba crossed for Lampard to apply the finish. But a long-range effort from Lucas was deflected off Michael Essien and beyond Cech in the 81st minute and, somewhat astonishingly, Kuyt put Liverpool 4-3 ahead on the night with a six-yard header two minutes later. But with Liverpool needing one more goal for a glorious victory in this emotional week on Merseyside, 20 years on from the Hillsborough disaster, Lampard ended a stunning contest with his second of the night in the last minute. Chelsea will face Barcelona in the last four but only after Liverpool had pushed them all the way in a pulsating contest that was a marvellous showcase for English and European football. Benitez must have wished that Steven Gerrard had been fit enough to play as his contribution may well have been the telling one, on a night when the Reds almost managed to achieve the unthinkable.
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