24 April ~ Few would deny that Chelsea are underdogs going into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona this evening, notwithstanding their narrow lead. The last time they went into a match against such clear favourites was back in 2000, when they faced the same opposition in the Champions League quarter-finals. Gianluca Vialli's men did not advance to the next round then and it is highly likely they will be put out again tonight. But in football, you never know. On the way to Stamford Bridge for the quarter-final 12 years ago, my dad told me not to worry about the result. Chelsea were going to lose, so I should just to enjoy the spectacle of football the Spanish opposition would provide.
It was a fantastic nothing-to-lose mindset to begin the match with. Perhaps Vialli gave a similar pre-match talk to his players. How else could you explain the sheer audacity of what was to come in the next 45 minutes?
At half-time, the Blues had an unthinkable 3-0 lead, after two goals from Tore Andre Flo and a stunning free-kick from Gianfranco Zola. Inevitably, Barcelona turned it around in the second half and second leg. Chelsea were very close to hanging on before eventually losing 6-4 on aggregate.
I fully expect my dad to give me the same advice this evening. However much I want to buy into this sensible attitude, I cannot quite muster it this time. If the Chelsea team of 12 years ago, appearing in their first Champions League campaign, can come so close – they were still leading on aggregate with ten minutes to go in the second leg – why can this side not hold onto the lead they won at Samford Bridge last week?
They have seen better days, but this Chelsea team is full of experienced players who are used to the big occasion. They have featured in each of the last nine Champions League competitions and are making their sixth semi-final appearance this season. Although Chelsea have never won the tournament, they have come very close and are a truly established team in Europe. Barcelona will not be underestimating their task. They have faced Chelsea in eight closely-fought matches since 2000 and will see Chelsea as a true competitor.
I'm sure many supporters, like me, will try to go into the match with a nothing-to-lose attitude, but it won't be as easy to expect as little as we did 12 years ago. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but there is a nagging doubt to my self-defeatism and a very small trace of belief. William Turvill