Chelsea Must Lift Nou Camp Curse

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Chelsea Must Lift Nou Camp Curse


Byline: MICHAEL HART;KEN DYER

Chelsea 1 Barcelona 2

European Cup Last 16, 1st leg

Scorer: Motta (og) 59

Sent off: Del Horno

Scorers: Terry (og) 71, Eto'o 80

Booked: Puyol, Iniesta

Attendance: 39,521 Ref: T Hauge (Nor)

CHELSEA must end 30 years of failure by English clubs in Barcelona's Nou Camp Stadium if they are to salvage their hopes of progressing in the European Cup.

In 18 attempts, only one English club have ever beaten the Spanish champions at home in a major European competition - Liverpool, who secured a 1-0 victory over the Barcelona of Neeskens and Cruyff in the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1976.

Chelsea head coach Jose Mourinho might be encouraged by their achievement but he will know that realistically Chelsea's quarterfinal place depends on a second-leg performance of epic proportions after last night's 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Even a repeat of Arsenal's memorable 1-0 win over Real in Madrid on Tuesday won't be sufficient to overcome the Spanish League pacemakers, who now enjoy the considerable protection of two away goals.

The dismissal of Chelsea left-back Asier Del Horno after 37 minutes dramatically altered the complexion of the game and handed the initiative to Barcelona. There's no doubt that his challenge on Argentinian Lionel Messi was ugly and reckless.

What made matters worse was the absence of the ball at the moment of impact and Messi's sly reaction as he rolled about apparently in agony.

For many referees a yellow card would have been sufficient but Norway's Terje Hauge flourished a red and in that instant turned a drama into a crisis for Chelsea.

What was a daunting challenge then suddenly became mission impossible.

A disappointed Mourinho, asked whether the red card was justified, told the media afterwards: "It's better for you to judge because if I say, I could be suspended. But could Messi be suspended for acting?

"Playing 10 men against 11 changed everything. It's difficult enough when you have 11, especially when you are playing against a good team.

But when you have only 10 you can't play a pressing game high up the field, you can't defend deep and you can't double up."

The dismissal of Del Horno, now suspended for the second leg, forced Mourinho to rethink his defensive strategy. Sadly, Joe Cole was sacrificed, Geremi was called from the bench to play at right-back and Paulo Ferreira was moved across to leftback to shadow the cunning 18-yearold Messi.

The loss of Cole inevitably robbed Chelsea of some of their creative impetus, though in terms of work rate it did nothing to diminish the effort Chelsea put into coping with one of the most talented attacking teams in the world. Frank Lampard and Eidur Gudjohnsen made light of the handicap. They forced the Spanish team to contest every yard of a wet, heavy pitch which was clearly not as big a handicap to Barcelona as some feared.

Even so, Chelsea were better equipped physically and early in the second half, with the powerful Didier Drogba on for Hernan Crespo, they looked the more likely winners.

Arjen Robben, exploiting a thoughtful pass from Lampard, hit a shot across the face of the Barcelona goal and then goalkeeper Victor Valdes had to stretch to hold a long distance drive from Ferreira.

The breakthrough came in the 59th minute, when Lampard whipped in a free-kick from out on the left. …

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