What a night. What a match. What a comeback. Chelsea produced a stunning, stirring and scintillating performance to see off Napoli in one of the greatest European comebacks in recent time. Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, all Chelsea needed were two measly home goals. Didier Drogba made them half-way there in theory. But Chelsea rarely do things the easy way. John Terry scored with a trademark header, but the joy was short-lived when Inler volleyed home spectacularly. But hope was not lost. Lampard powered home a penalty. Thirty more minutes of this spectacle would be played. And just before half-time in extra time, Ivanovic scored a centre forward’s goal, sending Chelsea through to the quarter-finals. The scenes of jubilation, from Roberto Di Matteo namely, summed up the euphoria. And no-one could wipe the smug smile of the owner Abramovich either.
But it wasn’t all happy times for Chelsea. The nervy, hopeful, yet unexpecting home crowd were loud and proud from the off, but the Napoli fans were making a din themselves. Bar a Sturridge shot, Napoli were very comfortable for the first few passages of play, spreading the ball wide, and Hamsik and Maggio had their chances. Cavani and Lavezzi got into the act too, but spurned two good opportunities. The warning sides were there: Chelsea had to be at their defensive best. The omission of Cahill for a perceived more vulnerable Luiz would have caused some nerves, but the Brazilian did not put a foot wrong in the early stages.
The early goal hadn’t arrived. But, so often under Andre Villas-Boas, the home crowd did not grow quieter, to the point they were booing. They rallied behind their team. Ramires, put in at an unfamiliar left-wing role, sent in an outstanding cross. Dider Drogba proved that he still had some firepower by getting in front of his man and heading past De Sanctis: 1-0.
Maggio had to make way later in the half with an injury, former Liverpool man Dossena came on. Lampard, in a different holding midfield role, made one too many silly challenges and was cautioned, as the half drew to a close.
But Napoli did not come out refreshed or prepared. The much-maligned old guard of Lampard and Terry combined, the former with the corner, the latter with the beautiful looping header.
The pressure shifted. Napoli now had to score, but Chelsea had pressure to keep a clean sheet. But that was not to be. Roberto Di Matteo was a fraction of a second too late. Ready to bring on Jose Bosingwa as additional defensive cover, Napoli pegged one back. John Terry’s clearance was poor, but the space given to Inler was characteristic of Chelsea all season. Still, the Swiss international had work to do, and with one-touch control on the chest, rifled the ball home. Terry threw his arms up in frustration. Bosingwa had to wait a little longer.
The pressure soon changed hands again in an open-ended match. Chelsea had to score just to force another thirty minutes, without conceding another. Last-ditch tackles were aplenty, but all of Chelsea were committed and resolute. The set-pieces kept coming and Chelsea had done their research: Napoli had conceded a third of their goals this season from corners.
And they were to concede another. Dossena inexplicably handled Ivanovic’s goalward header in the 74th minute. Lampard stepped up and rifled home: extra-time was looming, and extra-time it was.
By now, Torres was on, partnering Drogba. And the two nearly linked up to produce a bizarre goal. The Ivorian punted the all up, but De Sanctis misjudged the bounce badly. His blushes were spared, however: the Spaniard could not find the net from a tight angle.
But Chelsea sensed it. They were edging ever closer. No-one dared move, despite the bitterly cold surroundings. And their stay up was worth every second. Ramires found Drogba on the right, who spun and randomly whacked the ball into the centre. The Serbian central defender Ivanovic was somehow the furthest man forward, and took his chance gloriously, a real centre-forward’s goal, driving home from close range.
There was still one more chance for Chelsea to rub salt into Napoli’s gaping wounds. They were shocked. Counter-attacking, they lost possession, Malouda ran and ran, as did Drogba. The Frenchman crossed to the Ivorian, but with heavy legs, he volleyed wide.
But it did not matter. Defying all odds, Chelsea were there. Flags were waved non-stop from all areas of the Chelsea crowd, who were magnificent. However, it is their team who will be waving the flag for England in the remainder of this competition.