Beaten but unbowed - the sixth European Cup will have to wait
THE sight of a diving Didier Drogba had infuriated Rafael Benitez last week. At Stamford Bridge last night, it left e1veryone at Liverpool deflated.
Hopes of an eighth European Cup final for the Anfield outfit and a showdown with bitter rivals Manchester United in Moscow were extinguished by the Ivorian.
Drogba stayed on his feet long enough to score in both normal time and extra time as Liverpool failed to register a hat-trick of Champions League semi-final victories against the Londoners.
"Fortune favours the brave" declared one of the many Liverpool flags to adorn the away end. The fates, however, decreed Chelsea would be on the way to Russia on May 21.
From John Arne Riise's calamitous injury-time own goal to the fact it was a grieving Frank Lampard who stroked home the decisive second Chelsea goal from the penalty spot last night, the feeling persists this was always going to be the Londoners' turn to progress.
Third time lucky, then, for Chelsea . For Liverpool , though, the season is now over and the spotlight will inevitable return to the boardroom civil war that is sullying the club's reputation and may even cost them their manager.
At least Liverpool scored to prevent their run of goals at this venue being extended to a ninth game.
Fernando Torres's 64th-minute strike had sent the game into extra time, but the striker was otherwise and off the field when his replacement, Ryan Babel, made the end interesting with another Champions League goal late on.
Benitez has few peers on a tactical level in Europe but he might well be advised to keep his counsel on opposing players in future.
The Spaniard was entirely right with his comments bemoaning Drogba's tendency to fall over at the merest hint of a challenge.
However, those words served only to fire up the Chelsea striker who justified the remainder of Benitez's assessment that Drogba is a fantastic player, celebrating his first goal by diving headfirst towards the corner flag.
Chelsea supporters took little notice of the orders from the club's official website to arrive early to generate an atmosphere, although admittedly the idea of handing out 30,000 blue-and-white plastic flags at least generated some colour shortly before kick-off.
The fans, though, did themselves few favours with some tasteless taunts, and Stamford Bridge remains as intimidating as a sponge.
That would accurately describe the consistency of the pitch last night, the persistent rain that fell over West London for much of the previous 24 hours rarely abating and ensuring treacherous conditions throughout.
With Fabio Aurelio having sustained a season-ending injury during the first leg, Benitez kept faith in Riise, the only other change from last week's meeting seeing Yossi Benayoun preferred to Babel .
Lampard returned for Chelsea after missing their title-enhancing 2-1 win over United on Saturday following the death of his mother, with Michael Essien moving to right-back.
Chelsea 's good fortune from the first leg continued 21 minutes into the second when Martin Skrtel, so impressive against Drogba last week, had to admit defeat to a thigh injury sustained while making a good tackle on the striker.
And the fates certainly transpired for the Londoners when they went ahead on 33 minutes.
Lampard's pass to the suspiciously offside Kalou was helped into the path of the Ivorian by Alvaro Arbeloa's attempted clearance and, after Reina had parried the winger's angled drive, Drogba smashed home the rebound from the angle.
There was relief mixed with the joy at his strike after Drogba had spurned a good chance on 18 minutes, dragging his shot wide from a Lampard pass with an unmarked Joe Cole screaming for a square pass.
To be fair, it was a merited half-team lead as Liverpool, despite the greater possession, struggled to do anything of note with it, Torres peripheral and Benayoun and Kuyt rarely involved.
Chelsea had clearly been instructed to take advantage of the greasy playing surface with Drogba, Michael Essien and Ballack all forcing Reina into saves from range.
Ballack also curled a free-kick wide shortly before the interval, while Liverpool's only opening came in the ninth minute when Gerrard played in Torres but the Spaniard, as in the first leg, took an unnecessary touch allowing Petr Cech to smother his near-post effort.
Indeed, the highlight of the first half for the travelling support was the sight of a determined Gerrard shoving Grant back into his seat as he attempted to retrieve the ball for a throw-in.
Liverpool were much brighter from the first whistle of the second half, Gerrard heading down to Kuyt inside the area but the Dutchman's flick with the outside of his right foot was saved by the outstretched leg of Cech.
Benitez's side greater need meant they began pressing back Chelsea for the first time in the game, as the visitors started to sit on their lead.
But Liverpool drew level on 64 minutes thanks to a tactical switch from Benitez and a trademark piece of opportunism from Torres.
Benayoun had only moments earlier exchanged flanks with Kuyt when he moved inside off the right wing, ghosted between Drogba and Kalou and then slipped a perfect pass in for Torres to finish sidefooted beyond Cech into the bottom corner.
With the aggregate scores now level and, with Liverpool infused with the confidence that another goal would mean Chelsea having to score twice, the tension became apparent in both teams.
The visitors were the more purposeful but Chelsea remained a constant threat, Essien too greedy when shooting into the side-netting from an acute angle after a powerful run down the right.
There was no let up in pace at the start of extra time. Chelsea did well to clear a dangerous Riise cross, Carragher even better with a saving tackle to deny Drogba and the Ivorian was rightly flagged offside when Essien thrashed home from the edge of the area before sprinting away to salute a goal that had already been chalked off.
Chelsea , though, were celebrating legitimately on 97 minutes when a tired Hyypia challenge inside the area dumped Ballack to the turf and Lampard tucked confidently home from the spot.
Liverpool claims for their own penalty were wrongly waved away after Hyypia was tackled by Drogba before Alonso headed a Gerrard corner at Cech.
Drogba appeared to have made the game safe on 105 minutes when he converted substitute Nicolas Anelka's cross, but a bad mistake from Cech to let in Babel 's speculative late effort set up a grandstand finish.
However, it was to no avail. Liverpool were beaten but unbowed. That sixth European Cup will have to wait.