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Chelsea in final
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 01 - 05 - 2008

Chelsea reached the Champions League final for the first time on Wednesday, beating Liverpool 3-2 after extra time at rain-lashed Stamford Bridge to set up a meeting with Manchester United in Moscow next month.
Two goals from Didier Drogba and a penalty from a grieving Frank Lampard gave it a 4-3 aggregate victory in a dramatic semifinal against the side that had knocked it out twice at this stage in the last three seasons.
Liverpool's goals came from Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, whose speculative 40-meter shot three minutes from the end of extra time somehow bamboozled Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and revived Liverpool's hopes for the last few minutes.
But Chelsea held on in an absorbing match that was in the balance until the final kick to repay billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich for the millions of pounds he has invested in the west London club since taking over in 2003.
It can now look forward to facing Manchester United in the first all-English Champions League final on May 21.
United, whose manager Alex Ferguson was at Stamford Bridge to watch the semifinal, secured its place in the showpiece on Tuesday when it eliminated Barcelona at Old Trafford.
While Drogba was the scoring hero on Wednesday with two excellent, powerfully-executed goals, the remarkable Lampard was the emotional focus of Chelsea's ecstatic fans.
The England midfielder, back in the team following the death of his 58-year-old mother Pat last week, wept after scoring the decisive penalty that put it 2-1 ahead in the 98th minute and got a standing ovation when he was substituted near the end.
He had a decisive impact on the match, too, beginning the move that led to Chelsea's opening goal after 33 minutes and which Drogba completed after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina did well to parry a fiercely struck shot from Salomon Kalou.
Liverpool, which had not scored at Stamford Bridge in its last eight visits, broke that hoodoo in the 64th minute when Torres equalized after a brilliant run from Yossi Benayoun.
The Israel midfielder sent Chelsea's defense into a spin, playing the final ball through Ricardo Carvalho's legs. It was Torres's 31st goal of the season and enough to take the game to extra time where the match turned Chelsea's way again in a five-minute spell midway through the first period.
First, Michael Essien appeared to have put Chelsea 2-1 ahead and ran half the length of the pitch celebrating before everyone realized his strike had been disallowed for offside.
However, two minutes later Chelsea was ahead once more when Lampard sent Reina the wrong way from the penalty spot after Sami Hyypia had fouled Michael Ballack.
Lampard, who missed Saturday's Premier League win over leader Manchester United after his mother died last Thursday, was engulfed by his teammates but could not hide his tears.
Drogba appeared to have finally killed Liverpool off when he turned in a cross from Nicolas Anelka with pinpoint precision after 105 minutes. But Liverpool, five time European champion, winner under coach Rafa Benitez in 2005 and beaten finalists last year, never gave up and got an unlikely reprieve with Babel's goal.


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