In the matter of only six days, life went from bad to worse to unbearable for Barcelona.
While it was bad enough that the defending UEFA Champions League winners lost its first semifinal leg to Chelsea last Wednesday at least Barca had another chance this time around.
But it only got worse on Saturday when archrival Real Madrid stopped the great Barca scoring machine and Lionel Messi, 2-1, to take a seemingly insurmountable seven-point lead in Spain's La Liga with only four games remaining for each team.
Back on their own ground at Camp Nou, Barca's situation became dire in the second semifinal leg on Tuesday. And while the scoreboard might have said Barcelona 2, Chelsea 2, in addition to last week's 1-0 win, the Blues punched a ticket to Munich, Germany to play the survivor of Wednesday's semifinal encounter between host Real and Bayern Munich in the grand finale on May 19.
In other words, no La Liga crown this season and no second consecutive Champions League title for Barca.
Despite playing a man down for the final 53 minutes after captain John Terry's rather ill-advised red card and losing its other central defender, Gary Cahill, Chelsea finds itself in position to win the elusive championship its owner, Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, has so desperately sought and desired.
The game was dripping with irony and so many twists and turns coming from so many unlikely heroes, villains and goats. Only minutes after Barcelona grabbed a 2-0 lead on Andres Iniesta's 43rd-minute goal (off a Messi feed) and after he earned a yellow card, Brazilian midfielder Ramires, off a Frank Lampard feed, found himself on a break on the right side and scored 47 seconds into first-half stoppage to wipe away both of the hosts' goals and then some (Chelsea had a 3-2 aggregate-goal edge due to the away goal).
After the home side held nearly a three-to-one ball possession advantage, former Barca foe and Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres, who as of late had underachieving production and performances for his $80 million price tag, tallied the back-breaking goal off a counterattack two minutes into stoppage time that clinched Chelsea trip to Germany.
Sergio Busquets' second goal over two seasons lifted the hosts into the lead in the 35th minute. Three minutes later Terry was given his marching orders for fouling Barca's Alexis Sánchez just outside the penalty area, forcing the visitors to scramble and secure their central defense. They managed, although the product was not very pretty as they defended with nine men behind the ball.
As a full house at Camp Nou waited for the dam to break the only things that broke were the hearts of the Barcelona players and fans everywhere.
A good portion of the game went something like this: Barcelona brought the ball down, tried to find some space, took a shot that was blocked by a Chelsea player or sent high or wide. Once in a blue moon a shot would get through, but Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech made all the stops.
In fact, he didn't have to do much after Didier Drogba fouled Cesc Fabregas for a penalty kick in the 49th minute. Messi, who entered the match with 63 goals, could have sealed Chelsea’s fate with a conversion. But he banged his attempt off the crossbar. Messi managed a brace every player would rather do without, ramming a shot off the right post in the 82nd minute.
In the waning minutes, it was noticeable that Barcelona had ran out of energy, pace, and ideas as they could not conjure up many, if any, creative attempts to break Chelsea's great chain in the back.
Now, both teams face challenges, although they could not be more divergent.
Messi and Barcelona do not have anything to play for. With their La Liga hopes and destiny out of their hands and no Champions League final, they have to play for pride. It will be interesting to see how they come out against host Rayo Vallecano this Sunday.
Roberto di Matteo, who was named caretaker coach after Andre Villas-Boas was bounced recently, has done a wonderful job reviving the Chelsea squad.
Chelsea's triumph, however, came at a great price. Terry, of course, will miss the game due to his red. So will Ramires, due to yellow card accumulation.
Somehow, I think, it is a problem that Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and his team would rather have.
But that won't happen this year.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516.com.
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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