OK, I frankly don't know where to begin after watching that game.
Last Thoughts on Chelsea
I had an impulse at first to write a "Chelsea got what they deserved" post based on the fact that the Blues made no attempt to get a road goal, so it is only fitting that they go out of the Champions League on road goals. We don't want to reward teams for parking the bus, blah blah blah. But then, I think about the way that Chelsea lost the Champions League Final last year when they were one kick away from adding the trophy that has eluded them and I just feel sad for their fans. It's hard to deal with one blow like that; following it with an injury time strike to lose a Champions League Final at home goes beyond cruel.
Now that the Special One has left North London, there are few personalities on that Chelsea side that are disagreeable. Ashley Cole is the only one who comes to mind. Didier Drogba is a flopper nonpareil, but I do have a soft spot for African players and he's one of the best. Michael Essien is one of my favorite non-Barca players. If Barca were to be knocked out, then better they lose to a fantastic strike from a great player. Frank Lampard seems like an alright guy. Now that the English have given up claiming that he's the best center back in the world, there's nothing wrong with John Terry. Michael Ballack is a good player who deserves to be more than a bridesmaid someday. I feel bad for this core group that it's looking more and more likely that they won't win a Champions League together.
He just was not very good. He missed a penalty on the Pique handball, although there was a whiff of a foul by Malouda on the header that set up the chance. The remaining Chelsea penalty shouts were all of the marginal variety (in my biased opinion). The decision to send of Eric Abidal was absolutely horrendous and puts paid to Lucky Guus's inference of a conspiracy after the match. I'm willing to cut Chelsea a wide berth in their post-match behavior and comments. They lost one of the all-time gut-wrenching games and they did have some close decisions go against them, so some animated griping is natural. That said, I cannot BELIEVE that this came out of Hiddink's mouth:
People are making suggestions but it's difficult to prove things. Conspiracy is a very tough word and you have to be able to prove it. But when you analyse things closely, then I also start thinking... I cannot say if Uefa would not like another all-English final. What I'm sure about that, in big games like this, you need top notch referees who have lots of experience in the big leagues in Italy, Spain, England and Germany.
Yeah, Guus, as soon as you give back whatever rewards you received for guiding South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semifinals on the backs of a series of atrocious calls by clearly intimidated refs from, wait for it, Ecuador and Egypt, then you'll have the right to make this complaint. I can guarantee you that people in Spain are laughing their asses off at Hiddink, seeing as how La Furia were denied two clear goals in the quarterfinal and lost in penalties. Of all the people in the world to complain about refs from small federations getting stage fright in big games, you are the absolute last person who can do so.
Man of the Match
Victor Valdes? You could make a strong case for it. Who saw that coming? Player ratings on a 1-9 scale:
Valdes - 7.5 - Iniesta's heroics don't matter if not for a huge save on Drogba in the second half. He also did well with Drogba's free kick after the disputed "was he in or outside the box?" call.
Abidal - 6.5 - Played reasonably well and was only guilty of a red card in a strange Norwegian fantasy.
Toure - 6.5 - Not bad for a midfielder playing defense. His speed and height were important, although there were definitely occasions where space appeared in the middle because of positional issues. When I think of Ten Catalan Lions in the future, I'll remember Toure gutting it out late in the game when he was clearly winded from chasing Chelsea players all night.
Pique - 7.5 - A very good performance.
Alves - 4.5 - I was going to give him a 3 as the game crept into injury time and I was composing the "we lost to a better team" post in my head. He wasted so many good crossing and dead ball chances.
Busquets - 6 - Not his best game, but he was reasonably good at blunting Chelsea attacks.
Xavi - 6.5 - Played his usual sharp-passing game, but he was pushed back by Chelsea's excellent midfield. It was his nice pass out to Alves on the right that started the move for Iniesta's goal.
Keita - 5.5 - He didn't materialize at all like I thought he would, although Alves's horrendous crosses had something to do with that. The lack of service to Eto'o has to be caused, at least in part, by having an inferior passer in one of the two central midfield spots.
Messi - 6 - A quiet game and he could use work on his shooting from outside the box, but don't lose sight of the fact that he assisted on the winner. Like Pirlo in the '06 World Cup semifinal, Messi was awfully composed in a big situation to find a teammate as opposed to trying to shoot himself.
Iniesta - 8 - And not just for the goal. He was the most dangerous of the three front men for the entire match. Barca clearly noticed this at the half because the attacks were all coming from the left in the second half.
Eto'o - 5.5 - whether it was a lack of service or a lack of running, Samuel was totally absent.
My Moment of Prescience
You'll just have to take my word for it that I went with the Iniesta yellow jersey when I came home from work tonight and sat down to watch the DVR copy of the game. I am happy with that decision.