Chelsea reached the Champions League semi-finals for the fifth time in six seasons after a thrilling 4-4 draw with Liverpool put them through 7-5 on aggregate against their Premier League rivals on Tuesday.
Liverpool, trailing 3-1 from the first leg at Anfield and without injured captain Steven Gerrard, threatened to pull off a sensational comeback but ultimately failed in their quest to reach the last four and a meeting with Barcelona.
The 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster yesterday added to the raw emotion and electrifying atmosphere at Stamford Bridge as Liverpool built a 2-0 lead, then trailed 3-2 before coming back to go 4-3 ahead with seven minutes left.
Chelsea, without suspended skipper John Terry, scored a late equalizer through Frank Lampard, his second goal of the game.
“We made it very hard for ourselves with our first half performance ... but it was a great night, we are through. It’s been a great tie,” Lampard told ITV.
“I don’t know what we did in the first half, we maybe approached the game in the wrong way, we thought we were almost through ... but we showed our character at halftime to turn it round,” he said.
Needing at least three goals to give themselves a chance of saving the tie, five-times European champions Liverpool went 1-0 up after 19 minutes thanks to fine improvisation from Brazilian Fabio Aurelio.
The defender shaped to swing the ball across to Liverpool’s waiting players at the far post but instead fired into the gap that Chelsea keeper Petr Cech created by his near post as he was organizing the defense.
Cech, who looked short on confidence throughout the match, desperately scrambled across to stop the shot but it was in the back of the net before he had a chance to stop it.
Serbian Branislav Ivanovic, who scored twice in the first leg, turned from hero to villain by holding Xabi Alonso and conceding a penalty nine minutes later. Spaniard Alonso sent Cech the wrong way to make it 2-0 and 3-3 on aggregate.
Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink made a tactical switch in his attack, with Nicolas Anelka replacing Salomon Kalou, but it made little difference before halftime.
Undeterred, Chelsea hit back after the break with two goals in six minutes.
Anelka crossed low from the right for Didier Drogba to get the finest of touches and Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina could only divert the ball into his own net. Then on 57 minutes, Chelsea won a free kick and Brazilian Alex blasted a fierce shot past Reina.
Lampard put Chelsea 3-2 up with a low shot, but Lucas scored with a deflected effort and Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt headed in from close range to make it 4-3 to Liverpool and leave them needing one further goal to pull off a miraculous comeback.
Their hopes were ended one minute from time when Lampard produced a precise finish from Drogba’s cross.
It was Liverpool’s second successive exit from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea, who beat them in the semi-finals last season before losing to Manchester United in the final.
“We are disappointed because to score four goals away in this game was unbelievable,” Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said. “It’s a pity. We played a very good game.”