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Yet Messi, the most prolific scorer in Europe this season with 63 goals, implausibly crashed his spot-kick against the bar and Chelsea were let off.
But the pattern of the game had been set, and what followed was 40 minutes of excruciating tension as Barcelona took up permanent residence on the edge of Chelsea’s penalty area.
Chelsea, however, somehow managed to thwart their tormentors, closing down relentlessly and never allowing Messi, Xavi and Iniesta the freedom to work the ball into dangerous positions.
All too often Barcelona’s artful probing led to nothing as they cut the ball back from wide positions where Chelsea’s wall of bodies stood firm.
Sanchez had a goal disallowed before Cech tipped a shot from Messi onto the post in a frantic finale.
Then with Barcelona caught pressing upfield, Torres darted clear of the home side’s defence and touched round Valdes to score and Chelsea were through.
The win came at a cost, however, with Ramires, Ivanovic and Meireles all picking up bookings that will keep them out of the final.
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