Dare to Demba. What a moment, especially from a man who's handled a peripheral role without complaint all season. In all honesty, there's no Chelsea player I'd rather see in that situation -- off balance having to convert a bobbling ball in the box -- than Demba Ba, and he paid off his £7 million transfer fee in a big way today.
But Ba's goal, brilliant as it was, was just the culmination of a magnificent game. It had it all -- great chances, great saves, dubious officiating and last-gasp heroics -- and will almost certainly go down as one of the greatest European nights in Stamford Bridge history.
We'd been here before, of course. Before the match, we were trying to keep ourselves grounded. Paris Saint-Germain were no Napoli; we couldn't expect a miracle of the same scale as we saw two years ago. But in truth, PSG proved an easier tests on almost all fronts than the partonopei did in 2012. Today saw a hungry blue juggernaut close its jaws around a side content to do nothing, and the only real question was whether or not we'd left it too late.
The match began with the visitors fouling Eden Hazard. Hard enough, in fact, for the Belgian to vacate the pitch after a particularly vicious hit from right back Christophe Jallet. On a normal day, for a normal team, losing your most dangerous attacking threat 17 minutes into the match would be bad news. But not for this Chelsea.
Andre Schurrle trotted on to replace him, and a quarter of an hour later the German had handed the Blues a lifeline. We'd tested Salvatore Sirigu's goal before then -- the former Palermo man had to be alert to claw a deflected Frank Lampard free kick behind for a corner -- but Schurrle's was the first real chance of the game. And for the second time in two matches, the opening goal came from a throw-in.
This was even more direct than Mohamed Salah's strike against Stoke. With the ball jammed up near the corner flag, Branislav Ivanovic flung the ball into a crowded box. The bodies parted. David Luiz stooped, flicking both ball and a substantial amount of curly hair backwards. And then it was Schurrle in space, meeting the pass with a measured volley, watching as it flew past Sirigu, wheeling away in fist-pumping celebration.
1-0 felt great, but we all knew that it wasn't going to be good enough to overturn the deficit left over from Paris. And so Chelsea went on the attack again. Marco Verratti's sole contribution to the match came when he and Schurrle clashed in the box, the referee (probably correctly) waving play on despite some rather strident protests from the German. And then the golden opportunity to win the tie fell to Gary Cahill.
I can imagine some alternate universe in which Demba Ba is not currently a hero in SW6. Maybe he never got the chance; maybe he missed it. But in that universe, it would be Cahill's miss that we focused on. It would have been the moment it fell apart.
That it wasn't doesn't excuse the miss (that Cahill's a centre back probably does, mind). A scramble in the box eventually fell to the former Bolton man, and presented with a virtually open goal Cahill promptly miscued his shot and sent the ball spinning well wide.
That was the first of three extraordinarily close calls for Sirigu's goal. The next two came as a pair shortly after the break, with Schurrle rattling the crossbar from a Willian cutback before Oscar hit virtually the same spot with a dipping free kick less than a minute later. Chelsea were by now completely dominating the match, and Laurent Blanc's response was to recall Verratti and send in Yohan Cabaye.
The game then transformed into what it probably should have been from the beginning, a stretched affair in which Chelsea threw bodies forward and PSG tried to retaliate through Edinson Cavani. The Uruguay star, deployed in his favoured centre forward position thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury, twice bore down on Petr Cech's goal. Neither chance resulted in a shot on target.
By now all three of Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto'o was on the pitch, leaving David Luiz to conduct midfield duties more or less by himself. Miraculously, it worked. Time was running down, but there was no desperation. There were no stupid fouls or idiotic long range attempts. It was just Chelsea pushing and pushing until eventually PSG broke.
Eto'o had a shot blocked from inside the box. The ball broke to Azpilicueta, whose low cross was met by a former Blue. But Alex couldn't get enough on the ball to send it clear, instead deflecting it across the face of the six yard box. There Ba pounced, scooping over Sirigu and into the roof of the net.
2-0. 3-3 aggregate. A lead on away goals. Five minutes of frantic defending later -- including a fantastic save from Cech when Marquinhos tried to smash home from 16 yards -- and Chelsea were through to the Champions League semifinals.
Impossible is nothing at all.