Ten-man Barcelona’s first shot on target arrived 92 minutes into their Champions League semi-final second leg with Chelsea, but it was enough to hold their hosts to a 1-1 aggregate draw and book a final date with Manchester United.
For so long Michael Essien looked to have given his side the only goal of the tie with a sumptuous volley nine minutes in, and Chelsea were full of their usual dogged resistance, while Barca were unusually bereft of creation, imagination and innovation.
The dismissal of Eric Abidal midway through the second half looked merely to have rendered Josep Guardiola’s task impossible. Until injury time.
It was Essien – seemingly destined to be the hero – whose slapdash clearance eventually fell at the feet of Andres Iniesta.
An audacious swing of his boot sent the ball beyond the reach of Cech to leave the vast majority of Stamford Bridge every bit as sick as they were in Moscow nearly 12 months ago.
There was still time for Chelsea's fourth penalty appeal of the night - all could have been awarded - but referee Tom Ovrebo once again shook his head, much to the post-match consternation of all concerned.
For 92 minutes, Chelsea were everything we expected them to be . . . Barcelona were anything but.
The Spanish team ran out of ideas every time they entered the last third of the field. Whether it was Michael Ballack, John Terry or Jose Bosingwa, Chelsea always had a toe, a knee or a head to interrupt their opponents’ intricate interchanges.
Dani Alves was his side’s most prominent threat with his rampaging runs but two wayward shots – one from Ronaldo-range – were nothing to concern Cech. Indeed, the home keeper had nothing with which to warm his hands in a half in which Barca mustered only an Iniesta long-range shot that merited further note.
Chelsea had the ball for barely a third of that very same half, but summoned up two penalty appeals, a very effective Victor Valdes stop, a free header and a goal.
Barca were supposed to provide the champagne moments, but Essien tore up that particular rule book only nine minutes in with the most exquisite volley imaginable. The ball was spinning, looping and swerving up in the air after a deflected Frank Lampard cross….Essien smashed it with his (supposedly wrong) left foot and crashed it in off Valdes’ bar.
Two penalty appeals quicky followed, but referee Ovrebo waved both away. Alves’ drag-down of Malouda was adjudged to have been outside the penalty area, while Abidal’s tug on Drogba was ruled to be fair.
Drogba forced Valdes into a smart stop from the free kick that emanated from the first appeal and John Terry headed the ensuing corner wide.
Alex, Essien and Ashley Cole were among the first to pick up the mantle of their team-mates after half time, each throwing themselves into tackles and blocking shots before barely ten minutes of the second half had elapsed.
Barca owned the ball but two reckless Alves efforts were all they had to show for it, and Chelsea could so easily have doubled their lead. Nicolas Anelka drove forward and played in Drogba who, having left Pique on his backside, could – and should – have lifted the ball over rather than into the approaching Valdes’ legs.
That chance came and went and Seydou Keita and the relatively anonymous Lionel Messi picked up where Barca left off . . . lots of posession, half-chances and errant shooting.
Abidal was sent packing midway through the half - the first Barca player to be sent off in Europe since his manager was in 1998 - after being unfairly adjudged to have clipped the heels of Anelka.
Lampard and Pique had a shot apiece and the Spanish defender was fortunate to survive yet another shout for a penalty. That the ball struck his hand there could be no doubt, but that Overdo was correct to deem that he could have done nothing to avoid it is up for debate as much as any of The Blues’ first-half claims for a spot kick.
Guardiola and Hiddink exchanged a laugh and a joke with scarcely two minutes left on the clock. The 38-year-old must surely have thought that he had been – like his team as a whole – comprehensively outthought by the man 24 years his senior.
Iniesta soon changed that.