Barca hold on to reach 3rd straight UWCL

Barcelona are into a fourth Champions League final in five years after a nervy 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday saw them progress 2-1 on aggregate.

Caroline Graham Hansen, who scored the winner in the first leg of the semifinal last weekend, broke the deadlock after the break, but Guro Reiten’s 67th minute equaliser set up a nervy finale.

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But Barca — who beat Chelsea 4-0 when the sides met in the 2021 final — held on in front of a crowd of just over 72,000 to reach their third straight final and set up a meeting with either Arsenal or Wolfsburg in Eindhoven in June.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes praised her team for their performance, insisting that the tie was lost with the 1-0 home loss in the first leg.

“We are disappointed,” she said. “I don’t know too many teams that come here as brave as we were. You have to survive the first part of the game, there is a huge crowd here and an incredibly intimidating environment.

“The players managed it well and grew into game. The second half we dominated, yes they had transitions, that’s normal, but I am very proud of the players.

“I am not frustrated. We’re not going through because of the home tie. Nothing to do with coming here. If there was longer in the game, I think we would have won it. They were panicking, you could hear it on the touch line. Even their manager got booked. They were not used to that.

“We are out because we conceded so early at home, nothing to do with here.”

However, Hayes’ Barcelona counterpart, Jonatan Giraldez, said his team were worthy winners over the two matches.

“A semifinal is about both legs,” he said. “We were better in the first leg and I thought the result could have been bigger with the chances we created. And again I thought we were better today for the majority of the game.

“We didn’t take the openings we created in the first half. I don’t know how many chances we created in the first 60 or 70 minutes. After their goal, Chelsea were more aggressive and we had to compete, but I didn’t have the sensation they were creating a lot, either.”

Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was named in a Barca squad for the first time this season after recovering from an ACL injury, but she watched on from the bench in the first half as her teammates dominated from the start.

Graham Hansen had an early goal ruled out for handball and Asisat Oshoala and Mariona Caldentey both blazed good chances over the bar as Barca failed to even test visiting goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger despite controlling the game.

Fridolina Rolfo then shot wide from distance as it looked like the same pattern would follow in the second half.

However, Chelsea eventually came into the tie, committing more bodies forward, before they were caught on the break in the 63rd minute.

Caldentey’s knock down was picked up by Aitana Bonmati, who drove forward to set up Graham Hansen. The Norway winger slotted home to open the scoring.

Chelsea’s response was immediate. Sam Kerr latched on to a ball over the top and was denied by Sandra Panos, but the ball dropped to Reiten, who made no mistake from 10 yards, hammering into the roof of the net.

Kerr was then foiled by an Irene Paredes block as the English side pushed for the goal that would have taken the tie to extra-time, with Lauren James introduced in search of an extra spark in attack.

Barca remained a threat as well. Substitute Salma Paralluelo had a late shot tipped wide by Berger as the board indicating four minutes of stoppage time went up.

There was to be no final chance for Chelsea, though, and no minutes for Putellas, who will now set her focus on the final and making amends for last season’s 3-1 loss to Lyon at the final hurdle.

“I had spoken with Alexia about possible scenarios,” Giraldez added. “The game was open and being played at a high rhythm, so I didn’t want to take any risks. We will try and get her minutes on Sunday.”

Chelsea will turn their attention back to domestic matters knowing that if they win their games in hand they will move to the top of the Women’s Super League. A second Champions League final will have to wait.

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