Match Reviews

Heartbreak for 10-player Chelsea as Rolfö’s penalty sends Barça into final | Women’s Champions League

A record home crowd of 39,398 watched a brave and aggrieved Chelsea endure the end of their Champions League dream at Stamford Bridge. A first-half goal from the mercurial Aitana Bonmatí, Kadeisha Buchanan’s controversial sending-off, and a questionable second-half penalty scored by Fridolina Rolfö denied Emma Hayes’s side a place in the final in Bilbao next month, and a perfect finish to her time with the Blues.

There will be questions asked of the refereeing, but a more ­clinical performance, akin to the first leg, would have made the officiating moot. Instead, this was Barcelona’s moment, again, their three shots on target resulting in the two goals that would seal their passage to a fifth final in six years.

There was one change apiece to the teams for the second-leg showdown in London. Mayra Ramírez was out of the squad entirely, with Hayes confirming the Colombia international had an injury that forced them to “change direction”. Catarina Macário was handed a first Champions League start for the Blues in her place, but the loss of Ramírez was felt keenly, particularly the forward’s hold-up play. Meanwhile, Jonatan Giráldez recalled Lucy Bronze for Barcelona, with Mariona Caldentey dropping out.

Emma Hayes on ‘worst decision in Women’s Champions League history’ – video

Chelsea had done the unthinkable in Spain, delivering Barcelona’s first home defeat in more than five years and holding a team that hadn’t failed to score since April 2022. Those facts spoke to the challenge before them at Stamford Bridge, which they sold out for the first time for a women’s game. Would one goal be enough?

It took the visiting team 25 minutes to undo the magnificent job Hayes’s side had done in the Catalan capital, and the goal had been coming.

Bonmatí had warned of the calm in the Barça camp. “We have been able to overcome more difficult moments, like the Eindhoven final,” she said, referring to when Barcelona came from two goals down last season to win 3-2 against Wolfsburg. “If we did it in 45 minutes, we can also do it in 90.”

Chelsea’s Kadeisha Buchanan is sent off for a second bookable offence at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

It would be the Ballon ­d’Or-winning maestro who found the opening, stepping around Niamh Charles before getting her shot away. It took a flick off Buchanan’s thigh to travel beyond the reach of Hannah Hampton.

The goal was maybe the rude awakening Chelsea needed. Suddenly they started to escape the aggressive Barcelona press, and went close to regaining their advantage three times in seven minutes. First, Lauren James cut back from the left for Melanie Leupolz, the Germany international firing her close-range effort off the bar with the goal gaping, although VAR may have intervened for a possible offside in the buildup had it gone in. Then, Macário forced Cata Coll to push her effort around the post, before Sjoeke Nüsken’s cutback into the middle was narrowly missed by James.

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After the break the frenetic energy was maintained, and the home team went tantalisingly close just before the hour mark. James’s sweeping ball to Lawrence on the left was pulled back for Nüsken but the Germany international’s sliding effort skimmed off the base of the far post.

However, Chelsea’s hill got steeper two minutes later, when Buchanan received her marching orders after a second yellow for a challenge on Patri Guijarro. It was a close call, the referee seeming to have forgotten the player was already on a yellow, the decision maybe would have been different had she remembered.

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Then the hill became a mountain, with Jess Carter easing the escape artist Bonmatí into Lawrence, bringing her down and conceding a penalty. It was soft, with the midfielder who had accused Chelsea of “playing dirty” in the first leg going down very easily, but it wasn’t an obvious enough error for VAR to refer the decision. Up stepped Rolfö and the Sweden forward fired low into the corner, with Hampton diving the wrong way.

Chelsea threw the kitchen sink at it with six minutes remaining in a bid to force extra time. Centre-back Millie Bright, who had not played since November, was sent on up front and Ève Périsset and Fran Kirby also joined the fray, but it was not enough. Barcelona’s game management was on point, seeing out the remaining minutes to crush Hayes’ hopes of a dream ending.

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