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Cech backs referee to stand firm in Catalan cauldron

PETR Cech has claimed referee Cuneyt Cakir could play a key part in Chelsea's bid to reach the Champions League final tonight.

Blues goalkeeper Cech backed Cakir to put in a strong performance in what was the 35-year-old Turk's first knockout-stage match in the competition in tomorrow's semi-final second leg at Barcelona.

Chelsea-Barca clashes have been dogged by refereeing controversy since the sides first met in the competition seven years ago.

Cech, who has featured in most of the Blues' nine matches with Barcelona since 2005, said: "The referee can be a big part of the game. You could see that in the past.

"If you have an experience of refereeing Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in the Turkish league, a game between Chelsea and Barcelona should be fine.

"The referee will have the same professional approach as we had in the first game, which was without controversy."

Cakir's appointment sparked some conspiracy theories, because it was made by a committee headed by fellow Turk Senes Erzik, who has business connections to Barca's sponsors UNICEF.

Five Chelsea players are a booking from a ban which would rule them out of the final but caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo said: "We will just have to play without thinking about it.

"They know who is at risk. A lot of them have played here before, so it's not a new environment."

Cech admitted it felt like Groundhog Day as he once again stands on the brink of reaching the Champions League final.

Cech and his Blues team-mates arrived in Barcelona yesterday just 90 minutes away from one of the most famous victories in their history.

The 29-year-old acknowledged that had been little more than a dream when Di Matteo was charged with picking up the pieces of Andre Villas-Boas' doomed reign, but seven impressive weeks later that dream is close to becoming a reality.

Cech added: "Here we are again, in the semi-final. We always try to reach the final and go as far as we can, to try and win the competition. If we have a fantastic game tomorrow, we'll have a chance to reach the final."