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Terry moment of thuggery takes gloss off epic night for Di Matteo's battling heroes

Between Ashley Cole's intern-shooting, Didier Drogba's play-acting and John Terry's general behaviour, there were plenty of reasons to support Barcelona last night.

Terry played up to that hostility with an act of mind-numbing stupidity, kneeing Barca's Alexis Sanchez in the back two minutes after Sergio Busquets had opened the scoring for the European champions in the 34th minute.

With that sneaky attack on an opponent who was bound to exploit the opportunity, Terry forgot where he was, dragging the game back to the English battlegrounds of his youth when it belonged on the most glittering stage in club football.

This is not the local park. But nobody told Chelsea's captain, who has spent his whole career promoting a self-image of selfless leadership. There was always a lot of schtick involved. In court on July 9 to face a charge of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Terry blew his chance to be part of a memorable end to Chelsea's troubled season with a piece of low-grade thuggery that was bound to be spotted and punished.

The rest of these Chelsea players have had to endure a lot of sanctimony down the years from the former England captain. They have heard his voice bark out many orders and enforce much unity.

This has made the difference in plenty of big encounters but when it really mattered on a night of opportunity, Terry surrendered to his darker impulses.

Meanwhile, his colleagues continued with their devilishly hard task.

The list of charges from neutrals prior to kick-off was long, from Roman Abramovich sacking managers every other week to dislike of Chelsea's smothering tactics at Stamford Bridge, and anger over the booing of the minute's silence for Hillsborough victims at the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs.

Unusually, there were few home fires burning for a side who began to display impressive fighting spirit as soon as Andre Villas-Boas was purged by Abramovich. If Chelsea needed extra friends, they needed to call on Madrid and other parts of Spain not in thrall to Barcelona's beauty.

What Terry did to Sanchez in between first-half Barcelona goals was standard fare from the more macho centre-halves, of which there have been dozens -- hundreds, maybe -- down the years. But to do it here, with the tied still poised at 1-1, was inexplicable, unless you place it in the context of Terry's tough-guy image and his frequent losses of self-control.

Within seven minutes Barca led 2-0, via Andres Iniesta's finish. By some brief counter-attacking miracle Ramires then appeared at the other end to seize an away goal and hand Chelsea the advantage at half-time. This was never going to be a quiet night. Within two minutes of the restart Drogba brought down Cesc Fabregas in the box and Messi smashed the penalty against the crossbar.

Ever since Abramovich swooped Chelsea have been admired but not loved. Terry's sending off will only deepen the sense that power has corrupted some of those to whom the owner has been most loyal.

For 20 minutes they barely left their half as Barca advanced in 3-1-3-3 formation, with the restoration of Sanchez at centre-forward providing better thrust and shape.

Suffering seemed about all Chelsea could dare to expect as Messi and company poked and prodded the gaps between white kits that must have looked, to the home side, like a London offshoot of Real Madrid. White shirt means red rag in these parts, and the higher energy and tempo of Barcelona forced Chelsea back on to the old pressure-reliever of long balls to Drogba.

Chelsea are a team of A-list players, some of them on £150,000-plus a week. To be reduced to the role of spectators -- blockers, stoppers -- must eat away at the spirit. Yet deep into this bizarre match Chelsea were still hanging on for a place in the final in Munich. The white wall strengthened itself again and Barca were back to passing across the lines, waiting, hoping, for some crack to appear. Messi -- who nobody thought capable of missing from a mere penalty spot -- was tangling with Frank Lampard and Petr Cech was booked for time wasting. Chelsea offered almost nothing to the sum of human enjoyment beyond the Ramires goal and astonishing stubbornness after Terry had departed.

As calamity loomed Sanchez had a finish chalked off for offside and Messi hit the post. Negation was cancelling out art. Terry watched all this from the doghouse. None of the credit was his. But, still, he tried to reinvent the night in his own head.

"I'm not that kind of player," he told the TV cameras afterwards, while grudgingly admitting that the incident "looked bad". It was bad. Luckily for Chelsea, it was as bad as the night got. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent