LONDON: Roberto Di Matteo admits Chelsea will be motivated by revenge when they face Barcelona in an potentially explosive Champions League semi-final showdown.
Many of Chelsea’s current stars can still feel the emotional scars from Barca’s controversial Champions League semi-final victory over the Blues in 2009.
Chelsea, managed then by caretaker boss Guus Hiddink, felt they were denied several clear penalties before Andres Iniesta’s last-gasp strike sent Barca through to the final on away goals.
The sense of injustice prompted Chelsea striker Didier Drogba to abuse Norway referee Tom Henning Ovrebo on the pitch after the final whistle, while several other players hinted they had been cheated.
That was the last meeting between two clubs whose rivalry has been become increasingly bitter since first erupting during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Now Chelsea, 3-1 aggregate winners against Benfica in the quarter-finals, have a chance to avenge that loss by ending Barca’s reign as European champions and Blues interim boss Di Matteo says his players are determined to seize the opportunity.
“We have faced them a lot of times over the years and a lot of our players have some history against Barcelona,” Di Matteo said.
“Certainly they feel a bit hard done by from when we played against them three years ago.” Barca have proved themselves Europe’s pre-eminent force twice in the last three seasons and they look in the mood to collect yet another title this year.
Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and company brushed aside AC Milan in their quarter-final and have plenty of motivation to reach the final again themselves as arch rivals Real Madrid could be lying in wait in Munich.
Few teams in Europe have been able to find an answer to the problems posed by Barca’s bewildering array of attacking options, but Di Matteo insists he is looking forward to the challenge.
“It will be exciting to play two games against one of the best teams in the world. We will find a strategy that will suit our team and our players to face Barcelona,” he said.
“They have some individuals that are a big threat and very dangerous, but we also have to play our game and play to our strengths.”
“They have reached the final and won the trophy many times but I am looking forward to the two games. It will be exciting to play Barcelona again.” Di Matteo deserves immense credit for getting Chelsea back on track after stepping up from his role as assistant to the sacked Andre Villas-Boas.
Some critics claimed the former Chelsea midfielder would fare just as badly as Villas-Boas because few of the players liked his supposedly aloof attitude.
Instead, his calm, understated leadership has led Chelsea to the brink of a second Champions League final appearance.
As Mourinho anticipates tough Bayern battle
MADRID: Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho predicted bitter rivals Barcelona would reach the Champions League final but was not sure whether his side would be strong enough to beat Bayern Munich and join them.
The Portuguese tactician — winner of the trophy with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010 — was speaking after the nine-time European champions had breezed into the last four after beating plucky Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia 5-2 on the night and 8-2 on aggregate.
Mourinho said he foresaw few problems for holders Barcelona in their semi-final against one of his former teams Chelsea in their semi-final.
“Our semi will be a difficult match for both sides, but I am sure Barca will be the other finalist as they have such a good side,” he said.
“Bayern will obviously be a strong rival, they are a very powerful club both on and off the pitch with great fans and it’s a semi-final we all want to play, I think Europe in general will enjoy it,” he added.
His compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo echoed his sentiments about their next opponents, who have been crowned European champions four times.
“Bayern are one of the teams that can win the trophy so they will be a difficult opponent for us,” said Ronaldo, whose double strike against APOEL took his tally for the season to 49 goals.
Real will go into the Bayern clash with a near perfect Champions League record this season, winning nine out of ten games, and Mourinho said that having missed out in previous years his players are determined to land the trophy this time round.
“We will have players back from injury so we are well prepared for a difficult April,” he said.
“These players have failed to get to the final in the past few years so it is normal that they will be extra motivated to get past Bayern.”
“We will have a tough first game in their stadium before bringing them to the Bernabeu but let’s see if we can all do enough to get through to that final.”