Holders Barcelona end Chelsea’s Champions League hope

Aitana Bonmati (second from right) opened the scoring at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea’s hopes of reaching the Women’s Champions League final in manager Emma Hayes’ final season at the club ended with defeat by Barcelona at a sold-out Stamford Bridge.

The Blues led 1-0 from the semi-final first leg, but holders Barca turned the tie around on an emotional evening in London, with two big decisions by referee Iuliana Demetrescu going in their favour.

The first was to issue a second booking in four minutes to Chelsea defender Kadeisha Buchanan, reducing the hosts to 10 players just before the hour mark – before the visitors were awarded a penalty for a contentious foul on Aitana Bonmati, which Fridolina Rolfo dispatched.

Ballon d’Or winner Bonmati, who had earlier cancelled out Chelsea’s aggregate lead with a deflected strike off Buchanan, went down in the box under contact from Jess Carter and Ashley Lawrence.

A video assistant referee review did not overturn the decision and Chelsea, despite their best efforts, could not find the goal they needed and were knocked out 2-1 on aggregate.

The hosts hit the woodwork twice—Melanie Leupolz striking the crossbar in the first half before Sjoeke Nusken stabbed an effort against the post after the break—but Barcelona booked their place in the final for the fifth time in six seasons.

Hayes will leave Chelsea after 12 years to manage the US women’s national team in the summer and exit with the Women’s Champions League, the only trophy she failed to win with the club.

Sad ending to Hayes’ Stamford Bridge farewell

Having stunned Barcelona in Spain last week – becoming the first side in five years to beat them on home soil, Chelsea were expecting a much-improved performance by the holders in the second leg.

It was still not the kind of scintillating Barcelona display we have become accustomed to, but with Bonmati pulling the strings and Caroline Graham Hansen finding space in behind, they piled pressure on the Chelsea defence early on.

However, the Blues acquitted themselves well and looked able to pose their own threat on the counterattack when they won the ball back.

After Bonmati’s opener, Chelsea finished the first half strongly and should have equalised on the night – but the unmarked Leupolz only managed to strike the bar after a pullback from Nusken in the box.

The second half proved to be a different story.

Not long after Nusken’s effort bounced off the far post, Buchanan was sent off for her second booking in quick succession and had to trudge down the tunnel.

Chelsea struggled to recover, particularly after Rolfo scored her 75th-minute penalty.

There were emotional scenes at full-time as Hayes, surrounded by her players on the pitch, looked close to tears, having waved goodbye to Stamford Bridge for the final time.

Chelsea had dreamed of a fairytale quadruple to cap off their manager’s 12-year tenure, but instead must focus solely on the defence of their Women’s Super League title, which is under threat from rival Manchester City.

Barcelona will look to continue their European dominance and clinch a second successive continental crown in Bilbao on May 25.

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