Cech’s heroics

Guus Hiddink hailed Petr Cech for ‘saving the game’ as the Chelsea goalkeeper made a string of impressive saves against Barcelona.

Guus Hiddink praised Petr Cech as having “saved the game” for Chelsea as his team’s tenacity and refusal to wilt frustrated Barcelona and ensured the Londoners became the first side this season to emerge unscathed from the Camp Nou.

Not since Manchester United secured a goalless stalemate in this arena at the same stage of this competition last season have the Catalans failed to score at home, with Cech denying Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, Daniel Alves and, deep into stoppage time, Alexander Hleb to preserve the visitors’ clean sheet.

“Petr did his defensive job very well and saved the game for us,” said Hiddink, who was also impressed with the manner in which Jose Bosingwa filled in against Lionel Messi at left-back. “When you look at Barça’s recent history, this is the first time they’ve not scored at home (this season) so it’s quite an achievement against a beautiful team who can play beautiful football, as we saw at times tonight. We rather neutralised Messi tactically tonight, even if that’s no guarantee that it will happen twice (for the return).

“We needed to be very courageous, but you need to play with intelligence too. You can’t get a result against Barcelona just with courage alone. In that respect, John Terry was an inspiration for us too and an example to the rest of the team, who responded in a very good way. We have to play better in possession, but that’s also down to the opponents. But this team has a lot of courage and a lot of blood that they want to sacrifice. Mentally, we’re a very tough team.”

Chelsea’s discipline rarely cracked for all that Barcelona revelled in their customary possession-play. “They had a lot of possession but we stayed very tight,” said Terry. “They like to play little balls through and we knew that and stopped them doing it. It’s a fantastic result and we go back to the Bridge ready to go again. We’ll have home advantage so, hopefully, we can make the most of that.”

While this tie remains on edge, Barca will travel to Stamford Bridge for the second leg without the suspended Carles Puyol and Rafael Marquez, whose season was ended by a knee injury. Their coach, Pep Guardiola, complained that the referee, Wolfgang Stark, should have been stricter with Chelsea’s more physical approach but felt his side would be “stronger” in the return leg.

“Only one team was trying to play attacking football, and the referee should have taken that into account,” he said. “We weren’t out there shoving players or making poor challenges. Michael Ballack might have been sent off, but Yaya Toure was actually booked for dissent. Ballack played in an aggressive way throughout, but we are a clean team. The referee didn’t have his best night.

It’s not acceptable for a Champions League semifinal. We committed seven fouls and Chelsea committed 20, and yet we both ended up with the same number of bookings. This is not a happy story for Chelsea.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009