James Lawton: After Terry atrocity, Chelsea's 10-men prove themselves heroes
There could be no redeeming of John Terry's betrayal of himself and his team – or at least it seemed so when the faultline in his nature, that almost ineffable tendency to destroy the best of all that he has worked for, cracked open yet again.
Yet if the ugly folly of his kneeing in the back of Alexis Sanchez suggested at the moment of execution that it was beyond any perspective but his own apparent instinct for self-destruction, something quite remarkable, even uncanny, happened.
Chelsea, quite simply, found such a greatness of will that you could spend a lifetime of watching football without the privilege of anything to compare with it.
First they scored a goal that would have been stunning for its poise and its beauty in any circumstances. That it should come after the Terry atrocity and dismissal was sandwiched by moments of killing brilliance from Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, which swept away the desperately won advantage at Stamford Bridge, only added to the wonder and the disbelief.
Frank Lampard, as he did in the home leg, delivered the swift pass and Ramires, a player of speed and unrelenting good-heartedness, produced the most convincing evidence yet seen that his origins are indeed in the football of Brazil. He sent the ball over the head of Victor Valdes with a finesse that would have been claimed happily by any of the great figures from the land of the beautiful game.
That Ramires should miss the final, along with several colleagues, for the softest of yellow cards, is a different kind of sporting tragedy to the one that consumed Terry, but it was surely no less profound.
When Lionel Messi, of all people, crashed a penalty against the crossbar early in the second half – after Didier Drogba had blemished another huge performance with a lunge at Cesc Fabregas – there was a wild but irresistible thought. It was that Chelsea might just retrieve something from the abyss.
But then how could they do that, as Messi, the world's supreme football artist, ran endlessly to make good on his moment of failed skill and nerve? How could they, with Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Boswinga the makeshift central defence, repulse the dynamos, Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and the waspish Sanchez? They had to fill the hole left in the spine of their team by Terry's madness and Gary Cahill's early hamstring injury with a quality that so often separates the winners and the losers. The Americans call it moxie and nearer the homes of men like Lampard and the once-more excellent Ashley Cole it is commonly known as bottle. For the rest of us, it passes for the highest quality of competitive courage.
This was the latest reward for the temporary manager Roberto Di Matteo's decision to put his faith in the old guard of Chelsea. If he had been let down so monumentally, so inexplicably by his captain Terry, there were others who embraced their responsibilities last night with unforgettable passion. It was something that left men like Lampard and Cole and Petr Cech, who at one point was absurdly booked for not racing to collect a ball that had rolled behind his goal, living beyond even the possibility of such an unlikely place in the final in Munich. No, the future stopped when Terry walked off the field late in the first half. There was only the moment, one which stretched from them every fibre of energy and will.
The more Barcelona tried, the more Messi fretted and harrumphed, and even when he drilled a shot against the Chelsea post, the more Chelsea's 10 men dug further into their resolve. And then, if we doubted that this was a night given over to something quite beyond the ordinary, there was the sight of Fernando Torres, another folly of Chelsea for so long, breaking clear and delivering the clinching shot into an empty net.
Beyond everything this was a triumph for the simple proposition – so brilliantly if quietly propounded by Di Matteo – that if you have players of character and proven deeds, it is a good idea to give them the last benefit of the doubt.
In the end you could not exclude, but for one tragically dark place, a single Chelsea player from the cast list of heroes. When faced with the toughest of challenges, a task that promised only pain and humiliation, they said that it was a case of saying to hell with it, what do we have to lose but one night devoted to giving the very best of themselves.
That is precisely what they did. Whatever happens in Munich, Chelsea have made an indelible mark on the greatest of club tournaments. They can nurse this effort through victory or defeat in Munich for the rest of their lives.