Chelsea survived one of the most dramatic matches in UEFA Champions League history to reach the semi-finals with a 4-4 draw against Liverpool in the quarter-final second leg for a 7-5 aggregate victory.
Guus Hiddink's side, who will face Barcelona in the next round, came agonisingly close to squandering their 3-1 first leg lead as Liverpool twice pulled within one goal of what would have been a remarkable victory at Stamford Bridge.
The great escape looked on when Fabio Aurelio's free-kick and a Xabi Alonso penalty put the Merseysiders two goals ahead before the half. But Chelsea staged a superb second half revival as a goal by Didier Drogba was followed by strikes from Alex and Frank Lampard to seemingly put the Blues in control.
But Liverpool had no intention of going out quietly and Lucas and Dirk Kuyt struck to set up a nerve-jangling finish. If the Reds scored again they would have gone through on away goals, but Lampard finally settled the tie with a minute to play. "It was a great game of football. We made it hard for ourselves and Liverpool are a fantastic team. But it's great, we're through," Lampard said. "Our character at half-time, to turn it around, says a lot about the players."
For the second successive season, Chelsea have knocked their English Premier League rivals out of Europe's elite club competition, but the nerves of every Chelsea player and fan inside Stamford Bridge must have been completely shredded before the Blues finally emerged victorious.
Liverpool, who were without injured captain Steven Gerrard, needed the kind of heroic display they produced to turn a three-goal deficit into Champions League final victory against AC Milan in 2005. They started as if inspired by the spirit of Istanbul and Fernando Torres surged onto Yossi Benayoun's backheel, only to lose his composure and scuff tamely wide.
The Blues were wary of commiting too many players forward and Liverpool, dominating possession as a result, took the lead in remarkable fashion after 19 minutes. There was no apparent danger when Aurelio lined up a free-kick wide on the wing 35 yards from goal. But Petr Cech clearly expected the Brazilian to send in a cross and put just one man in the defensive wall before taking up a position on the far side of his goal. Aurelio noticed the gaping hole at Cech's near post and took full advantage with a cheeky low shot that left the Chelsea keeper rooted to the spot.
Hiddink's team looked devoid of any idea how to defend their lead. Liverpool were tormented by Chelsea's corners in the first leg but now it was their turn to cause chaos from set pieces and they scored again in the 28th minute. Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantelejo ruled that Branislav Ivanovic had pulled down Alonso in the penalty area as the players challenged for another Aurelio free-kick. The Serb, Chelsea's two-goal hero from the first leg, was now the villain as Alonso picked himself up to dispatch the penalty past Cech.
The Blues were shell-shocked and Hiddink responded by hauling off Salomon Kalou, with Nicolas Anelka replacing the Ivorian. The Dutch coach also sent his players out early before the start of the second half and Chelsea, finally attacking with some urgency, punished a blunder by Reina to go back in front on aggregate in the 52nd minute.
Impact from the bench
Anelka surged away from two defenders on the right wing and whipped in a low cross that Didier Drogba nudged gently goalwards. Reina got his hand to the ball but the Spaniard's feeble attempted save only succeeded in pushing it into his own net.
Another goal for Liverpool would still have forced extra time but Hiddink's team talk had done its job. Chelsea were transformed and they scored again in the 57th minute when Alex hammered a ferocious, swerving free-kick past Reina from distance.
Ashley Cole was booked for obstruction, ruling him out of the semi-final first leg, but Chelsea had the bit between their teeth and Lampard made it three in the 76th minute. Drogba powered away down the left and crossed towards Lampard, who timed his run perfectly to finish from close-range.
That should have been the killer goal but even then Liverpool refused to throw in the towel. When Lucas scored with a low strike that deflected off Michael Essien in the 81st minute, it seemed no more than mere consolation.
But two minutes later, Chelsea's defence allowed Kuyt yards of space to meet Albert Riera's cross with a close-range header that gave Cech no chance. Liverpool had to throw caution to the wind in search of the winning goal and their heroic effort was destined to end in failure as Lampard curled home the equaliser in the 89th minute. At long last, Chelsea could relax.