Soccer-Holders Barca beat Chelsea to reach Champions League final

By Clare Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) -Holders Barcelona battled into the final of the women's Champions League, overturning a first-leg 1-0 deficit to beat Emma Hayes's 10-woman Chelsea 2-0 in the second leg at a sold-out Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

It was the second season in a row that Barca had beaten Chelsea 2-1 in the semi-final and was a blow to home coach Hayes who is leaving Chelsea to manage the U.S. national team after 14 years in charge.

The match also sparked controversy over what Hayes and some commentators considered an unjust red card for Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan, which changed the momentum of the game.

Hayes's hugely successful side have never won the Champions League, reaching the final only once, in 2021 when they were thrashed 4-0 -- again by Barcelona.

The Catalan side, who have won the title twice in the last three years, went ahead in the 26th minute when Ballon d'Or winner Aitana Bonmati found space on the edge of the box and sidestepped Niamh Charles. Her shot took a deflection off Buchanan into the net.

The goal, after sustained pressure at high tempo from the visitors, cancelled out Erin Cuthbert's strike a week ago in Barcelona.

"A little bit lucky but sometimes you have to shoot in the box and you never know," Bonmati told DAZN.

Bonmati's goal meant she became the joint all-time top scorer in the Women's Champions League for Barcelona, tied with Alexia Putellas on 21 goals. It was her fifth in 10 European games.

Chelsea, who had sold out Stamford Bridge for the first time for a women's game, reacted straight away, pushing forward and creating chances for Lauren James and Catarina Macario.

Sjoeke Nuksen also hit the post in the 57th minute for Chelsea.

But moments later, as rain lashed southwest London, Buchanan was sent off after being shown a second yellow for a challenge on Salma Paralluelo.

Hayes was angered by the decision, which she considered wrong because Buchanan had got to the ball, and said it killed her team's chances of winning.

She said she could feel the momentum had turned in Chelsea's favour, demonstrated by hitting the post, but the chance was cruelly snatched away.

"We didn't lose it. It was taken away from us," she told reporters.

"The officials have made an outrageous decision," she added. "When you work so hard, it is really, really hard to take."

Fridolina Rolfo finally sank home hopes when she put Barca ahead 2-1 on aggregate from the penalty spot in the 74th minute after Chelsea's nemesis Bonmati was adjudged to have been fouled by Ashley Lawrence.

"It’s amazing, another final," Bonmati said as her team mates danced and sang in the rain in front of the travelling fans. "It wasn’t easy because we had a tough team in front of us. We had to sweat our T-shirts to achieve it. I’m proud of my team and let’s go in for another final."

Barca will meet either Olympique Lyonnais or Paris St Germain, who play their semi-final on Sunday, in the final in Bilbao on May 25.

The result left Chelsea with only one chance of silverware. They hope to retain their Super League title but are trailing Manchester City by three points with a game in hand.

They lost the League cup final to Arsenal last month, followed by an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United.

(Reporting by Clare Lovell; editing by Clare Fallon)