Chelsea secured their place in the UEFA Europa League final after they beat Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties following a 2-2 draw on aggregate over two legs.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s goal looked as though it might have been enough to send the Blues through in normal time but Luka Jovic’s second-half equaliser took the game all the way.
The German side were in front at one stage in the shootout but two saves from Kepa and scored penalties from David Luiz and Eden Hazard sent the underdogs crashing out in the most brutal way.
Many believe it was the Belgian star’s final appearance for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with his potential last match being the final against Baku, Azerbaijan against Arsenal.
But Kepa stole the headlines yet again and not just for his heroics after the 120 minutes as his terrific save from Danny Da Costa’s rocket volley within 15 minutes arguably kept his side in the tie.
With the visitors adopting such an attacking approach, it left gaps that the hosts were keen to exploit and after some of his usual magic, Hazard cut the ball back towards Olivier Giroud who saw his front-post flick very well saved Kevin Trapp.
The pressure started to increase and moments after David Luiz saw his poked effort cleared off the line, the Blues went in front. Some quick passing in the middle of the park left the Frankfurt defenders bewildered, allowing Loftus-Cheek to race onto a clever through ball and he made no mistake as he calmly bent the ball past the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
That may have settled the nerves of the home fans but the away supporters, who had not seen much promise from their side other than Da Costa’s volleyed attempt, were still tremendously loud in the Shed End. The half-time whistle sounded with the Chelsea fans looking into booking flights to Baku.
However, a goal after just four second-half minutes put the proverbial cat right amongst the pigeons as Jovic exchanged a neat one-two with Mijat Gaćinović on the edge of the box before drilling a shot into the back of the net to send his admirers absolutely wild behind the goal.
That gave the away side all the momentum knowing that another goal would leave their opponents needing two to prevent them from reaching their third major European final. They continued to steam forward at every opportunity but Maurizio Sarri’s resolute backline stayed strong with both Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta making key tackles at vital times.
The latter though was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch after receiving a yellow card that could have quite easily been red seconds before making another foul that would have usually seen another card brandished.
The inevitable ending could not be stopped though as neither side could find a winner inside 90 minutes leading to a period of extra time and despite looking completely spent, Frankfurt came within an inch of getting what would have been the winner.
Sébastien Haller diverted a Filip Kostić cross towards the bottom corner and that is where it was headed until a masterful goal-line clearance from Luiz denied him his 20th goal of the season.
Davide Zappacosta then had to do the same just before half time in extra time as Haller once again sent an effort goalwards only to see it headed over the crossbar by the Italian full-back.
With just four minutes left of added half an hour, it was almost heartbreak for the travelling Germans as Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net. Although it was disallowed as Azpilicueta was adjudged to have fouled Trapp who wasn’t exactly convincing in the way he originally caught a tame Blues cross.
After the sides could not be separating yet again, a penalty shootout was required to decide who would progress to the final. Frankfurt went first and after each of the first three spot-kicks were scored, Azpilicueta watched his turned around the post brilliantly by Trapp. The next two found the back of the net until Kepa brought his side back into the contest with a smart save between his legs from Martin Hinteregger’s penalty.
Luiz then made no mistake which left Gonçalo Paciência, who had been brought on in the 118th minute, realistically needing to score but he too saw his effort saved by the Chelsea goalkeeper who presented Hazard the opportunity to be the hero. He was the coolest man in West London and sent Trapp the wrong way with extreme composure, sending his team into their third European final in seven years.
The Blues will make the trip to Baku on 31st May to face rivals Arsenal as Sarri looks to sign off his first season with a European trophy.