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FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC put on a spectacular show of football on Tuesday night at FedExField just outside Washington DC in a friendly clash between European giants that had to be decided on penalty kicks.
With the score tied at two after 90 minutes of play, Chelsea aced all four of their spot kicks to emerge with a victory in both teams’ final game on United States soil in the 2015 International Champions Cup. Both sides will play one final game in the summer tournament back in Europe.
While Chelsea were perfect in the tête-à-tête from 11 metres, FC Barcelona missed twice, as Alen Halilovic’s panenka attempt came square off the crossbar and Gerard Piqué was foiled by Thibaut Courtois.
For Barça, the defeat wraps up a US tour that included a first-game win over the Los Angeles Galaxy followed by consecutive losses to Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite the less-than-optimum results, Barça head coach Luis Enrique has made it clear that the purpose of the preseason is to get his team in shape for the games that count.
Eden Hazard broke the ice to put Chelsea out in front after ten minutes. The Belgium international slotted home on a fine individual effort that left behind Ivan Rakitic, Douglas and Marc Bartra before Hazard bested Ter Stegen to light up the scoreboard.
Barça drew back level on 59 minutes when a failed Chelsea clear gifted Suárez the ball to the right of Courtois and the Uruguay striker calmly chipped over the outstretched arms of the Belgium goalkeeper. The ball crossed the goal line just before a last-ditch clearance attempt by a Chelsea defender, who arrived a fraction of a second too late.
Seven minutes later, Sandro Ramírez put Barca back on top 2-1 after shaking a defender and sending a beautifully curling shot over the Chelsea defence and Courtois. Luis Enrique’s side looked to be cruising towards their second victory of the tournament.
But Chelsea knotted it back up at two just four minutes from time when Gary Cahill headed home from eight metres. Immediately following the equaliser, Cahill had to abandon the pitch though, as replays showed he took an uppercut punch to the nose upon heading in -- goalkeeper Jordi Masip’s attempt to fist the ball away inadvertently caught Cahill’s proboscis instead, sending a deluge of blood gushing out onto the field while his Chelsea teammates were celebrating around him.
Cahill’s injury might be blamed for stemming any possible momentum created by the late goal, and the dramatic ending-to-be was confirmed shortly thereafter when the yellow-shirted referee whistled the end of regulation, giving way to spot kicks to decide the victor.
Chelsea thoroughly dominated until the half hour mark after which Barça snapped out of their funk and showed some fire before marching to the dressing rooms down just 1-0. FC Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was a big reason why the London-based side didn’t do any more damage.
Nevertheless, Chelsea enjoyed multiple opportunities to extend their lead, the two biggest coming when Oscar rattled the cross bar on 26 minutes with a free kick attempt from just outside the area and when Diego Costa’s 33rd minute breakaway failed to find the net, his deftly chipped ball floating over Ter Stegen and bouncing inches wide.
Wake up call
It was that very attempt that appeared to spell the end of Barca’s complacency. The Catalans refocused their resolve to try and beat Courtois, who had almost single-handedly kept Barca out of the net.
Costa’s breakaway sandwiched a pair of sublime stops that Courtois made on Suarez.
Suárez, who has shined throughout the US tour in the absence of Lionel Messi and Neymar, then combined with Sandro to create an opening for Rakitic, but the Croatian launched a moon shot to rival one of the Apollo missions.
The International Champions Cup’s liberal substitution policy kept the fresh legs coming and the game zipping along at a frantic pace well into the second half on a muggy and humid night that would have had many a side gasping for air.
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