COLE: NOTHING TO FEAR
Few players have greater Champions League experience than Ashley Cole. The 31-year-old made his debut in the competition back in October 2000, but having taken part in the tournament every year since, and despite the fact he is one of the most decorated English footballers in the modern era, the biggest club prize in the European game is the one trophy which continues to elude him.
It's not as if he hasn't gone close, either. A beaten finalist during his Arsenal days, coincidentally against tonight's opponents, his misery was compounded after moving to Stamford Bridge when we lost the 2008 final against Manchester United courtesy of a cruel penalty shoot-out.
Ahead of tonight's semi-final first leg against a side many consider to be the greatest of them all, however, Cole insisted an in-form Chelsea, fresh from Sunday's 5-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham, would be heading into the game respectful, rather than fearful.
Over the years, there have been some titanic Champions League battles between the two sides, with no shortage of either quality or controversy.
The most recent encounter came at the semi-final stage of the competition back in 2009, when the Blues defended resolutely during the first leg at the Camp Nou to secure a goalless draw, before finally succumbing to a last-gasp Iniesta strike at Stamford Bridge, in a match where we had what looked like four legitimate penalty appeals waved away, as Cole recalled.
'In the first leg I didn't play, [Jose] Bosingwa played left-back, and he did a great job on Messi and the right winger,' he said. 'At home we were unlucky, but with teams like Barcelona we try to think about our own game, we know how to stop them, but is it going to happen on that day? You never know.
'With everything that went on in the game, with the so-called penalties that we should have had, and then to have that in the last minute, that was for me one of the best games I have seen a Chelsea team play, with fight, determination and spirit.
'Then of course, he just pops up with a great strike. But that's what they've got, that's all they need, one shot.'
Few would argue that it's been another eventful campaign in SW6, but a season which, for a while, appeared to be heading nowhere, has been given a new lease of life in the last couple of months.
Our home form in the Champions League, meanwhile, has been imperious, with 16 goals scored and only two conceded. Against a team as talented as Barcelona, it's crucial we utilise every possible advantage ahead of what will be a difficult return leg next week, but Cole believes the second leg performance against Napoli in front of our own supporters should give us inspiration, and insisted the Spaniards won't relish tonight's clash.
'We always had confidence and faith that we could overturn the 3-1 deficit,' admitted the Blues left-back. 'When we lost out there [Napoli] we still had chances to score goals, and I think we should have gone 2-0 up before we even went 3-1 down, so it's one of those things.
'But we always had confidence in coming back at home, and with the fans and the atmosphere we knew that we could score goals against them. Of course, when the first one went in, it gave everyone a lift. And it just gave us our confidence back to say we belong here, we deserve to be here, we're good enough to do it, and then of course the goals just kept flowing.
'They're not worried about us, but they know from the teams they've played in the Champions League, and the Premier League, we will probably give them the hardest run.'
Tonight's game has all the ingredients to satisfy the watching millions across the globe; a Champions League semi-final, one step away from the biggest stage of them all, the type of occasion that most players can only dream about being involved in.
Cole is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the business and certainly won't be overawed by the occasion; the type of player any manager would love to be able to call upon, but he believes the key to this tie could lie with the Spanish players we have at our disposal, including one former Barcelona man.
'It's an advantage, because of course Oriol [Romeu] has been at Barcelona, so he is probably going to know a little bit more, admitted Cole.
'But Juan [Mata] has played against them many times, and so has Fernando [Torres] in his time in Spain, so maybe it can give us a little insight into how they might go into this game.'