Maren Mjelde’s injury-time goal sent Chelsea Women through to the Champions League semi-finals for the second year running after a night of high drama in Paris.
An engrossing last-eight tie looked destined for extra-time after two PSG goals early in the second half had cancelled out the lead we had established at Kingsmeadow last week.
It certainly wasn’t plain sailing and the Blues had to dig deep amid an intimidating atmosphere in the French capital, but you can never doubt the character and determination of this side. What we needed was a moment of quality and we were into stoppage time when it arrived, as Mjelde calmly volleyed Karen Carney’s exquisite cross into the net to send us through to the semi-finals.
A date with holders Lyon beckons!
With Erin Cuthbert suspended and Millie Bright back from a ban, Emma Hayes had selection dilemmas to solve. She did so by replacing Cuthbert with Ramona Bachmann, and keeping faith with the same defence and midfield that started in the first leg, meaning Bright had to make do with a place on the bench. The shape shifted to 4-4-2 with Ji So-Yun wide left and Carney on the right.
The teams walked out on a beautiful Parisian evening to a cacophony of noise created by the home supporters opposite them. A couple of Chelsea corners inside the opening two minutes helped settle nerves, although down the other end a miskick by Ann-Katrin Berger did almost cause us early bother. Mjelde, so impressive in the first leg, then got a vital touch on a through-ball as PSG sought to seize the initiative.
There was a moment of danger on 16 minutes when a free-kick conceded by Ji was swung over and bounced dangerously inside our six-yard box before being hacked to safety. Shortly afterwards, Marie-Antoinette Katoto headed wide from a central position as the home side continued to call the shots.
Still, the Blues safely navigated our way to the half-hour mark unscathed. Berger did require treatment but was okay to continue as the noise levels were raised off the pitch.
PSG’s biggest threat came down their left. It was from that part of the pitch Ashley Lawrence hit the side-netting, and then after finding space and cutting inside, Katoto curled profligately past the far post. It was the home side’s best opening of the first half.
Before the interval Drew Spence made a typically brave block and Mjelde yet another interception, but the Blues successfully reached half-time with the game goalless and our first-leg lead intact.
However when play restarted it didn’t take long for our advantage to be halved. Lawrence got away down the left yet again and this time we were punished as her low centre was slid past Berger by Kadidiatou Diani.
Disaster struck on 55 minutes. A PSG corner swung over from the right looked to have been caught safely by Berger, but she could only juggle it into her own net sparking pandemonium at the Stade Jean Bouin.
Berger was picked up by her team-mates and responded well with an important stop immediately to deny Lawrence after PSG had split us open again. She then dived to parry a cross away from the danger zone.
Straight after our first attempt of the night, a routine strike from Bachmann on the hour, Hayes shuffled her pack and the team’s shape. Off came the Swiss forward and Bethany England to be replaced by Bright and Fran Kirby. We went to a 4-2-3-1, Bright slotted in to the heart of defence, with Mjelde moved to right-back and Blundell offering cover further ahead.
Midway through the second period, Shuang Wang, PSG’s Chinese star, curled inches wide from the edge of the box. The tension mounted. Could Chelsea weather the storm?
After Jess Carter replaced Blundell, Kirby and Ji worked an attack that for a split-second looked very promising but ended with the England striker shooting wide.
A Carney corner had the PSG defence as anxious as they had been all evening but after Magdelena Eriksson had hooked goalwards, the home side were able to clear their lines. With extra-time looming the Blues were starting to look more composed in the final third. Kirby had a powerful effort blocked and then, as the clock ticked passed the 90-minute mark, we struck gold.
It stemmed from a wonderful diagonal cross from Carney that caught Christiane Endler in two minds about whether to come out or not. Mjelde showed no such hesitancy, stealing in round the back and calmly volleying into the net to finally silence the home crowd.
PSG now needed to score twice in three minutes. Sub Signe Bruun nearly got one back but shot wide from point-blank range, and we ran the clock down thereafter sealing a safe passage to the last four. The celebrations could begin by the dugouts, on the pitch and in one corner of the stands were the travelling Chelsea support could enjoy the last laugh.
‘Faites nous rever’ read a banner in the home end. ‘Make us dream’. But tonight it is Chelsea whose dream of European glory remains alive.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Blundell (Carter 73), Mjelde, Eriksson, Andersson; Carney (c), Ingle, Spence, Ji; England (Bright 60), Bachmann (Kirby 60).
Unused subs Lindahl, Riley, Engman, Cooper.
Scorer Mjelde 90+1
Booked Carney 45+3, Ingle 76
Paris Saint-Germain (4-3-3) Endler; Perisset (Glas 75), Paredes, Berglund, Cook (Bruun 90+3); Wang, Formiga (c), Geyoro; Diani, Katoto, Lawrence.
Unused subs Kiedrzynek, Diallo, Zamanian, Morroni, Baltimore.
Scorers Diani 47, Berger OG 55
Referee Sandra Baston (Portugal)