- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

LONDON (AP) - Chelsea has been defying expectations all season _ from the surprisingly poor domestic campaign to the astonishing humbling of Barcelona.

“Miracle Men,” the Daily Telegraph called them on the front page of its sports section after the 2-2 draw advanced them to the final.

The obituaries written for an aging team have been ripped up and replaced with tributes to a fearless squad that defied the odds to reach the Champions League final for the second time in four years.

Winning the European Cup for the first time had seemed an unlikely proposition when Andre Villa-Boas was booted out in March with the domestic campaign in turmoil and Chelsea seemingly headed out of the Champions League.

While the Blues struggled in the Premier League, they advanced 3-2 on aggregate to the final.

Chelsea had to play with 10 men from the 37th minute when Terry was sent off for putting his knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez, and the captain will miss the final.

“For many teams it would be a killer,” Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said. “But we showed great strength of mind and character not to lie down.”

Such fighting spirit has not always been evident this season.

When Villas-Boas was fired, the Portuguese was widely reported to be at odds with his squad, which was facing Champions League elimination after losing 3-1 to Napoli in the last-16 first leg.

Turning around that fixture provided Roberto Di Matteo with the ideal launch pad for his stint in the dugout until the end of the season.

While the Premier League form has still not recovered, Chelsea is through to an FA Cup final against Liverpool and on course for the cup double.

“To be in the Champions League final, obviously, is a dream come true for all the Chelsea players,” striker Fernando Torres said. “It’s the second Champions League final for Chelsea. Everyone knows what happened in the past with the penalty shoot-out.

“So, I think Chelsea deserved a second chance and we have the chance now.”

It was Terry who missed the decisive penalty in the 2008 final against Manchester United. But with Terry suspended for the May 19 final, there will not be a chance for the captain, seen by many fans as the heart of the team, to redeem himself in Munich.

“Terry’s brainlessness ends up damaging no one but himself,” read a headline in The Times of London.

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