BY PAUL LAGAN in Paris
Emma Hayes tells it like she sees it and despite losing her two goal advantage and getting overrun by a spirited PSG side, she always had faith in her charges – and they delivered – just.
A late, late Maren Mjelde strike gave the Londoners a vital away goal to dip them over the tape and into the semi-final of the Champions League.
Hayes, 42, said: “I never felt it was all over. I’ve been in this competition too many times to think that. I knew PSG had quality. We had a 2-0 lead advantage from the home leg – it gave us a great opportunity. But I always knew we had to score here.”
Chelsea were poor and lost two second half goals to level the tie 2-2. Mjelde had a night to Nuremberg by hacking a certain PAF winner off the line minutes before elievering the coup de grace with a smartly taken volley deep in to the four minutes of added time.
Hayes agreed about the performance: “I was a little disappointed with my team,” she said.
“In terms of how we managed the game, and I had to work hard as a coach to keep us in the game at times.
“But I say this, without wanting to sound cliched, but we have a together and spirited group that fight their way through adversity in difficult moments, and stay in the game.
“I felt with five minutes to go that we wanted the winner. I could sense it in them. So when (Karen) Carney picks up the ball and dropped it in that space, I know that there was only going to be one outcome.”
An estimated 14,000 fans were in the Stade Jean Bouin – with about 50 hardy travelling Chelsea fans. The PSG fans sang, danced and let off flares – producing an atmosphere that was intimidating and intoxicating.
Hayes embraced it.
“I loved the atmosphere,” she said.
“I found myself humming their songs as the game went on. It adds to the sport when are playing in front of crowds like that.
“I can only congratulate PSG for that. It certainly gave them home advantage which is what it’s about in this competition. Conceding the goal, made it difficult. We prepared for it. But we did block it out.
“We conceded one goal from a mistake from our goalkeeper and we were caught on the right hand side in the wrong moment. But overall the team understood the conditions and clearly exhausted, showed no fear to get the important away goal.”
Chelsea have had several grounds in recent years but the club has purchased Kingsmeadow in New Malden from AFC Wimbledon. This will be the side’s permanent home. But with capacity of about 4,800, they will never be able to replicate the size of crowd seen in Paris tonight or in the recent matches in Spain and Italy where 60,000 and 39,000 turned out.
Hayes understand that and see a pathway to take the English league forward – and commendably she specifically wants to see the local community as part of that solution.
“I’d like the players to experience crowds like that at home,” she said.
“I’d love to see us build upon it. In England, we have put in place a lot of the right infrastructure. The next step is how we market the game to get more audience. I’ve very traditional – I know there is a modern approach to reaching out to numbers. But I still think, having the right presence in your local community is what matters. Hopefully with this win tonight and some success in the summer in the World Cup, we can build upon it. That’s the next big goal for clubs and the FA because the sport has reached the level that warrants a big crowd.”
Chelsea will face French champions Lyon in the semi-final. Hayes is undaunted.
“We don’t take part in this sport because of fear,” she said.
“These are the games we want. I respect Lyon. They are the best team in Europe. They have demonstrated that over many years. But we are at a level now where we can get into a position where we can fight to get into the final.
“We are not the favourites, we are not expected to go through. So there is no pressure on my team, but we want this game.
“To beat Lyon, we will need a bit of luck. We showed that tonight. There is no point me sitting here and saying we dominated the game. But you make your luck.
“We are talking about a team like Lyon, whose budget is significantly bigger than any other team in Europe. And they have won the French championship for 14 years in a row. This is a team that doesn’t face much competition. They have dismissed Wolfsburg in the other quarter-final tonight. So I’m not going to pretend we are going to do it in a pretty way. If we are to progress to the final, we have to hang in there. If you get the organisation right, keep the spirit high – then we have enough quality to cause them problems too.”