David Luiz fired in a last-second free-kick to give Chelsea a 2-1 win in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final at Basel.
Chelsea took an early lead through Victor Moses in a first half they controlled, but Basel fought back in the latter stages and were awarded a soft penalty by Czech referee Pavel Kralovec, which Fabian Schaer converted.
But Chelsea – who had been the better side and saw several chances go begging after the equaliser – were awarded a free-kick in the final minute of stoppage time, which Luiz drilled past a culpable Yann Sommer.
Basel could also feel aggrieved as Luiz could easily have been sent off earlier for a nasty tackle on Philipp Degen, for which he was booked; similarly though the likes of Schaer and Aleksandar Dragovic were fortunate to stay on the pitch after getting away with some poor challenges.
With two away goals and the likes of Juan Mata benched for this match, Chelsea will be hugely confident about completing the job at Stamford Bridge as they seek to become the first side to win the Europa League the season after claiming the Champions League.
Rafael Benitez opted to play Luiz in midfield as Chelsea focused on restricting the home side’s lively wingers Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker.
An early goal always helps when looking to nullify attack-minded hosts, and it came on 12 minutes as an unaware Moses headed in a Frank Lampard corner. Moses appeared to be the lucky recipient of a Branislav Ivanovic flick, the Serbia defender initially thinking he had scored until the Nigerian did his customary somersaults.
Basel – who had never got this far in Europe before – tried to respond but were limited to a Schaer free-kick that Petr Cech tipped over, and a Salah effort that was scuffed into the keeper’s arms thanks to a good block by the returning Ashley Cole.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had the lion’s share of the chances as a Fernando Torres finish was blocked by the torso of Schaer, while Sommer saved well from Ramires after more good play by Lampard.
Eden Hazard, meanwhile, was given a free role and largely impressed, although he was responsible for two misses towards the end of the half.
First he blasted over after a mis-kicked Torres bicycle kick landed invitingly for the Belgian, but that was only a half-chance; seconds later he was responsible for a glaring miss as he put wide with just Sommer to beat after fine build-up play by Torres and Moses.
Murat Yakin was looking gloomy on the Basel bench and one assumes at the break he let his team know they had underperformed in comparison to recent efforts.
They started the second half brightly, striking the woodwork as Stocker went on a mazy run before drilling a low effort past a stranded Cech.
Chelsea responded by also hitting the frame of the goal, Torres firing off the angle of post and bar after a superb run and cut-back from Hazard.
Despite those two moments of drama, the second half soon became scrappy and disjointed, as Chelsea seemed content to soak up attacks from Basel, who came forward regularly but were let down by some poor touches, particularly from Salah, who was disappointing by his standards.
Yakin responded by introducing the more attack-minded midfielder Marcelo Diaz, and the very direct forward Jacques Zoua. The change had an impact as Basel looked much livelier for the last half hour, as attacks rained down on Cech’s goal.
Diaz hit one effort wide, Salah’s touch let him down once more when put through, while no less than four goalmouth scrambles saw frantic defending by Chelsea come out on top.
Basel did level in the end but it was undeserved to say the least, Cesar Azpilicueta penalised for an excellent challenge on Stocker.
Chelsea could scarcely believe it – no Basel player appealed, usually a sign of a refereeing error – but Schaer kept his composure to send Cech to the right and the ball down the middle.
Benitez would probably have taken a draw before the match but the sense of injustice – and the entrance of Mata from the bench – gave Chelsea a second wind that saw them dominate the closing minutes.
Oscar fired over when he should have scored, while John Terry was denied a headed goal from two yards by a brilliant Sommer save.
But, after Stocker brought down Ramires around 20 yards out, Luiz picked a spot between two members of the wall, found it and fired a low drive that Sommer should have stopped but let fly past him into the bottom right.
With two away goals and the benefit of home advantage, Chelsea have one foot in the final in Amsterdam on May 15.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ramires (Chelsea) – A tough one as there were few stand-out players, but Ramires was at his energetic best, covering Azpilicueta well and making up for a few Luiz errors while starting and joining counter attacks at will.
FC BASEL: Sommer 5, P. Degen 6, Schaer 7, Dragovic 7, Park 6, Frei 7, Elneny 6, Serey Die 6, Stocker 7, Salah 5, Streller 6; Subs: Diaz 7, Die 7, D. Degen N/A.
CHELSEA: Cech 6, Azpilicueta 6, Ivanovic 7, Terry 7, Cole 7, Luiz 7, Lampard 7, Ramires 7, Hazard 7, Moses 7, Torres 6; Subs: Mata 7, Oscar N/A.