Eric Dier. Of all the men to miss the fateful penalty, of all the players to crown Tottenham the nearly team once more. Dier, hero of the nation at the World Cup in the summer; Dier the anchor man when England most needed it.
It was Dier who stepped up, third to go, with the scores tied level here. Level, 2-2, across three hours of semi-final football; level, 2-2, in the penalty shootout.
Spurs captain Jan Vertonghen had won the toss and elected to shoot first. A chance to turn the screw — and here he was, to do just that. Mr Ice-in-the-veins, Mr Knows-no-fear.
Up it went, into the night sky, and Stamford Bridge rejoiced. Tottenham were so depleted by injuries, they really couldn’t afford any additional rotten luck. And Dier, losing his nerve at a vital moment, was surely that. Chelsea were clear favourites even trailing 1-0 from the first leg. This was the man whose psychological profile supposedly made him the calmest penalty taker in the England squad. The visiting fans would have seen him as their banker.
Indeed, once Tottenham had fought back from 2-0 down at half-time to take this tie to the lottery of penalties, they must have felt cockily confident.
There had been an eerie silence around Stamford Bridge at the thought of such a random conclusion. Imagine being eliminated by a Tottenham side shorn of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min. Imagine getting into a winning position, at home, and being unable to close it out. Oh, the humiliation.
But as Dier returned, slowly, to the consoling embrace of his team-mates, suddenly the place was buzzing. Spurs had blinked first.
Now Chelsea could be the screw-turners. And turn they did. Jorginho got cheeky, sending goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga the wrong way and rolling it into the opposite corner, but gently. Then Lucas Moura struck one at an inviting height to goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Saved. Leading 3-2, now it was down to David Luiz. Score and it was over. Score and there was nothing Tottenham could do.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga 7, Cesar Azpilicueta 6.5, Antonio Rudiger 7, David Luiz 6.5, Emerson 6.5, Jorginho 7, N’Golo Kante 7, Ross Barkley 6.5 (Kovacic 81), Pedro 7 (Willian 76), Olivier Giroud 6, Eden Hazard 8.
Subs not used: Caballero, Alonso, Hudson-Odoi, Ampadu, Piazon
Booked: Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kante, Sarri.
Manager: Maurizio Sarri 7.5
Tottenham (4-3-1-2): Paulo Gazzaniga 6, Serge Aurier 5.5, Toby Alderweireld 5.5, Jan Vertonghen 6, Ben Davies 6 (Rose 33, 7.5), Eric Dier 5.5, Harry Winks 7, Moussa Sissoko 6 (Sanchez 80), Christian Eriksen 7, Erik Lamela 6.5, Fernando Llorente 6.5 (Moura 68, 6).
Subs not used: Lloris, N’Koudou, Walker-Peters, Skipp
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 7
Referee: Martin Atkinson 6
It almost certainly would have been that way had Atkinson not rejected a penalty appeal a minute before half-time. Hazard caught Toby Alderweireld in possession and went off towards goal, only Gazzaniga in his path.
Alderweireld chased furiously and made the tackle that saved the day. How Atkinson judged he could have got the ball without also clearing out the man however, is a mystery — but it kept Spurs in touch, which was all the invitation they needed after half-time.
Credit Mauricio Pochettino with influencing his team in the limited time available. They came out a different animal. They stopped Chelsea playing and fed their own monster. No point having a big man like Fernando Llorente out there without playing to his strengths, and the first time it happened, Chelsea faltered.
Danny Rose — on for Ben Davies, who appeared to suffer a groin injury after 33 minutes — hit a lovely cross and Llorente got the right side of Luiz to put a stooping header past Kepa, and draw Spurs level on aggregate.
In any other year since 1980, had that scoreline remained, Tottenham would have progressed on away goals. Given those circumstances, try telling them the best team actually won.