Pep hero status further enshrined at Barca

LONDON - A year after being appointed coach of Barcelona, Pep Guardiola stands on the verge of a dream treble that would secure his place at the top of the club's list of favourite sons.

Already hugely popular, the home-grown hero who spent more than a decade playing for the club, and helped them to European Cup glory in 1992, engineered a return to the final after a last-gasp 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Wednesday.

"I didn't expect so many results in the first season," Guardiola told a news conference after Andres Iniesta's 93rd-minute strike cancelled out Michael Essien's stunning volley and set up a final against Manchester United.

Coming four days after his team humiliated Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu, things really could not be going any better.

"We need to close out the league campaign, try to win the King's Cup next week against Bilbao and then think about the final in Rome," he said.

That May 27 meeting with holders United, who knocked Barcelona out in the semi-finals last season and paved the way for Guardiola's appointment, seemed a very long shot as his 10 men moved into stoppage time without making any real impression on the home defence.

However, Barcelona continued to press and, spectacularly, made Chelsea pay for their own missed opportunities.

"It's fair to say they created chances on the counter but they were still a bit conservative," Guardiola said of the hosts.

"I expected them to press up more but they didn't. Even against 10 men Chelsea still stayed back. They knew we always have a threat and they respected us until the last minute.

"We keep going, we are consistent and we showed a lot of strength and bravery and created the chance at the end."

Guardiola said he was particularly happy that the ultimate glory fell to Iniesta.

"I'm so happy for him because in many ways he represents Barcelona and how we play," he said.

"He sometimes gets criticised for not scoring enough but hopefully that will stop today as he has scored the most important goal of all."

Iniesta himself said his team had deserved the goal, and the trip to Rome, for all the hard work they had done, and the great football they had played, over the season.

"We deserve it for all we've done over the course of the season," Iniesta told Canal Plus.

"If it had been in the fifth minute I would have hit it into the stands but I struck it with my whole soul and it went in the only place it could.

"Until the whistle has blown you have to believe."

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