Olga Carmona’s controversial penalty and a disallowed goal for Niamh Charles saw Chelsea denied a deserved opening-game Women’s Champions League win in a 2-2 draw at Real Madrid.
Carmona’s equaliser 11 minutes from time came after Athenea del Castillo was fouled by Jessie Fleming – though the offending touch clearly occurred outside the box.
Without VAR available, Frida Klarlund’s on-field decision was left to stand, to deny the Blues of a much-deserved win in the Spanish capital.
Their disappointment was further added to with almost the last kick of the game when Charles saw what would have been her second goal of the night and the winner ruled out by a raised flag for reasons which were still unclear by the full-time whistle.
The Blues fell behind early on to Carmona’s deflected strike after 10 minutes but dominated from then-on at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
Sam Kerr tested Misa Rodriguez before Charles’ powerful header pulled the Blues level on the stroke of half-time.
They continued to take the game to their hosts after the break but took until the 75th minute to finally find a way through, when Charles’ inviting cross was nodded home by Kerr.
Their lead only lasted four minutes before Fleming’s clumsy foul was given a harsher punishment than it deserved when Klarlund pointed to the spot, and Carmona doubled her tally for the night.
There was still more drama to follow, when Charles thought she had found a last-gasp winner from Ashley Lawrence’s cross until the assistant referee ruled out her effort with a raised flag.
She was clearly onside at the time – and though Kerr was ahead of the last defender, she made no realistic attempt to play the ball on its way through the box, leaving an added bitter taste in the mouths of the Blues that they did not kick off their tournament with three points.
How Chelsea did everything but win in Madrid
The tone was set in the opening minutes in the Spanish capital with Emma Hayes’ side controlling the game from the off, only for their early dominance to be punctuated by Carmona’s opener.
Her 20-yard effort looked comfortable enough for Ann-Katrin Berger until a significant nick off Millie Bright wrong-footed her and deflected the ball into the opposite corner.
Chelsea continued unabated, but lacked a cutting edge and had only Kerr’s rising drive from the angle to show for their territory until the stroke of half-time.
Then, Lawrence’s inviting cross from deep was met by a booming Charles header back across goal, and deservedly pulled the Blues level at the interval.
Little changed after the break, with the first major poor decision of the night nearly costing the hosts. Jess Carter’s long ball found Kerr on the shoulder of the home defence and marginally offside. The flag stayed down but justice was done on the pitch, as Rodriguez kept out her effort at her near post with a sprawling stop.
There was no doubting Kerr when she did finally beat the home goalkeeper 15 minutes from time, with Charles’ hanging cross begging to be met. The Australia forward bullied her way through before beating Rodriguez with a bullet header to put Chelsea ahead for the first time.
The lead would be short-lived, but only through a moment of real controversy. There was little argument Fleming caught Del Castillo with a late challenge deep inside her own half moments later, but Klarlund’s call that it was initiated inside the Chelsea box was a clear error from the referee.
Chelsea had little to protest against without VAR available, and it left Carmona to step up and power home an equaliser despite Berger getting a hand to her spot kick.
Even still, the Blues could have left Madrid with three points. Substitute Lauren James’ effort crashed against the crossbar before Fleming turned the rebound inexplicably wide with Rodriguez out of action.
But Charles’ late strike would rankle far more. The defender buried Lawrence’s cross at the far post in the sixth minute of added time and wheeled away to celebrate before spotting the assistant’s flag.
The defender was clearly onside at the time of the delivery with Kerr perhaps the guilty party, but even the Australian’s influence on the Real Madrid defence seemed negligible enough to leave the visitors confused as to why they were not returning to England with a win.
Chelsea now have three home games before the international break. They are next in action on Saturday as they host Liverpool in the WSL at Stamford Bridge.
Their second Champions League group fixture is on Thursday November 23 when they host Paris FC, before host Leicester on Sunday November 26.