LONDON -- Antonio Conte hailed the "great maturity" of Ethan Ampadu after the 17-year-old produced another nerveless performance as Chelsea dramatically beat Bournemouth 2-1 in the Carabao Cup quarterfinal.
Alvaro Morata's injury-time goal gave the Blues victory at Stamford Bridge after Dan Gosling had cancelled out Willian's first-half opener in the final minute of regulation, setting up a mouthwatering two-legged tie against rivals Arsenal in January 2018 with a place at Wembley at stake.
Ampadu was handed his second senior start and his first in the heart of the Chelsea defence against Bournemouth, marking the occasion with a crunching tackle on Jermain Defoe that earned him a yellow card and left the striker with suspected ankle ligament damage inside two minutes.
Conte criticised referee Lee Mason's decision to book the 17-year-old so early in the match, but praised his defender's calmness in navigating the remainder of an intense cup tie while walking a disciplinary tightrope.
"After one minute and 40 seconds, the referee decided to book a player who is 17 years old," Conte said. "I think he played the whole game with this problem, and it's not simple for a defender to play after a yellow card in the second minute.
"You have to play 93 minutes with this danger. But he showed great maturity and personality. If you remember, I spoke about this player in an enthusiastic way. I said in the past that this player, despite his young age, has shown great maturity.
"I don't like to make gifts for someone. If they deserve it, I'm ready to play with very young players. Why not? Ampadu deserved to play this game and against Everton and against Huddersfield in the league.
"Now he has to stay calm. Maybe next game, he'll go to play with the youth. I don't know. But this player is very humble. He could have a great future, but he has to continue in this way, to improve and to work."
Conte admitted that Morata's late goal was a relief, not least because it ensured that his players avoided the gruelling prospect of extra time.
"It was important not to go and play 30 minutes more," he added. "It was a bit dangerous. But we must be pleased. We had a great reaction to their goal. It's not simple conceding a goal in the last minute of the game, but when you have this reaction you have players with great character, personality and talent.
"The most important thing is we are in the semifinals. Last season, if you remember, we were eliminated in the second round against West Ham. This season we must be happy with this achievement, to reach a semifinal in one of the two cups in England.
"It's great for us, especially because we reached the semifinal with a lot of rotation. I'm very happy because I've had a good response from my players. I hope to continue in this way. Tonight, many players had a chance to play from the start, and I think I had good responses from them.
"Our target is to try and fight until the end in every competition. We improved in this competition this season. We want to try and reach Wembley to play the final. But, at the same time, we know the other teams want the same."
The one negative for Chelsea was Morata picking up his fifth yellow card of the season during the celebrations for his late winner, meaning he is suspended for Saturday's trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton.
"I must be honest, I didn't see this yellow card," Conte admitted. "He's a big loss for us, especially because we have to play a tough game against Everton. It's a pity, but we have to accept it. Tonight, many players were booked."